Tipton County Commissioner Mike Cline won’t be prosecuted on a complaint alleging he used his position to benefit his family’s real estate interests.
Special Prosecutor Louis D. Evans filed a report Tuesday indicating Cline broke no laws when he voted in favor of zoning changes designed to pave the way for the proposed Prairie Breeze wind farm.
Evans said Cline’s alleged financial interest in property which stands to earn lease payments from the Prairie Breeze project was irrelevant.
Since Cline didn’t vote to purchase anything or obligate the county with a contract, he didn’t break the state’s criminal law against conflict of interest, Evans decided.
“It is unfortunate that complaints based on assumptions rather than facts can be filed with no repercussions to the accusers,” Cline wrote in a press release issued Wednesday. “It is also regrettable that individuals can burden our hard-working law enforcement officers and other members of our legal system with meritless complaints intended to serve personal agendas. Justice prevailed in this case although unfortunately after resources were needlessly expended.”
“…the State would be required to prove the existence of a contract or purchase connected to [Cline’s] official actions on the zoning ordinance. No evidence of such a contract or purchase has been presented to this prosecutor. Zoning decisions by themselves are not contracts,” Evans wrote in his decision.
Throughout late 2012 and into this year, Cline voted on the road use and decommissioning agreements between juwi Wind and Tipton County and served on the review committee on the company’s application for a 10-year tax abatement. The tax abatement was approved by the Tipton County Council.
Residents aligned against the wind farm project filed a formal complaint with law enforcement when it came to light that Cline’s mother, Phyllis Schuck, had signed leases with juwi Wind for five parcels of property containing 149 acres. According to records at the Tipton County Courthhouse, Cline was listed as a trustee on the property as of last year.
When asked who was farming the property, Cline indicated he was.
Previously Cline acknowledged that he signed a lease agreement with wind company AES for a proposed wind farm in western Tipton County in 2009.
In February, Tipton County attorney John Brooke said Cline had consulted his own private attorney as well as attorneys for the county with regard to the matter, and had determined no conflict existed.
After Cline’s trustee status came into question, Cline recused himself from voting on the appointment of two alternates on the Tipton County Board of Zoning Appeals, who both had a key decision to make this past February.
Wednesday, Cline said he provided documentation to investigators, along with an interview, and said he had “proved beyond all doubt that the accusations against me were false.”
Evans was equivocal on whether Cline held any interest in property affected by the wind farms, saying only that Cline’s real estate interests were irrelevant to the complaint.
“Commissioner Cline voted in favor of a zoning change for wind farms. He may or may not have an interest in real estate affected by that change. Such an interest does not constitute a violation of the Indiana Criminal Code.”
Evans said the Indiana State Police investigation into the complaint was “concerned primarily” with the issue of Cline’s real estate interests. He made no mention of any conclusions or recommendations reached by investigators.
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