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Lawyer enjoys helping cities and towns

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In-House Counsel

Jodie Woods was the city attorney for Greenwood during a time of rapid growth, working for three different mayors between 1985 and 1998. That experience prepared her for her role as general counsel for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, but her upbringing may have played a greater role in grooming her for a career with the IACT.

Woods’ father, Eldon Woods, was the Gibson County treasurer when she was born. He later worked on fiscal matters for the Indiana Department of Correction and the State Board of Accounts. When she was in junior high school, her father earned his law degree.

“I have the political piece in my background, I have the local government service piece in my background, and I was probably always going to be somehow connected with local government,” Woods said. “So it’s not at all surprising that’s the (area of) law I felt most comfortable with after exploring a few others.”

Scope of the job

Woods begins each workday sifting through email messages from staff, elected or appointed officials and others, seeking her input.
 

woods-jodie-15col.jpg Jodie Woods (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“I do some kind of research on some particular topic in order to either answer a question – and answering is not representing them, it’s more like giving them a direction to go,” Woods said. “Frequently, it’s helping (a city or town) attorney who may not be as familiar with the topic as I am, maybe, because I hear and see so much from my position.”

Woods took the job at IACT in 1998, based in part on encouragement from her friend and colleague Thomas “Buddy” Downs, chair of the municipal finance group at Ice Miller.

“I’ve known Jodie since she was a city attorney of Greenwood. She was very well suited to be a city attorney because she had the ability to mix legal issues with the political issues and bureaucratic issues you have to deal with and to roll with the punches,” Downs said. He said her personality seemed like a good fit for the job, too.

“I think you have to be very flexible, and you have to be personable, and you have to be able to deal with people from the biggest cities to the smallest communities, and she’s very adept at that,” he said.

Woods had been coming to IACT conferences since 1985. She’s learned a lot about municipal law since then, but even with all of her experience, she said she doesn’t have all the answers.

“The municipal law subject area is really quite broad, I think, and trying to even keep a handle on major issues is difficult. You can’t know every nuance of anything – at least I can’t,” she said.

Woods is a registered lobbyist and said she devotes a lot of time to advocacy, both judicial and legislative, although she does not create IACT’s legislative agenda.

“There may be some legislation that I could suggest, or topics I suggest, but mostly my role is not in crafting it, it’s identifying and spotting issues,” she said.

In 2011, many cities and towns wondered how they might be affected by legislation that altered Indiana’s immigration laws. Opinions in Indiana about immigration varied widely, Woods said, depending on the community.

“The immigration issues, we didn’t take a stand for or against, we just tried to explain the impact on local governments. I view my role as just trying to explain based upon my experience in municipal government where I think the impacts will be,” she said. She paused for a moment and added, “And then they tell me if I’m correct or not.”

Special challenges

The 2011 legislative session produced Public Law 152, which leaves handgun regulation to the state, rather than cities and towns. IACT posted a notice on its website, advising cities and towns that if they failed to revise their local ordinances to be in compliance with that law, they could be at risk for lawsuits.

“What I have noticed over the last 30 years of doing this is how much more complicated local government is,” Woods said. “Maybe government all over is more complicated, but certainly in local government, it seems more complicated. Where we used to have definite ways that things could be done, now … sometimes you have choices which people have found very beneficial to running their own local municipality, and now it’s being changed … which creates challenges, I think.”

Woods may turn to her peers for advice, but often, she’s the one people count on when they need guidance. Doug Haney, Carmel city attorney, is one such person.

“She’s a wonderful woman – she’s the person I go to whenever I have a question on municipal law.” Haney said he has worked with Woods for 14 or 15 years with the state organization as well as the International Municipal Lawyers Association.

Life beyond work

Woods is from Fort Branch, Ind., a town of about 2,000 people, about 20 miles north of Evansville. She lives in Johnson County now, but she said her connection to Fort Branch may make her seem more accessible to some of IACT’s smaller city or town members.

“My relatives all came from Fort Branch or Princeton, and I went back there for years and years and years because my grandparents lived to be pretty old, so we would go back and visit, and I’d still have cousins and relatives,” she said. “I still take Mom and Dad back there sometimes, because they still go to high school reunions.”

Woods said she’s always shared her home with pets – currently, two cats.

“One, I inherited from my folks, which is not really true because I gave that cat to them, and I just got it back when they moved into a retirement home,” she said.

Woods and her daughter, a student at Ball State University, share custody of a dog, which spends most of its time in Muncie chewing its way through her daughter’s residence.

Woods is clearly a person who is passionate about her work; in her free time she produces the Indiana Municipal Lawyers Association newsletter, and she enjoys traveling to conferences that help her learn more about her field.

“The International Municipal Lawyers Association – when I go to their conferences, it gives me the boost that I hope our conference gives to our officials,” she said. “They gave me an award for being Outstanding State League Counsel in 2011. And I’m real proud of that – that’s a really neat thing.”•
 

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