Logansport has paid an international consulting firm and an associate nearly $23,000 this year to explore business opportunities overseas and the City Council will discuss replenishing the fund that money came from by up to $130,000 this week.
City officials have met with William-Lynn-James Inc. of Indianapolis, and Larry Ingraham, who is an associate with the company and of Ingraham & Associates. Ingraham had taken all four trips former Mayor Mike Fincher took to Japan and an additional trip to China in the fourth year.
Franklin said there is “potential” that there are similarities between Fincher’s trips and hiring the firm and Ingraham.
Asked recently whether someone had been hired to look out for Logansport’s best international interest, Franklin said, “The short answer is yes.” Franklin would not identify the firm earlier last week.
He could not be reached for comment Saturday night. “I have to tell you I’m going to be very evasive on this because there’s too much that hinges on it. I just don’t want to even risk any potential exposure to anything that could be developing.”
However, the city’s Board of Works ledger for its contractual services fund shows the city paid William-Lynn-James four checks worth $3,600 each on April 19 and $8,333 to Ingraham & Associates on the same date.
According to the firm’s website, it focuses on economic development, governmental affairs and strategic planning. Ingraham is listed as “key personnel,” who specializes in “Japanese Investments and Governmental Affairs.”
The city has spent nearly $40,000 from the contractual services account, which has been used for these consultants, attorney’s fees, and both Waste Management and Frontier Communications payments. The additional appropriation of up to $130,000 will be for that fund.
Asked for a copy of the city’s contract with the firm, Franklin said the deal was not yet final and thus the document was not yet a matter of public record.
“The contract has not been formalized,” he said three times during the interview. “The signature is what it would take to formalize the contract.”
Franklin read from a prepared document concerning the firm’s assignment to “enhance economic development opportunities for the city of Logansport, coordinate efforts to promote and heighten awareness for the city of Logansport and identify key sites within the community that match the site location criteria for firms seeking to invest in U.S. communities.”
Franklin said he had known people from the firm “for a period of time” and said he and city officials had had a business relationship with them.
“There’s been a relationship with Logansport at various times going back probably 25 years with some of them,” he said.
The City Council’s planning and economic development committee will meet this week about the appropriation, but the date had not been set as of Friday, said Councilman Bob Bishop. The hope is to have the $130,000 appropriation set for a vote at the council’s May 7 meeting.
Bishop said he supported the measure as long as it produced better results than Fincher’s trips overseas.
“At this point, for no more money than we’re talking right now, I’m willing to visit that again,” Bishop said. “But I made it very clear that I expect results this time because we’ve been down this road before, and there were no results.”
Fincher argued that Trine University’s Logansport campus was a result of his overseas trip. He and Trine’s senior vice president, Michael Bock, met while in Tokyo.
Bishop said Friday he did not know that and, “I don’t see that connection, actually.”
Bishop said he was committed to trying the latest plan on a short-term basis.
“We feel like we could have some good prospects coming down the road, so I feel like this could be a good investment,” he said. “It’s a short term, one to two years, and if we don’t see any results, then we’ll terminate that.”
Franklin said there is potential that this could be similar to Fincher’s travels.
“Not necessarily, potentially, but not necessarily,” Franklin said. “But as I made clear throughout the entire campaign, if I do any foreign travel, it will not be LEDF money that pays for it and it will not be city money that pays for it. It will be my own money or solicited contributions to further what could potentially be a business’ interest. The criticism was never on marketing the city internationally. The criticism has always been the cost of those repeated trips.”
Fincher made four trips to Japan and on his final trip in 2010, it included a stop in China. That year, the trips cost LEDF a little more than $10,000, which included partial payment for Gov. Mitch Daniels’ expenses.
Fincher said Friday his critics, including Franklin, were looking for quicker results.
“I’m glad that they’re going to continue us looking into foreign markets,” Fincher said. “I’m happy that they’re doing it, but I’m disappointed that it wasn’t right for me to do it.”
Councilman Jeremy Ashcraft, chairman of the planning and economic development committee, would not confirm the company either, citing confidentiality. He said he wanted to make sure funding went through the “proper channels” and reserved comment until after the committee meeting.
“I think it’s hard to turn down any economic development opportunity,” Ashcraft said.
Councilman Chuck LaDow said he met with the mayor and Ingraham last Monday regarding this partnership.
“I’m a huge advocate of involving ourselves in foreign investments,” he said. “If you don’t have cards on the table in regards to foreign investment, you can’t get dealt a hand.”
Franklin said the contract was in “very general terms as to the service.”
“Believe me, it’s just so sensitive, sensitive terms that I just can’t risk giving a detailed statement on what we’re trying to get done here,” he said. “There’s too much at stake for the future of the city, and if any of the potential investors are exposed, they’re going to run like we’re on fire.”