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Justices rule that law allows town of Fishers to proceed with reorganization

March 15, 2012

Responding to a certifiable question from Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the town of Fishers may proceed with plans to reorganize as a city whose council chooses a mayor.

In Michael R. Kole, Joseph L. Weingarten, and Glenn J. Brown, et al. v. Scott Faultless, Daniel Henke, Eileen Pritchard, Stuart Easley, et al., No. 94S00-1112-CQ-692, Pratt asked the Supreme Court whether a political unit may reorganize into a city under Indiana Code 36-1.5, the Reorganization Act, in a manner that eliminates voting rights recognized under I.C. 36-4-5-2 and 36-4-6-3(i), including reorganization as a city with a council elected entirely at large; and a mayor appointed by that council.

On May 3, 2010, about 1,700 citizens of the town of Fishers – the plaintiffs among them – filed a petition with the Fishers town clerk seeking a referendum on whether the town should convert itself from a town into a second class city. Under the standard structure for second class cities as set out in Article 4 of Title 36 of Indiana code, citizens directly elect a city mayor for the city, plus six city council members from legislative districts and three more at large.

On May 5, 2010, two days after receiving the petition, the Fishers Town Council passed a resolution proposing a reorganization with Fall Creek Township. The resolution called for a commission to study the possibility of merging the two entities into a reorganized city. The authority for such a merger is the Government Modernization Act, a recently enacted statute that appears as Article 1.5 of Title 36. As proceedings on the town council’s proposal moved forward, the plaintiffs’ petition did not. The plaintiffs filed suit in Hamilton Superior Court on Sept. 30, 2010, seeking to compel the Fishers Town Council to schedule their petition for a referendum. They voluntarily dismissed that suit and refiled in U.S. District Court on Dec. 30, 2010.

On Dec. 20, 2010, the Fishers Town Council and the township held a public meeting during which both entities adopted the final reorganization plan. A referendum on the reorganization plan will occur in the November 2012 general election. On Feb. 21, 2011, the Town Council passed a resolution acknowledging the plaintiffs’ petition to incorporate the Town of Fishers into a second class city. The resolution further ordered a referendum on that proposal in the next general election, the same election in which residents would vote on the reorganization plan.

The Supreme Court wrote that the centerpiece of the plaintiffs’ contention is perhaps that the Town Council’s reorganization plan strips them of their chance to vote for a mayor, who is typically the executive head of a second class city.

The justices wrote that in light of the Legislature’s directives about construing the Act’s provisions, Article 1.5 does allow a municipality to reorganize into a city even though the reorganization plan provides for a city council elected at large and a city mayor appointed by the city council. If citizens approve a reorganization plan that describes the membership of new political branches and the manner in which those members will attain office, then the reorganization may proceed along those lines.

 

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