TIPTON – The Tipton County Economic Development Organization announced its dissolution Tuesday, citing a pending litigation filed against it as making “it impossible for the organization to renew the insurance it needs to operate.”
The organization had been the cause of some contention in the county in recent months, with some officials questioning whether it served the county and the city in equal measure.
“The TCEDO, its board and staff have stood solidly as the focus of economic and development for the City of Tipton and Tipton County," reads a press release. "This group of civic volunteers was formed as a non-political group, which attempted to transcend the election cycle and bring long-term, experienced leadership to the task. We believe the organization has been extremely effective in that effort, and we had hoped to continue in that role, however, the political and legal climate has rendered us unable to continue our mission."
Former President of the TCEDO Harry Diamond declined to comment for this story beyond what is stated in the press release because of the pending litigation.
Tipton Mayor Don Havens said the news will make the already difficult job of economic development even harder.
“I see nothing in the dissolution of the (TCEDO) that can be interpreted to be good for the City of Tipton,” said Havens in an interview with the Tribune.
Havens, who has in public forums praised the work of the TCEDO, said the lawsuit came before a time when the board of directors for the TCEDO officers and directors were slated for insurance renewal. The coinciding of those two events, Havens said, meant “they simply could not find a party that would agree to insure them at an affordable rate.”
The city will have to continue ongoing and upcoming projects with which it had previously worked closely with the TCEDO. Those projects total between 10 and 15, Havens said, adding city officials will “work hard to continue down the route that the (TCEDO) has set for us.”
Tipton County Commissioner Jim Mullins stated that it means they may have to work more closely with the North Central Indiana Economic Development Partnership – a regional organization servicing several area counties. It meets monthly, Mullins said.
“With or without the (TCEDO), we’re going to continue to try to develop Tipton County both economically and educationally and from a social aspect I guess we’ll just have to work much, much closer with the city and try to continue the efforts that they started,” Mullins said.
Mullins, echoing the concern of some constituents, in previous meetings had expressed some concern that the county wasn’t reaping the same benefits from their contract with the TCEDO as was the city.
“We thought some reorganization might have been valuable in terms of increasing their efficiency, and we wanted to talk about that but we have always supported the (TCEDO) and felt that they were a valuable asset to the county,” said Mullins in an interview with the Tribune, following the TCEDO’s announcement.
The lawsuit referenced in the press release is one filed by property developer John Janson. The lawsuit refers to the multi-year process of preparing a parcel of land at the U.S. 31 and Indiana 28 intersection for the development and construction of a Love’s Travel Plaza.
After starting the process in 2013, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the project in early August.
The lawsuit makes allegations against the TCEDO, specifically naming former Executive Director Jeff Sheridan throughout, stating that the TCEDO purposefully misguided Janson and attempted to halt the property’s development.
In one instance, the lawsuit claims Janson was misled as to the process to create a Tax Increment Financing district “as a possible avenue to provide service and infrastructure to the area west of 31.”
Elsewhere, there are claims that changes were made to the developing overlay district regulations at the intersection – changes Janson alleges were made to make construction of a Love’s Travel Plaza impossible.
It goes on to ask that the court grant, among other things, for the “individuals involved be held personally liable for any financial impropriety.”
The TCEDO was formed in 2012 with Sheridan as the executive director, with the purpose of encouraging development in meaningful and strategic ways throughout the city and county. Nathan Kring took over as executive director in 2016, and announced his resignation in June. In a public Facebook post on the TCEDO’s page, Kring cited political dysfunction as his motivation to resign.