By Paige Clark
Four years of investigations
surrounding Interstate 69 land deals came to an end Friday when the Indiana
inspector generals disclosed that state, local and federal officials would not
be pressing charges against highway official Troy Woodruff.
"No crimes were committed and the codes of ethics
were not violated," said David Thomas, the state's ethics watchdog.
But Thomas also said the controversy and the
investigation is no surprise given Woodruff's actions.
"Here's the thing, and I guess it's another
takeaway, when you engage in conduct that goes right up to that line and then
you dance away from the line and say it wasn't violated, that's ok. But this is
Gov. Mike Pence ordered the ethics
investigation early last year after an initial inspection of a land sale
involving Woodruff – the Indiana Department of Transportation chief of
staff – in 2010 found no wrongdoing.
Woodruff sold 3 acres of land to INDOT for
construction of I-69, which raised questions about whether he had a conflict of
interest in the deal.
Thomas said Woodruff could have avoided the
allegations had he gone in front of the ethics commission publicly and
disclosed his activities and intentions. He said Woodruff should have followed
the example of the department's previous commissioner, Michael Cline, who
disclosed information about a similar deal even though Cline believed there was
no conflict of interest.
"It's not easy," Thomas said. "But it's the
right thing to do."
The inspector general's report recommended
that the state's eminent domain law be amended to include a provision requiring
a state agency and a state employee to file a written disclosure with the State
Ethics Commission when the state agency is seizing property from that state
Woodruff has been the subject of scrutiny
over the past several years – most recently related to his negotiations
for a job with RQAW, an engineering firm.
The Indianapolis Star found that two weeks
after Woodruff's job negotiation with RQAW began, INDOT awarded the company
with a project worth $175,000 to $350,000, even though the company did not
receive the best score from the staff. Woodruff – usually a member of the
selection committee – did not attend that meeting.
But, the Star investigation found that
Woodruff had personally signed at least three other contracts with RQAW –
worth $562,000. And the selection committee awarded the company a contract for
a roadwork job in Jasper County – for $294,300 – even though
Lawson-Fisher Associates received the highest score from department staff.
The ethics commission previously gave
Woodruff permission to continue negotiations with RQAW, but some members
expressed concern about conflicts of interest that could pop up if he takes the
Woodruff announced this week he would be
leaving the agency, but did not say when he would go.
"I have always lived my life with no regret,
but in leaving this agency I do have one, and that is the fact I could no
longer stay around waiting on a 2nd Internal Affairs Investigation of myself
that started in October of 2012 finally come to an end," Woodruff said in a
statement. "Even as the media accused me of so many things, what they were
actually implying is that (INDOT) is corrupt."
Democrats complained Friday about the
investigation and Woodruff.
"Instances like this are why Democrats
continue to champion a more open government and more balance in the
Statehouse," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody
said. "I hope the Republican-controlled legislature will take action and work
to rectify the culture of corruption within their own party."
Thomas will be leaving the inspector general's
position after December to be a senior prosecutor for the state.
Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a
news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.