GARY — Incoming Mayor Jerome Prince said Tuesday he wants department leaders to refrain from letting non-emergency contracts that obligate the city beyond Dec. 31 without first consulting with his newly announced transition team.
That, along with weekly updates from departments, will assure a smooth transition during the lead-up to Jan. 1, Prince told reporters during a news conference Tuesday at City Hall.
“We are determined to be well-informed on all the city’s operations long before assuming office,” Prince said.
Contacted shortly after the news conference, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Prince’s decision to convey his request through news media "political posturing."
"Campaign’s over. It’s time to govern the city,” she said. “This is not easy. ... The appropriate way to convey this would have been to reach out to me. It’s not like I’ve not been available or not been willing to sit down with him."
She said she wasn't made aware of the news conference until immediately before when she reached out to a member on his transition team.
Prince asked all department heads, city commissions and boards to consult with his newly announced transition team on all matters that would obligate the city Jan. 1 and beyond, when he is set to take office.
Freeman-Wilson said her administration has tried to keep the lines of communications open with Prince — since the primary election May 8 — and will gladly keep him informed on major contracts and budgetary changes.
Saying he didn’t want to "keep ruffling feathers," Prince declined to discuss the administration’s controversial plan to sell and lease back its public safety building to shore up revenue and keep government afloat.
However, he said current city leaders “have the absolute right to move forward where they see fit."
Prince’s comments came in response to a reporter asking if he may change his mind about the sale/leaseback if he discovers the move is critical as budget talks continue with Freeman-Wilson’s administration. He declined to discuss whether he was presently opposed to the deal, referring back to his past opposition and saying it’s separate from the news conference he called Tuesday.
“I think from the beginning, we expressed what our position was on it,” he said.
Freeman-Wilson and supportive council members repeatedly have said the sale/leaseback is the city’s last-ditch effort to begin getting Gary’s financial house in order. The financial arrangement essentially would free up capital and provide revenue in the city's coffers.
However, critics of the Gary plan, including Prince, have dubbed the sale and leaseback as an ill-advised shell game that would put the city on the hook for up to $80 million in high-interest payments while only placing a Band-Aid on current city financial woes.
The mayor said the critical nature of the deal has been expressed to Prince in recent weeks.
Asked if Prince was possibly distancing himself so as not to attach his name to the sale/leaseback deal — were it to go through, Freeman-Wilson said Prince “is already attached to it.”
She said Prince’s announced opposition several weeks ago is still having a lingering impact on the future of the deal. Investors are not going forward unless he expressly supports it, she said.
“The minute he came out against it, he placed himself squarely in the middle. And I agree with him. He should be advised. He should be informed. He should the opportunity to weigh in. That’s what we’ve been doing,” she said.
Transition team announced
At the news conference, Prince also announced the core of his transition team, with more individuals to be announced in the coming months.
Darnail Lyles, a veteran attorney who served as Prince’s campaign chair, will serve as one of his team’s co-chair.
Tony Walker, a member on the Indiana State Board of Education, is following Prince from the Lake County assessor's office, where his firm represents the office, to be a second co-chair. Jeff Wilson, a Gary resident with academic background in leadership management, will be executive director.
Lyles said he also worked under the administrations of former Mayors Richard Hatcher and Scott King and with the Gary Sanitary District.
"We're in beginning stages of the transition team, and this is nucleus of it here. I've surrounded myself with some of greatest talents in the city," Prince said.