Monday, January 9, 2012

The "Tri-Partisan" lawsuit against Fishers, part 1

This will be the first part of a mult-part series about a lawsuit filed by a Libertarian, Mike Kole, a Republican, Glenn Brown, and a Democrat, Joe Weingarten, against the (former) Town Council of Fishers.  What is this suit about?  There are long and short answers.

The short answer is that the lawsuit is about democracy, and protecting the right of the citizens of Fishers to chose a form of government where they directly elect a Mayor, as with all other Indiana communities the size of Fishers, and many smaller. 

The long answer has become so complicated that many or most Fishers residents probably have no clue that the lawsuit even exists, or what it is about.  So I will begin by introducing the parties, and some history behind the lawsuit.  Later posts will expand on the issues involved, and why they are important.

THE PARTIES

Mike Kole is a former Libertarian Party chair for Hamilton County and a former Libertarian candidate for Indiana Secretary of State.

Glenn Brown is a former Town of Fishers employee, and was a candidate for Fishers Town Council in the 2011 Republican primary. 

Joe Weingarten has been a two-time Democratic candidate for Indiana General Assembly and was the Democratic candidate for Fishers Clerk-Treasurer in the 2011 election.

The Defendants are the former members (prior to 1/1/12) of the Fishers Town Council and also Fall Creek Township is named as a Defendant.

BACKGROUND

Prior to May 2010, a non-partisan organization known as CityYes was collecting signatures for a referendum on whether or not to convert Fishers into a City with an elected Mayor.  Despite its size, Fishers uses the "town" form of government, which has no elected mayor and no separation of legislative and executive power, as do all other levels of government, federal, state, county, and all cities in Indiana.

The day prior to the May 2010 primary, CityYes submitted 1700 certified signatures of Fishers voters, more than legally required, asking that the question of conversion to a city be placed on the November 2010 ballot.  The former Town Council ignored the petition.  To this day, that question has never been certified to be placed on the ballot. 

Instead, shortly after the primary, the Town Council and the Fall Creek Township Board started a process to consider a merger between the Town and Fall Creek Township.  A study committee was appointed, and by the end of December 2010, a report was adopted calling for the merger of Fishers and Fall Creek.  BUT, and this is where it gets interesting, it was also proposed that a supposedly NEW form of government be created, that of a "hybrid" city, which would have a Mayor appointed by the new City Council, from among its members, and not Elected by the citizens. 

A side note, it was also proposed that this "merger" include Delaware Township, by Mike Colby, then a member of the Delaware Township Board and now a member of the Fishers Town Council, but that was rejected by the other members of that Township Board.

The Town Council then voted to provisionally place BOTH questions on the ballot at the same time, at the Presidential election of November 2012, where they will be at the end of a very long ballot.  HOWEVER, to this date, neither question has actually been certified to the County Election Board. 

With this background, the three individual Plaintiffs decided to file suit to try to determine if the "end run" around the ORIGINAL referendum was either legal, or Constitutional.  Suit was originally filed in a Hamilton County Court, where Fishers' lawyers complained that it should be in Federal Court.  So the Plaintiffs dropped that suit and refiled in Federal Court in Indianapolis.  Promptly, Fishers' lawyers complained it should be in STATE court, back in Hamilton County, as there were issues of conflicting state laws that needed to be sorted out by state courts.

So where is it now?  The Federal District Court has "certified" a question of Indiana State law to the Indiana Supreme Court.  That question is:  “May a political unit reorganize into a city under Indiana Code article 36-1.5 (the “Reorganization Act”) in a manner that eliminates voting rights recognized under Indiana Code sections 36-4-5-2 and 36-4-6-3(i), including reorganization as a city with (1) a council elected entirely at large, and (2) a mayor appointed by that council?”

That question is now on an expedited briefing schedule, and oral argument will be held in the Supreme Court on Thursday, January 26, 2012, at 9:00 a.m, in the Supreme Court chambers in the State Capitol.  Oral arguments are webcast live, and can be accessed on this page:  https://mycourts.in.gov/arguments/default.aspx?court=sup.   Look for the case of "Michael R. Kole, et al. vs Scott Faultless, et al."

I will expand the discussion of what the lawsuit is about, and the complexities of where this issues leads, in future posts.  Any questions you would like to see addressed, feel free to email me, or leave a comment.