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Lawsuit against county meeting grows bigger

October 28, 2010

More plaintiffs and defendants have been added to the lawsuit filed Tuesday against entities in the county government.
In a lawsuit filed against the Whitley County Council by Cleveland Township’s Steve Sickafoose in response to an alleged illegal meeting in July, Sickafoose’s twin brother Stan, along with Doug Reiff and Dale Haupert have been added to the list of plaintiffs.
Joining the Whitley County Council as defendants are the Whitley County Board of Commissioners and county attorney Daniel J. Sigler.
While the issue in the lawsuit is a “thrown-together” meeting by the county council for purposes of reversing a vote it had made just an hour or so earlier, those responsible for calling that meeting say it was an end that justified the means.
On July 28, the council met and voted down a tax referendum which the Whitko Community School Corporation sought to place on the Nov. 2 ballot for residents living within the school district.
Council members Jim Banks and Bill Overdeer were absent from the meeting.
According to state statute, the board, which serves as the governing body of the school corporation, cannot vote down the proposed referendum. The statute reads that the council “shall” approve the proposal.
Whitko Superintendent Steve Clason said the statute allows for the school district to merely “inform” the council of what it’s doing.
Clason said during the first meeting, council members asked him about their authority in the matter. He added that the state statute was relatively new and that he himself was not completely sure of the council’s authority in the matter.
“When they were asking me questions, like ‘what happens if we vote it down?’ my response was that I really didn’t know because it was new to me as well.”
The council voted no on the referendum 3-1 with Kim Wheeler abstaining.
“When I was coming back from the meeting, I was scratching my head thinking ‘I’m not really sure they can do that.’” Clason said today.
“I called John (Whiteleader, Jr.) and he consulted with some people.”
Whiteleather, the school corporation’s attorney, became involved in getting the board back together in what is now being called by the lawsuit’s plaintiffs as an “illegal meeting,” allegedly violating Indiana’s Open Door Law.
“The board corrected the illegality of the first vote,” said Whiteleather of the result from the second meeting, a 3-1 passing vote.
At press time, no hearing date has been set for the lawsuit, which is scheduled to be heard by Whitley County Circuit Court Judge James Heuer.
Regardless of the outcome from that suit, the tax referendum will be up to the voters on Tuesday, being put on the ballot for residents in Whitley and Kosciusko counties.
The proposed tax is designed to raise money for the corporation’s general fund.
The property tax can be as high as 20 cents for every $100 assessed valuation.
School officials want the option to implement the tax any time in the next seven years to make up for cutbacks in state revenue.
If the corporation determines that less money is needed to fill the gaps, the tax levy could be less.

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