Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler delivered his final State of the City speech April 16, 2019, at the Horizon Convention Center in downtown Muncie. Tyler spoke about the financial state of the city, infrastructure and healthcare-related projects in the city. Seth Tocco, NewsLink Indiana
Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler indicted for theft of government funds
When Dennis Tyler won his campaign for mayor in 2011, it resonated with his voters, said then-Ball State College Democrats President Nolan Born in a previous Daily News article.
His supporters back then wanted “someone civil,” Born said, adding that Tyler was the candidate who was willing to work for Muncie.
But now, the organization’s current president hopes the “culture of corruption” in the City of Muncie comes to an end.
"Whether guilty or not, Mayor Tyler has brought uncertainty to the city for too long," said Dominic Bordenaro, president of Ball State College Democrats, in a statement.
Upon taking office in 2012, Tyler was the first Democrat to become Muncie's mayor in 20 years. He concludes his mayorship in 40 days with an indictment for corruption with a trial in federal court set for Jan. 21, 2020.
As part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI into illegal payments associated with public works projects in Muncie, Tyler was arrested Monday morning at his home by the FBI, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to the indictment papers, Tyler has been charged with one count of theft of government funds — accused of having accepted a $5,000 illegal cash payment from Tracy Barton, former superintendent of sewer maintenance and engineering for the Muncie Sanitary District, as motivation to award a contract for lucrative excavation work to an unnamed individual.
“He was the highest ranking elected official in city government,” said U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler on Monday at a press conference. “Is there some responsibility for crimes going on in that city as the mayor? That may be not criminal and not charged. It may be, but that’s not what we are here to work on.”
The mayor was released from custody the same day as his arrest after an automatic not guilty plea on pretrial release condition, Minkler said. The decision to complete the remainder of his term, the attorney said, was left up to Tyler, who is scheduled to leave office Dec. 31.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany J. Preston, who is prosecuting this case for the government, said in the press release Tyler faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of the charge.
“Public officials are entrusted to perform a public service and to legitimately conduct business in the best interest of the community that they represent,” Minkler said. “Tyler not only betrayed the trust of his community, but violated federal law, and all in an effort to serve his own personal interests. My office intends to prosecute Tyler to the full extent of the law.”
Muncie Mayor-elect Dan Ridenour said in a statement about the arrest that he was pleased Muncie citizens "overwhelmingly supported" a change in leadership in the Nov. 5 elections.
Ridenour won more than 60 percent of the vote in the mayoral election and Republican candidates gained a 5-4 majority on the City Council.
"For city of Muncie employees who are burdened by the string of news stories about the current administration, please know that I share a commitment with you to operate the city of Muncie in a way that promotes the welfare of all," Ridenour said.
Chad Kinsella, assistant professor of political science, public administration and American politics at Ball State, said the election was a referendum on the current city administration and the multiple investigations.
He said while there will be hope whenever a new executive takes over, there will also be pressure on the incoming mayor to distance himself from the current administration.
“People are going to be watching them and they don’t want to give off any vibes to suggest that they are doing business as usual,” Kinsella said. “They need to have a clean break and really try to do some things to distance themselves from any type of corruption.”
New businesses, Kinsella said, might think twice before deciding to bring their businesses into Muncie. He said the protests against the Waelz Sustainable Products plant in August, due to environmental concerns, don’t reflect positively on businesses either.
Following Tyler’s arrest, Kinsella said the mayor-elect has his work cut out for him — to establish that the city will “do business better.”
Ridenour and his team met with Tyler and city staff for an hour Tuesday, to discuss transition-related issues like the city’s snow plan, staffing, communications processes and issues requiring immediate attention in 2020, a press release from the mayor-elect’s team said.
Additionally, it said that Tyler committed to allowing Ridenour and his team access to additional city staff until the new mayor takes over.
The investigation is still ongoing, Minkler said, adding his office and the FBI do not yet know how deep their investigation will lead them.
When The Daily News reached out to Marc Ransford, senior media strategist, he said Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns did not wish to comment on the arrest.