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Red Flags Rising in Elkhart

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Transparency, Integrity of City Council Questioned

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

ELKHART – The Elkhart City Council met in special session on Saturday afternoon, June 22 in a meeting which is sending up red flags throughout the Elkhart community.

The first red flag was the day and time of the meeting. City councils, school boards, commissioners’ courts and various other governmental entities have all met on various days of the week in special meetings but very seldom – if ever – has a special meeting been called on a Saturday afternoon, unless there was some type of dire emergency

While claiming to support full transparency in another media source, the Saturday afternoon meeting was anything but transparent.

The regular agenda was comprised of three items. These items were:

  • Consider and take action on city-issued cell phones for city officials and staff.
  • The city administrator was to provide the council with an update on day-to-day operations of city hall and to consider modifications of various policies and procedures.
  • The mayor and city administrator were to provide an update to the council on an incident that occurred outside of city hall on June 18. In addition, the council was supposed to consider re-instituting an Elkhart Police Department along with a marshal’s position.

The meeting was called to order at approximately 3 pm. Following the pledge and invocation, the meeting came to an abrupt halt as seating – red flag number two – became an issue. Because not everyone was seated, Mayor Jennifer McCoy refused to proceed and called a recess at 3:03 pm.

After Councilman Chuck Conner suggested taking the meeting outside, he asked McCoy how she planned to proceed.

“I’m going to call a recess until the (Anderson County) deputy gets here. They can either sit in the chairs or they can be escorted off,” she said.

The Elkhart council chambers are relatively small.  With and between 15 to 20 Elkhart residents in attendance, five council members, the mayor, the city administrator and the interim city secretary, the room was crowded, to say the least.

While chairs were available, two attendees indicated back surgery/back problems prevented them from sitting for long periods of time. Another attendee asserted she had claustrophobia and with the cramped quarters, she would prefer to stand.

One meeting attendee asked if it was a requirement to sit down and he was informed, “Yes, it is.”

Another attendee asked if there was an ordinance concerning this in the city’s bylaws.

“I control the meeting,” the mayor said. “And it has been passed…”

“Oh, I see,” an attendee said. “You’re trying to control everything ….”

“If that’s what you want to think …” the mayor replied.

“I think that’s about to come to an end,” the attendee said.

“You’ve got two years,” Council member Lucia Butler interjected.

“I’ve got two years, that’s right. Go ahead and run against me, sir,” McCoy remarked.

While the stalemate over seating continued, all five council members and the mayor remained seated around the council table. In addition, the third red flag involved several of the city leaders who were observed texting (possibly each other) during the interlude.

Approximately 20 minutes after the meeting was called to order, an Anderson County Deputy arrived in the council chambers and informed those who were standing to either take a seat or be escorted from the building.

Once everyone had been seated or exited the building, McCoy resumed the meeting.

“The first item is to consider and take action, if any, on city-issued cell phones for city officials and staff,” the mayor said.

“Mayor,” Council member Taylor Bentley said, “I wanted to make a motion to table these items – these first three items.”

With no discussion, the motion was seconded and unanimously approved – fourth red flag.

Following the approval of the motion, McCoy said the council would go into executive session.

The agenda listed two items for deliberation during the closed door part of the meeting. These two items were:

  1. To discuss and provide an update on threatened litigation as well as to consult with legal counsel concerning the matter.
  2. To discuss the appointment, employment, evaluation or dismissal of an interim city attorney to represent the city of Elkhart in day-to-day legal needs.
  3. To discuss the appointment, employment, evaluation or dismissal of a special counsel of record to represent the city of Elkhart in the matter of threatened litigation.
  4. To discuss contracting with a special investigator to represent the city of Elkhart in the matter of threatened litigation.

Following approximately two hours behind closed doors, the council reconvened the open portion of the meeting, only to send up red flags five and six.

Before those attendees who had waited for the meeting to reconvene were able to take their seats, a motion to take no action on agenda item one was made, seconded and approved.

A second motion was then made to employ Lynn Law, PLLC to represent the city in any threatened litigation. The Lynn Law firm specializes in “… public and private sector employers in matters involving labor and employment issues.”

With all the red flags from the Saturday meeting and with time (less than 10 days) running out for the city of Elkhart to pay former City Secretary Carla Sheridan a severance package of $100,000, it’s enough to make you question the city’s integrity and transparency.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.