Scott Fadness, Jennifer Messer & Legal Contracts

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May 14, 2017 6:42 PM

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  1. I began covering Fishers with my news bog in January of 2012 when Scott Fadness held the job of Town Manager.  I have witnessed his transition from an administrator by trade to a politician serving his first full term as mayor.

When I read reporter Brian Slodysko’s story on the Associated Press news wire May 11th about the city’s contract with attorney Jennifer Messer, many thoughts ran through my mind. The first ones related to her work for the Town of Fishers, before the growing suburb of Indianapolis transformed itself into a city.

It was attorney Messer’s job to review every town ordinance, ensuring the provisions complied with the requirements of a city as that transition was happening.  That’s a big job, and from everything I have seen covering Fishers government on a regular basis, there have been no problems legally with that transition.

Jennifer Messer also was a regular figure around town government during her tenure working for the law firm of Church, Church, Hittle and Antrim.  After Fishers officially became a city, Fadness, as a new mayor, made the decision to hire a city attorney, Chris Greisl.  Later, the city added a second attorney to the staff.

Messer has been performing work for the city on a contract basis after she left the law firm.  That is the crux of the AP story, the amount of money paid by the city for her services.

Her retainer fee is $20,000 per month, which means the contract pays $240,000 per year.  The question here is this – is that a fair arrangement for the city?

Before I explore that, there is another aspect of this story that concerns me.  Why did no one advising Mayor Fadness warn him that this could become a political liability because of the appearances involved?  Jennifer Messer is married to Indiana Congressman Luke Messer.  Luke Messer is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Joe Donnelly.

Mayor Fadness has strongly defended the city’s decision to pay Jennifer Messer for legal services.  She has been involved in the legal side of Fishers’ many economic development projects, including IKEA, Top Golf and the culinary project in the works called The Yard.  She didn’t single-handedly bring these projects to Fishers, but she is part of a team of people working to make them happen.

Which brings me to the biggest question at hand here – are Fishers taxpayers receiving a good deal in the Jennifer Messer law contract or is she being overpaid?  I will admit, I am no expert on what is a reasonable amount to pay a lawyer for any set of services.

Fishers did not initially release the number of hours worked by Jennifer Messer for the city, only providing one month from 2016 and 2017 to AP reporter Slodysko.  My understanding, as of the time of this writing, is that the city will release more details on those billable hours.

The AP story cited former Republican Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke and Julia Vaughn of Common Cause as critics of the arrangement.  One must consider that.

But I take issue with people attacking the arrangement because Mrs. Messer works out of her suburban Washington DC home.  This is the way people work in this day and age.  I cannot think of many reasons Jennifer Messer would need to physically be in Fishers to handle the work she is doing.

My view is that Scott Fadness needs to consult with political strategists to judge whether a contract such as this gives the appearance of currying favor with a sitting congressman eyeing a senate campaign.  I have now doubt, in his heart, the mayor feels this contract is good for the citizens of Fishers.  I will leave it to the experts as to whether Jennifer Messer was overpaid or paid the market amount for the work she performs for the City of Fishers.

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