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Friday, June 05, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Panel of Vanderburgh judges rule against City Council in disputed residency ordinance

The story by Mark Wilson and John Martin is in the Evansville Courier & Press this evening. Here are some quotes:

A panel of local judges has unanimously ruled against the Evansville City Council over a disputed ordinance stating that all city appointees to local boards and commissions must be city residents.

The ordinance was passed 6-3 in December by City Council, which in January voted by the same margin to override Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s veto.

The judges’ ruling invalidates the whole ordinance, but it opens the door for the council to pass a different version so the city residency requirement applies to boards and commissions created under city code. The dispute between council and Winnecke involved residency requirements on panels created under state statute, and whether the council had authority to make those rules more restrictive.

Ultimately, the ruling applies to 14 boards and commissions with residency requirements set out in their state statutes, but not to the Public Safety and Public Works boards because they fall under the Indiana Constitution, or to the Levee Authority District Board because its creating statute already says members must be city residents.

However, the judges said that because they cannot rewrite the ordinance to address those changes, it was entirely void.

All seven Vanderburgh Superior Court judges listened to oral arguments over the disputed residency requirements for city board and commission appointees during a televised April 23 hearing. * * *

The attorneys’ arguments centered on the power of local government versus that of state statute. The judges addressed this in their ruling by saying that when there is an inability to sever a distinct portion of a law, that trial courts have been admonished that they may not rewrite municipal ordinances.

Doing so would violate separation of powers provisions of the state and federal constitutions, they said.

Danks said the council will have two courses of action in light of the judges’ decision.

First, he said the residency ordinance will be refiled, and it will establish a city residency requirement only on 42 boards and commissions created by city code. Winnecke said Friday he would not object to that ordinance.

And second, Danks said he will seek City Council authorization to appeal the ruling on grounds that a city residency requirement also may be established for the 14 state-created boards and commissions.

Danks said he’s not sure if the appeal would go to the Indiana Court of Appeals or if he would use a mechanism where a case can be appealed directly to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The case needs to appealed, Danks said, partly because municipalities need guidance in interpretation of state “home rule” laws.

Danks argued to the local judges that home rule should allow the City Council to establish its own rules on board and commission.

The C&P has also posted the 14-page opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 5, 2015 06:22 PM
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions | Indiana Government