Hot-Button Issues: Battle in the ‘Burbs

Has Carmel’s city spending gotten out of hand? A showdown of wills might settle accounts once and for all.

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Editor’s Note: From gay marriage to Glenda Ritz, Obamacare to Sunday booze, we’re presenting 10 topics that Hoosiers will be fired up about this year—and what you need to know before jumping into heated cocktail-party discussions.


The Skinny

Carmel Mayor James Brainard has restyled a snooty suburb into a mecca of new architecture, culture, and infrastructure (roundabouts!). All, he maintains, while guarding public coffers. “The average Carmel taxpayer is paying less today than they were in 1996,” he says.

CarmelNot so fast, says Rick Sharp, president of the City Council. He means that literally: Not. So. Fast. “I think the mayor has been too caught up in getting the deal done,” says Sharp. “One of the things I’ve learned in business sales is I have to be willing to walk away from any deal that I know isn’t in my best financial interest.” 

Brainard, he contends, has been so eager to build that he hasn’t stopped to negotiate. Sharp has used his catbird’s seat on the Council to eye the books, scolding the mayor for such expenditures as the Center for the Performing Arts’ multimillion-dollar subsidies, the six-figure confidentiality settlement with the center’s former executive director, and the city’s $195 million bailout of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission.

Sharp insists it will eventually cost up to $11 million annually to cover the $175 million performing-arts center, and he wants to cool it on new projects—like, say, a costly redevelopment proposed along Range Line Road. “I think Jim Brainard has done some great things for this city, but I do think it’s time for a different skill set,” Sharp says. Sounds like a campaign message.

The Players

Brainard and Sharp, who, as a fellow Republican in a GOP town, has positioned himself as the mayor’s more–fiscally conservative opposition … The Council has fairly clear fault lines, with Ron Carter, Sue Finkham, and Kevin Rider taking up Brainard’s agenda much of the time, while Carol Schleif, Eric Seidensticker, and Luci Snyder (a former Brainard mayoral opponent) often side with Sharp.

 Jim Brainard Rick Sharp

Players: (l-r) Brainard, Sharp

When It Will Go Down

Sharp tells IM that dozens of supporters have urged him to seek the mayor’s office, but neither he nor Brainard has announced plans to run. Because the GOP primary in May 2015 will, in effect, decide the election, politicking for mayor should begin in earnest this year.

The Upper Hand

Brainard recently hobnobbed at the SelectUSA 2013 Investment Summit in D.C., where he showed off Carmel’s Money magazine Best Places to Live award. He has the bully pulpit, and voters have continued to reelect him. Why should next year be different?

Follow Along

@JimBrainard / @RickinCarmel / @CarmelBruce / @Northof96th



A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue. Reporting by Kathleen Schuckel
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