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Alting livid as Campbell votes against Wabash Twp.-inspired bill
Plus, Purdue ready to lift some mask requirements. Loose ends on WBAA’s transfer to WFYI. And good reads on a busy Statehouse
Thanks this morning to the Builders Association of Greater Lafayette for its sponsorship support to help make this edition of the Based in Lafayette reporting project possible. For more about BAGL’s Home Building & Remodeling Show at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds this Saturday, scroll through today’s edition.
CAMPBELL COMES DOWN ON ALTING’S TOWNSHIP BILL AIMED AT TOWNSHIP THEY SHARE
State Sen. Ron Alting’s bill aimed at a way to oust township trustees who don’t show up or neglect the position advanced to the full Indiana House Wednesday morning, on an 8-4 vote in the House Government and Regulatory Reform committee.
But Alting wasn’t amused about how it got there.
State Rep. Chris Campbell, a West Lafayette Democrat and member of the House committee, voted against Senate Bill 304 – a proposed township trustee removal process, inspired by troubles in Wabash Township after two years of dealing former Trustee Jennifer Teising's feuds with the township board, the fire department and residents over firefighter layoffs, residency questions and more.
Campbell’s House District 26 covers most of Wabash Township.
Campbell said Wednesday she opposed the bill because she believed the state already had ways to get rid of township trustees, including through criminal conviction. That’s what took Teising out of office, when she was convicted of 21 felony counts of theft tied to collecting a trustee paycheck while not residing in the township. Teising plans to appeal the ruling that came after a three-day bench trial in December.
(You might have read a bit about Wabash Township here a few times, as calls for Teising’s resignation flared through most of 2021, before her trial.)
Campbell, who has another bill aimed at keeping township trustees in line, said she thought the Senate bill didn’t offer a new remedy for the township’s situation, instead adding “basically redundant language” to state code. She contended it wasn’t going to fix a problem that couldn’t be fixed under current law.
“I feel this should be in the hands of voters, not elected officials,” Campbell said.
Alting said Wednesday he was stunned by Campbell’s move, calling her vote a slap in the face to the township.
"Where has she been for the past two years?” Alting said. “To vote no ... is turning your back on those same voters, and doing so while three Wabash firefighters were present to testify in favor of the bill is of poor taste, given what they and their families been through over the years."
One of those firefighters was Ed Ward, who Teising fired as Wabash Township fire chief in late 2020, accusing him of trying to undercut her authority. Ward was reinstated to his job in January, along with three other firefighters Teising laid off in June over a dispute with the board and township residents over long-term funding for the fire department.
“To say the least, I was baffled,” Ward said Wednesday.
“So many times throughout our township mess, (Campbell’s) offered her support on many occasions, and we so greatly appreciated that,” Ward said. “This bill is, in my perspective, really the place where we needed that support to show up, but while it may not be the case, it gives the perception that party lines may have slightly edged out the bill in terms of priorities.”
Senate Bill 304 came out of the Senate largely along party lines, in a 36-12 vote.
Alting started recruiting help on what he called a “rogue trustee” bill after Teising laid off the last of the township’s firefighters last summer. He and Sen. Rick Niemeyer, a Lowell Republican and former township trustee in Lake County, touted the bill as a multi-stage approach to removing township trustees who didn’t show up to serve or were otherwise derelict in their duties.
The bill was based on one signed into law in April 2021. That one targeted a handful of county elected officials – limited to auditors, treasurers, recorders, surveyors and assessors – who were no-shows on their jobs. The law laid out a civil, rather than a criminal, process for county commissioners to call for the elected official’s ouster. The county council also would need to agree. Then a judge would get final say whether the elected official was doing a poor enough job to lose their position. At each stage, the elected official accused has ways to defend themselves in public hearings or in court, according to the law. Senate Bill 304 would add another step, initiating the process with a majority vote of a township board.
In Wabash Township’s situation, the township board approved a resignation calling for Teising to resign. But that’s as far as it could go.
When the Wabash Township Fire Department Association asked for an injunction against the layoffs – essentially asking the court to rule that Teising didn’t reside in the township, so she didn’t have the authority – Tippecanoe Circuit Judge Sean Persin ruled the firefighters didn’t have standing in the limited ways state law allows the removal of an elected official.
During Senate hearings, several Senate Democrats questioned whether the state really wanted to expand the scope of recall elections to include township trustees. They called Alting and Niemeyer’s bill part of a slippery slope that took power away from voters every four years and gave it to other elected officials who might have any number of reasons to go after a rival politician. First it was a set of county officials covered by a special ouster law, they said. Then township trustees. They wondered if the statute would be expanded to eventually go after state lawmakers.
Along the way, Alting argued that use of such a township law would be rare, but could have saved what became a public safety issue without having to wait on a criminal trial.
The bill still needs a vote by the full House before going to Gov. Eric Holcomb for a signature before becoming law.
Meanwhile, Campbell’s House Bill 1157, which cleared the House on a unanimous vote on Jan. 20, is waiting for a committee hearing in the Senate. That bill would force township trustees to submit township board-approved annual budgets to the state rather than letting budgets from the previous year roll over. Fairfield Township Trustee Taletha Coles ignored cuts in the 2021 budget and vowed to ignore them again in 2022. Coles also was subject to a township board resolution calling for her resignation. The State Board of Accounts also has been auditing Fairfield Township since August, more recently taking a load of records from Coles’ offices.
Senate Bill 304 includes similar language that would force a trustee to file a township board-approved budget.
