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4/20/2012 11:02:00 AM
Madison County Commissioners seek temporary restraining order against council

Stuart Hirsch, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — The Madison County commissioners want a judge to force the County Council to restore staff positions cut from the Information Technology Services department as part of a budget-cutting move earlier this month.

The complaint, filed Thursday in Madison Circuit Court 3, said eliminating five of nine IT department positions has already caused “irreparable and significant harm” and impaired the commissioners’ ability to effectively act as the county’s executive.

“Council’s actions with regard to IT seriously impair the commissioners statutory duty to manage the day-to-day affairs of the county,” the complaint states. “As a result, Council has exceeded its statutory authority as it seeks to engage in executive activity.”

As an immediate remedy, the commissioners want a judge to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the council from violating state law, “including its actions to adversely affect the management and oversight of county offices facilities and personnel.”

In addition, the commissioners want appropriations affecting IT personnel and its support staff reinstated; and they want a court order prohibiting the council from engaging in executive actions.

While the IT department maintains the computers, phones, fax machines and printers used in county government, it also maintains vital police and fire dispatch systems throughout the county, and monitors the security of Madison County’s private network against Internet intrusions and hackers.

In addition, the department maintains vast amounts of sensitive data including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, crime scene photographs, arrest records, ongoing criminal investigations and juvenile information.

The department also provides technical support for the court system, jail, health department, highway department, juvenile center, community corrections, the Community Justice Center and Work One/JobSource.

Commissioner Steffanie Owens said the decision to take the extraordinary step seeking judicial relief for the council’s actions was extremely difficult.

“I’m actually sick about it,” she said. “I’m not saying any of these people are bad individuals. I just question the policies and the methods used.”

The stage for this showdown was set on April 3, when the council, citing a looming budget deficit of $5.8 million, voted 4-1 to eliminate $2 million in spending.

In addition to the IT cuts, two administration support positions were eliminated from the commissioners’ staff, along with a special supervisory custodial position in the sheriff’s department.

The county’s fiscal outlook brightened days later when the Indiana Department of Revenue revealed that it owed counties $206 million in county option income tax and county economic development income tax revenue — with Madison County scheduled to receive almost $3.2 million.

After disbursements to cities, towns, townships and libraries, the county’s actual share was estimated at $700,000 to $1 million, which would still leave a significant budgetary gap in the current fiscal year.

But the complaint said “no detailed or serious discussion occurred at the meeting in justification for reductions to the Commissioners’ staff and IT.”

Republican County Councilman Rick Gardner said he was advised by the council’s attorney not to make any comment about the lawsuit. Other members of the Republican majority did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Council Democrats weren’t so reticent.

At-large member Larry Higgins, who is not seeking another term, called the conflict “totally unbelievable.”

District 2 Councilman Buddy Patterson said he supports the commissioners, but isn’t happy about the legal action.

“I’m not enjoying it at all, that’s for sure. The thing that bothers me more than anything else is they (council members) knew what they were going to do before the meeting,” he said. “This is one time I’m hoping the commissioners will win.”

Related Stories:
• Madison County Council cites 'train wreck,' votes for cuts in jobs
• Madison County judge orders mediation for commissioners, council
• IT experts question determining staffing needs by Madison County's population
• Mediation fails to break Madison County government impasse

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