ANDERSON — The Madison County Commissioners didn’t get the temporary restraining order they wanted on Friday.
Instead, Senior Judge Carl E. Van Dorn who was called in to preside in the case, issued a why-can’t-we-all-get-along statement and ordered the commissioners and County Council to try and mediate their differences.
At the same time, he approved a motion to move the case to another county if mediation fails and the lawsuit filed Thursday moves forward.
At issue are the budget cuts passed by the County Council on April 3, in which five of nine positions in the Information Technology Services department, two positions on the commissioners staff, one custodial job and two jobs in the voter registration office were eliminated.
In a complaint filed Thursday the commissioners said the IT department cuts have already caused “irreparable and significant harm” and threaten vital government functions across the county, particularly those dealing with public safety.
The commissioners argued the council’s decisions seemed intended to undermine their ability to function as the county’s executive.
Layoffs in the IT went into effect immediately; the others will occur next month.
After meeting with lawyers on both sides for more than an hour Friday afternoon, Van Dorn expressed deep concern about the dispute.
“I’ve tried to work out something in my mind that will help the situation,” Dorn told elected officials and interested citizens in the audience of Madison County Circuit Court 3, apparently referring to the mediation order.
The judge called local government and public service something near and dear to his heart.
“It’s an urgent matter here. You folks need to work out what is not working,” Van Dorn said. “I’m not here to tell either side how to do their business today.”
But he emphasized that the commissioners and council must work cooperatively “because that’s what taxpayers expect.”
He ordered both sided to schedule a mediation session before May 8, the date of Indiana’s primary election, at which one county councilman and one commissioner along with their lawyers will meet with a mediator.
“We think it’s a reasonable result,” said Stephen C. Unger, an attorney for the council.
Commissioner Steffanie Owens said the outcome of the hearing was positive, and believes sitting down at a table together is a good first step at resolving some of the issues that have divided the commissioners and the council.
“This is going to force them to negotiate, to communicate,” she said. “Maybe we’re going to find out some of the things we’ve been so perplexed about.
“I know it’s going to be an uphill battle, but I’m in it for the long haul because I still believe we need to get this resolved,” she added.