Top 10 stories of 2022

Dec. 31—There were plenty of headlines worth consideration in Boone County this year, but we narrowed it down to the stories that have fundamentally altered the community and the future.

Boone County's top 10 stories of 2022 were:

LEAP Lebanon

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. in January began making offers for options to buy more than 6,000 acres of mostly prime agricultural land and residential property north and west of Lebanon.

This land was to become the LEAP Lebanon by year's end, although the state did not admit that outright. LEAP, which stand for Limitless Exploration-Advanced Pace, is the largest economic development project in Indiana history.

The state did not reveal why its broker was getting options to buy the land, and residents became increasingly concerned about the possible scale and type of project on the horizon. Community frustration at the lack of information from the state boiled over in March when Boone County Commissioners learned of the project and scheduled a public forum in Western Boone High School's gym to share what they knew.

Homeowners and neighbors of the properties under contract wanted to know what the state intended to do there. They worried about quality-of-life, who will pay for increased public safety, and increased traffic on already busy Ind. 32 and U.S. 52. They said that if they sold their property, they'd have nowhere to relocate with so few houses available in the area and wanted to know how the project would affect schools.

Boone County Commissioner Jeff Wolfe told the crowd the state was being uncooperative and not sharing information, but that commissioners were trying to schedule meetings with the IEDC.

After that meeting, the IEDC revealed to The Lebanon Reporter that it wanted to buy an untold number of acres for a cluster of high-end, high-tech manufacturers that provide high-wage jobs. Lebanon was attractive because of its proximity to Interstate 65 and its midpoint between Indianapolis and Purdue University.

David Rosenberg, IEDC executive vice president, said that no companies had committed as of March and that the state would buy land, build robust utility services and then court companies.

Planning and zoning for the unincorporated land would remain under county authority.

Boone County Commissioners committed in early June to hiring a firm for $800,000 to create a planned unit development district for the area and update the county's master plan. They said a PUD was the best protection they could provide for property owners in and near the targeted area.

There was no money budgeted for the expense, and the Boone County Council reluctantly broke into the county's Rainy Day Fund to pay for it. Representatives of the 800-member Boone County Preservation Group said the possibility of the state developing land unbridled would be a rainy day. The IEDC urged planners to hurry and offered the county a partial reimbursement for the expense but never named an dollar amount.

By late June, the IEDC asked the City of Lebanon to annex 1,396 acres for the district. The Lebanon City Council annexed the land with industrial zoning in August.

Then, in November, with the PUD and master plan still under development, the IEDC asked the city to annex another 5,225 acres, in effect circumventing county authority and the planning process.

City leaders were reluctant to zone more land for industrial use on farmland, but instead created a new LEAP zoning district and annexed the land in December. City leaders said they created the LEAP zoning district with the guidance of the firm creating the PUD. Land south of the Big Four Trail received LEAP zoning, while the trail and land north of it along U.S. 52 was zoned for single-family use. Housing for new workers and amenities are planned for that acreage, Rosenberg told an angry group of remonstrators.

The second annexation brought a total of 6,621 acres, more than 10 square miles, into the city. That means Lebanon's area increased by more than 59% in six months.

The PUD is still incomplete, and the state is continuing to get additional land under contract for more development south of Ind. 32 and along I-65 north of County Road 400 N., the initial boundary, toward Ind. 47.

Boone County Justice Center

Commissioners and other county officials broke ground on the Boone County Justice Center project this month.

The Boone County Council in June narrowly approved the new justice center and jail expansion project that had been at the center of a dispute between the council and county commissioners for nearly a year and a half.

The council also approved a .2% local income tax, LIT, to cover the cost of the jail project and operational expenses. The tax is set to take effect Oct. 1. Bonds for the project and the LIT expire in 20 years, if the county doesn't pay them off earlier.

The county adopted a build, operate, transfer approach to the project, which means costs are capped at $59.1 million. About $4 to $6 million of the price represents repairs and projects that were required for the jail in the near future, regardless of the need to build.

Eli Lilly and Co.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, and Eli Lilly and Co. CEO Dave Ricks announced in May Lilly's intent to invest $2.1 billion to build a pharmaceutical campus in Boone County.

The Lilly project, slated to begin in April, is the first commitment for the LEAP Lebanon District.

Drugs to treat cancer and diabetes may be among some produced here, Ricks said.

Lilly is slated to build a multi-structure campus over 600 acres north of Lebanon from north of County Road 350 North to C.R. 450 N. and from Interstate 65 east to the CSX railroad tracks. The company will not occupy the entire 600 acres.

Lilly expects to employ as many as 1,500 for the project's construction phase, and create 500 permanent jobs when its plants open.

CTFD woes continue

Lebanon City officials, Center Township Trustee Randy Large, and the Center Township Board were apparently in negotiations to merge the Center Township Fire Department in September, Lebanon Mayor Matthew Gentry confirmed.

But Center Township authorities discussed the potential merger in September during an illegal meeting that left the public in the dark, according to an opinion of Indiana's Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.

Center Township Trustee candidate Casey Samson was left out of the meeting and asked Britt to review it.

