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5/5/2012 8:12:00 AM
Mediation fails to break Madison County government impasse

Stuart Hirsch, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — An attempt to mediate differences between the Madison County Board of Commissioners and County Council over staff cuts failed to achieve a hoped-for breakthrough on Thursday.

"We were hopeful that the mediation would allow the parties to come to some agreement for the benefit of the taxpayers,” said Council President Mike Phipps in an email sent to The Herald Bulletin. “Unfortunately, we were unable to reach any final agreement through that process.”

Mediation was ordered by Senior Judge Carl E, Van Dorn last week as a way to avoid a long and contentious lawsuit between the executive and fiscal branches of Madison County government.

The failure of the negotiating session clears the way for that lawsuit to move forward.

The county commissioners sued the council late last month after it cut 10 county jobs, including five of nine positions in the Information Technology Services department.

The commissioners said the IT job cuts would cause “irreparable and significant harm” and threaten vital government functions across the county, particularly in areas of public safety.

In addition, the commissioners argued that the council’s decisions seemed intended to undermine their ability and authority to act as the county’s executive.

On Wednesday, the commissioners amended their complaint to include an alleged violation of Indiana’s Open Door Law to their list of grievances.

Phipps said the county still faces a multimillion dollar shortfall and that the council is committed to being both fiscally responsible and willing to work with the commissioners to resolve budget woes.

He accused the commissioners of “refusing to identify millions of dollars in specific cuts that meet the short fall,” which forced the council to act on its own.

He also said the council is willing to “entertain an independent third party assessment of IT services for the County, including fulfilling any perceived gaps.” But he called the lawsuit meritless and said it should never have been filed.

Commissioner Steffanie Owens said she was disappointed that no resolution was reached.

“Personally, I’m just going to continue to move forward. I’m determined to make this positive.” she said.

Related Stories:
• IT experts question determining staffing needs by Madison County's population
• Madison County judge orders mediation for commissioners, council
• Madison County Commissioners seek temporary restraining order against council

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