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Cedar Lake allowed to dissolve Parks Department, board

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A Lake Superior judge erred when she used Dillon’s Rule to determine the scope of the town of Cedar Lake’s legal authority to dissolve its park board and Parks Department, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The proper legal inquiry is based on the state’s Home Rule Act.

In Town of Cedar Lake v. Gina Alessia, Candi Reiling, Andrew Balkema, Individually and as Members of the Town of Cedar Lake Park Board, 45A03-1207-PL-316, terminated park board members Gina Alessia, Candi Reiling and Andrew Balkema filed a complaint against the town after their positions on the board were terminated and the Parks Department was dissolved by ordinance. They sought reinstatement, back pay and an injunction against Cedar Lake to prohibit it from taking any action that would hinder or prevent the board members from acting in their official capacity.

The terminated board members alleged the ordinance dissolving the board and the department was improper and not authorized by statute.

Lake Superior Judge Diane Kavadias-Schneider granted partial summary judgment in favor of the board members, finding the ordinance was improper and beyond the scope of the Town Council’s authority under Indiana Code. She ordered the terminated board members reinstated. She also held that law firm Austgen Kuiper & Associates P.C. may continue to represent the town in this action, but cannot represent the board members because of conflict of interest.

In making her ruling, Kavadias-Schneider relied on Dillon’s Rule to determine the town’s authority, but the Power of Cities Act, and later the Home Rule Act, changed the legal landscape of the relationship between the state and its political subdivisions, Judge Edward Najam wrote. Pursuant to the Home Rule Act, there is not statutory prohibition against the town’s exercise to dissolve the park board or the Parks Department, and Cedar Lake’s exercise of that authority by enacting the ordinance was lawful, the judges held.

They reversed summary judgment for the board members on their claims for illegal termination, declaratory judgment on the validity of the ordinance and injunctive relief. The COA ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment for the town on these issues.

But, the judges did affirm the order that Austgen Kuiper & Associates may not continue to represent the park board and its members in any matter based on the current conflict of interest.
 

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