CTFD firefighters, with the support of Firefighters Local 5195, in August wrote a letter supporting a merger. And Lebanon officials announced in November that LFD would hire CTFD's six full-time firefighters on Jan. 1.

But no fire department merger has occurred and talks have stalled, Gentry said.

Large did not seek re-election because of term limits and Samson, who did not like the terms Lebanon proposed, won the seat in November with 68% of the vote.

County elections

Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen did not seek re-election this year because of term limits.

That left Republicans Col. Tony Harris and former Deputy Scott Pell to duke it out in the primary election. Harris won with 55% of the vote and was unopposed in the fall. Pell and Harris combined spent more than $90,000 on their campaigns.

Republicans who ran unopposed in the May and November elections are: Boone County Clerk-Elect Lisa Bruder, Surveyor-Elect Carol Cunningham, Assessor Jennifer Lasley, Prosecutor Kent Eastwood, and County Councilman Kevin Van Horn.

Things got heated before the General Election when police were called to referee fights among Zionsville school board candidates' supporters at polling places, and someone sent an anonymous letter lacking the proper election materials statement on it to constituents, making false statements about a candidate.

In the end, Republican County Councilwoman Jennifer Hostetter ousted Matthew Farmer (D) to keep her seat; Councilman Aaron Williams (R) won his first election against Democrat Tony Teal; and Tim Beyer (R) bested Erin Brewster (D) in November after having unseated Commissioner Tom Santelli (R) in May.

Businessman Casey Samson beat two Republican opponents in May and won the Center Township Trustee seat in November with more than 68% of the votes against Independent candidate Aaron Metheny.

Zionsville finances

The Zionsville Town Council had for months complained that they didn't receive monthly financial statements when in August they received the Indiana State Board of Accounts' eye-opening audit statement for 2021.

The SBA found that $75,000 in the Motor Vehicle Fund was incorrectly used for town hall renovations and that $205,585 was used to renovate town hall without approval of the town council. The report found the town lacked proper internal controls and that reconciliations were not completed, and that caused more errors.

A number of disbursements lacked supporting documentation, and $260 worth of gift cards and $105,000 in legal fees were paid with purchase cards but are not allowable expenses for the cards.

The town hired Chief Financial Officer Kellie Adams in April, and the town council was satisfied with her work, but she quit this month after only eight months on the job. She was preceded by Tammy Harvard, who became CFO in June 2020 and resigned early this year after new financial software failed to function well.

Leprachauns' first season

Pro basketball made its way to Lebanon this year, with the founding of the Lebanon Leprechauns.

The team made its debut in March as part of the TBL, which features nearly 50 teams around the country.

Playing in Lebanon's Rosenstihl Gymnasium, the Leprechauns went 16-8 and placed second in the Lower Midwest division in their inaugural year.

Lebanon advanced to the playoffs, where they fell to the Kokomo Bobkats in a three-game series.

First conviction made

The Boone County Prosecutor's Office won its first conviction under a 2018 law that holds drug dealers accountable for deaths caused by the drugs they sell.

Kurt. M. Russell, 52, of Indianapolis, sold fentanyl laced heroin that killed Maxwell Timbrook, 28, of Zionsville, a Boone County jury concluded. The two had worked together at Costco in Indianapolis. Boone Superior Court I Judge Matthew Kincaid sentenced Russell to 25 years in prison.

In a pending case, Andre Johnson, 43, Indianapolis, faces two counts of dealing in a controlled substance resulting in death after the fentanyl overdose deaths of Russell Ervin, 34, of Lebanon, and Wesley Johnson, 28, of Thorntown.

Murder charge

Lebanon farmer and businessman Andrew Wilhoite was charged with murder in March after confessing to police that he hit his wife with a concrete planter and dumped her body in a creek, according to a probable cause affidavit. They were the parents of three children and were married for 12 years.

Wilhoite was a candidate for a seat on the Clinton Township Board at the time and would have been allowed to seek the office but withdrew his name from the ballot before the November election.

Bond is not allowed in murder cases. Wilhoite is being held in the Boone County Jail on one count of murder and is scheduled for an April trial.

Sex crimes sentencings

Shawn A. Martin, a former Zionsville Community High School substitute teacher, will be sentenced in February for two counts of child seduction. Martin was found to have used his position to coerce a female student at an off-school site. He was convicted in November of two counts of child seduction.

Kenneth 'Andy' Arnold, 34, a former gymnastics coach who molested young girls in Zionsville, was sentenced in November to 50 years with the Indiana Department of Correction. The girls were students of the InterActive Academy, a recreational complex specializing in gymnastics, dance, swimming and other activities in Zionsville, where Arnold worked at the time.

Brian "Joey" Boyer, 41, thought he would open a Lebanon High School door to a 14-year-old girl who would engage in sex with him in a band storage room in January 2021, according to court records. He instead found members of a Facebook group, Predator Catchers Indianapolis, who streamed video of their encounter with him on Facebook Live. They accused Boyer of arranging sex with a 14-year-old girl, who was actually a decoy. Boyer lost his job, was convicted of one count of child solicitation and imprisoned in May, but was released in November.