Government Run Amuck: Corruption in “Middletown” America


Muncie City Hall

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating officials in the town of Muncie, Indiana, for allegations of multiple instances of public corruption. Muncie is known for being the subject of a sociological study published in 1929, called Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture.

The first instance of corruption involves a local business owner, Carl Barber, who sold a flea market to Jeff Burke, a local businessman, in August for $150,000. By September, Burke had already re-sold the property to the Muncie Sanitary District, which plans on demolishing the building, for $395,000.

Barber filed a tort claim notice in March alleging that local officials used inside information to cheat him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The second instance of alleged corruption involves the county’s building commissioner, Craig Nichols, awarding demolitions projects to his own contracting firms. A lawsuit filed by a competing demolitions firm alleges that they were shut out from the contracting process, leaving Nichols’ company to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts.

While city officials are refusing to disclose how much taxpayer money they’ve spent defending against this lawsuit, some of the work awarded to Nichols’ company doesn’t actually appear to exist, as there are no buildings to demolish at the addresses specified in the contracts. In addition, a local official who oversees demolition projects was recently fired and refuses to discuss the issues with the demolitions projects unless her benefits are restored.

city-of-muncie-interior1Adding to the mess is that Muncie Police Chief Steve Stewart, a 31-year veteran of the police force, resigned his position citing “actions” by Mayor Dennis Tyler and other officials. The resignation letter reads: “Actions by you and others prove to me that I can no longer be part of your administration. Therefore, effective immediately I am resigning as chief of police.”

The shady practices in Muncie do not end with the local government. Victoria Rose, a former official in the local Democratic party, said that she broke with the party establishment in part because those who want to stand for office must pay 10% of their income to the party to be eligible and 1% once they are elected. She added that that the party prefers these payments be made in cash.

If all of these allegations are confirmed, Muncie is a prime example of local government run amuck. While we hear about abuses of power stemming from the federal government on a near daily basis, it is important to remember that those who abuse the public trust with little oversight might be closer to home than Washington, DC.

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