Friday, January 27, 2012

Mr. Smith Goes To Indianapolis

Yesterday, my case went to the Indiana Supreme Court for oral arguments. It was an interesting affair, to say the least.

The case is Kole et al vs. Faultless. To keep from the legal gobbledegook that would make the average reader's eyes glaze over, I'll describe it simply.

I see this as a good government case. In sum, the Fishers Town Council believes that the state's Reorganization law permits units of government to select any form of government it chooses. My position is that a reorganization must fit into existing forms. There are no municipal governments in Indiana with a selected mayor. If they want that, they need to amend the Indiana Constitution. The people get to vote on the mayor.

For instance, their plan advances a type of city that would feature a mayor selected by the new city council members. The people would not directly elect the mayor.

So, in that scenario, you can forget about the executive being a check or balance to the legislative. It is clear to me that they want a rubber stamp mayor. I do not believe this to be in the best interest of the people.

This case arose from a petition that the Town Council sat on. City Yes PAC circulated a petition, which I signed, that wished for a ballot referendum to put the question before the voters- city or town? The rationale was that the population of Fishers was so large (70,000+) that it was time to enter into that form of government. I wasn't entirely sold on that proposition. I was (and remain) wary of the other examples in Hamilton County, such as Carmel or Westfield, where the mayor is a strong arm pushing through pet projects, while their city councils are often the rubber stamps. But- and this is the important point for me- I believe that at the municipal level, the people should decide their form of representative government by their direct election. Put the question on the ballot, and let the people choose. It could go either way. This was done once before, and the people chose to remain a Town.

History could repeat itself, but apparently the Town Council wasn't too confident. So, when they received a valid petition, they did nothing with it. Thus, the lawsuits proceeded.

Link to Greg Purvis' take on the suit.
Link to Abdul Hakim Shabazz's report on the suit, complete with an interview with me.

There was nothing especially surprising in the Supreme Court proceedings, although there was one moment when I had to stifle myself a bit. One Justice asked Fishers' counsel what recourse citizens would have should Fishers get its way, become the city with an appointed mayor, and they find they don't like it. To paraphrase, he said that the people could petition for a referendum.

Are you freakin' kidding me?! This is precisely what happened at the front end of this saga, and it got sandbagged very intentionally. What right thinking person really believes the same people wouldn't do the same thing again?

There are some interesting ramifications that have occurred to me, should Fishers win. The reorganization law allows municipal officials to shape governments however they like, in their view. What's to stop them from eliminating mayors? Being hypothetical here, look at a city that has a strong inclination towards voting Republican or Democrat. Think of Carmel or Anderson. The latter is more apt for what is foreseeable.

Anderson normally votes Democrat, but from time to time, as in 2007, might elect a Republican mayor. Now they still had a predominantly Democratic council. In this scenario, great for checks and balances. But, lets say the council decides that's not politically expedient. So, they get together and put together a reorganization plan that eliminates the mayor. If they have the veto-proof numbers, goodbye mayor.

As a purely personal consideration, the Supreme Court is a very interesting corner of the Statehouse. The space is fairly intimidating, with an absurdly high ceiling, gold leaf pilasters and columns, stained glass, portraits of past Justices, the five Justices on a dais of high-backed throne-like chairs, the works. The Justices ask questions that poke holes in the arguments put forth by both sides.

I found myself trying to analyze the questioning. Did it mean that the Justice found the assertion invalid? Or, was it that he was inviting the counsel to help write the decision? If they did not question an item, was it because it was wholly worthless, or wholly without dispute? It was very hard to read into it.

Nothing to do now but wait for comment from the Court. We could wait months or even years, although we suspect they will decide the case in such time that the question could be placed on the November ballot.

1 comment:

Greg Purvis said...

Good summation Mike, glad to have your perspective. I posted a link to this post on my Hamilton County Politics page on Facebook,!/pages/Hamilton-County-Politics/162180723889511