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May 24, 2013

New Albany councilwoman subject of conflict-of-interest review

Diane Benedetti’s niece was in process of purchasing NSP home

NEW ALBANY — A potential conflict of interest regarding the Midtown Neighborhood Stabilization Project and involving New Albany City Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti will be the topic of a special meeting Tuesday morning.

According to sources, the conflict-of-interest claim relates to Benedetti’s niece attempting to purchase one of the NSP houses. David Duggins, director of economic development and redevelopment for the city, confirmed Thursday the sale has been frozen pending review.

The New Albany Redevelopment Commission — which has been the lead city agency for the $6.7 million federal program — will weigh the matter the Tuesday meeting.

“The NSP project is too important and has done so much good for the neighborhoods that have been positively affected by it, that we just want to ensure that the perception of the project is as transparent as possible,” Duggins said.

A phone message left with Benedetti on Thursday seeking comment for this story hadn’t been returned as of press time.

Benedetti is a former member of the redevelopment commission, and served as a council and commission liaison on a board that was set up to help oversee the NSP project under former Mayor Doug England. The NSP program, which is nearing completion of its first phase, was designed to refurbish dilapidated and vacant houses in the Midtown neighborhood. Once restored, the houses were sold to low-to-moderate income buyers as stipulated through the federal program.

The house that Benedetti’s niece was in the process of buying is located at 315 E. 11th St. The News and Tribune could not independently confirm the name of Benedetti’s niece as of press time.

New Directions Housing Corp. is the private agency that was hired to oversee the project. A message left for New Directions Chief Executive Officer Joe Gliessner on Thursday afternoon hadn’t been returned as of press time.

City Councilman Dan Coffey serves on the redevelopment commission.

“First off, I hope it’s not true. Because if it’s true, what they did put the city in a lot of jeopardy as far as future grants,” he said, as Coffey added he feels sorry for Benedetti’s niece if she ultimately isn’t allowed to move into the home. “But for every person like that involved, there’s somebody else out there that didn’t get a chance.”

Coffey said an independent agency or individual not associated with the project or local officials should also review the situation.

“As a city official, you cannot try to push anything that’s going to benefit yourself or a family member,” he said.

The council established an ethics commission last year that’s to review claims of nepotism, misuse of funds or questionable deals involving government officials, but that board has yet to hear a case. Councilman John Gonder sponsored the ordinance to launch the ethics commission, and he is also a member of the redevelopment commission. He said Thursday he wasn’t familiar with the issue involving Benedetti, and that he would reserve comment until he knew more about the situation.

A message left for Shane Gibson, the redevelopment commission attorney and a member of the city’s legal department, hadn’t been returned as of press time.

The meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the third-floor assembly room at the City-County Building.

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SO YOU KNOW

• According to documents recently requested by the News and Tribune, 23 of the 32 NSP properties have been sold.

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