Ward was still trying to figure out what he missed while tracking the bills aimed at townships in Tippecanoe County.
“I’m truly struggling to see how adding a local layer of accountability could ever be perceived as partisan, nor do I see a situation where any of her constituents would feel that she acted outside of their best interest in supporting this bill,” Ward said. “I’m confident that Rep. Campbell has her constituents best interest at heart, and I’m sure that she truly wants what is best for her district. I’m just hopeful she’s able to see that this is all one in the same.”
PURDUE READY TO RELAX SOME MASK REQUIREMENTS
Purdue will let students, faculty and staff shed masks in many indoor campus spaces, starting Friday, under a policy announced Wednesday afternoon.
The relaxation of the campus mask requirement mirrors one Purdue President Mitch Daniels had hoped to put in place by Feb. 1, before the Omicron variant drove COVID numbers through the roof, starting just as winter break started.
Purdue’s announcement attributed the move to a continued decline in cases on campus and across the community. As Wednesday, Purdue’s COVID dashboard reported 192 active cases among students and employees. That number had been over 1,000 a few weeks ago. In Tippecanoe County, the moving seven-day average was 57 new COVID cases a day, compared to a peak of 541 new cases a day on Jan. 21.
Mask still will be required in classrooms, laboratories, health care settings and anywhere contractually required. That would include the rest of the spring semester for Purdue Convocations, TEDxPurdueU and Student Concert Committee shows, which include contracts that call for masks, according to a Purdue release.
But that would cut mask requirements in dorms, the Purdue Student Union, the Co-Rec and other non-classroom and instructional area space.
Mackey Arena and other indoor sporting venues will go with mask-optional policies, too.
“Our Boilermaker students, faculty and staff continue to demonstrate just how committed they are to protecting our campus community from the spread of serious disease,” Dr. Esteban Ramirez, Protect Purdue Health Center’s chief medical officer, said. “We believe this is the next step toward greater normalcy based on rapidly declining national, state and campus case numbers.”
According to Purdue’s release, the campus medical advisory team and other university leaders “will review campus and community COVID-19 data with the intention to further relax Protect Purdue protocols in April, assuming conditions continue to improve.”
WBAA TO WFYI: SOME LOOSE ENDS IN LAST WEEK’S ANNOUNCEMENT
Last week, Purdue laid some of the terms as it prepared to transfer WBAA, the 100-year-old campus radio station, to Metropolitan Indianapolis Public Media, the parent company of WFYI. The application went to the Federal Communications Commission, a process expected to be finalized in late spring, according to Purdue.
But there still were some loose ends, answered by Greg Petrowich, WFYI president and CEO.
The deal called for WFYI to take ownership of equipment to run WBAA in the current studio in the basement of Elliott Hall of Music. Did that mean that’s where WBAA would remain? “Yes,” Petrowich said. “We will continue to utilize the Elliott Hall studios to create local content that supports the Greater Lafayette region.”
The initial release said four current WBAA staffers would move to full-time work with WFYI. Several WBAA employees have moved on, including general manager Richard Miles, who was named GM of WBJC, a public radio station based in Baltimore, in July; and Greg Kostraba, a long-time producer and host on WBAA-FM’s classical side and big in Greater Lafayette’s chamber music community, is now with KBAQ in Phoenix. Petrowich said that once the FCC approval happens, WBAA reporters Emilie Syberg and Ben Thorp will remain with WBAA/WFYI. Operations director Lee Shaw will stay, and Brian Garrity will be corporate support representative for the region.
What differences will WBAA listeners hear once MIPM has the station? And how soon will those changes happen? Petrowich said: “WBAA is already doing an excellent job of service to the region. Listeners in Greater Lafayette will continue to hear ‘Morning Edition,’ ‘All Things Considered,’ local, statewide, national and global news, as well as classical music programming. While program updates are always on the table, WFYI's team plans to ensure that the WBAA audience continues to have access to the quality programming they have always enjoyed.”
Stay tuned, right?
This, that and other reads …
‘DIVISIVE CONCEPTS’ SCHOOL BILL: A Senate committee on Wednesday did, indeed, amend House Bill 1134, watering down some of the most controversial aspects of a measure advocates said gave parents more say over potentially uncomfortable topics about race and more and that educators said was a surefire way to get teachers to quit rather than putting up with layers of new micromanagement and distrust. Hundreds of teachers, students and public school fans jammed the Statehouse, overloading a Senate education committee’s slots for public comment. For a look at where things stood with the bill and the amendment, here’s an account from Indianapolis Star reporter Arika Herron. And here’s more from reporter Niki Kelly of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
COVID VACCINE MANDATE BILL: An Indiana Senate committee on Wednesday scaled back a bill that would have limited what private employers could do with COVID vaccine mandates. For a solid look at what happened with House Bill 1001, here’s an account from WFYI reporter Brandon Smith.
TAX BILL TAKES A CUT: An Indiana Senate committee on Tuesday had issues with a proposed $1.4 billion tax cut that came out of the Indiana House. Negotiations are still on, but of note: Senators weren’t keen on a business personal property tax they say would hit local governments, not state coffers, according to reporting from Eric Berman at WIBC. Last week, the West Lafayette City Council protested the proposed cuts in House Bill 1002. In a city council resolution, West Lafayette officials estimated the state cuts would take away $6.7 million Tippecanoe County, or 19% of the county’s property tax revenue. West Lafayette estimated its share of that at $900,000. The city asked the General Assembly to include ways to replace that lost money it is set on eliminating a 30% floor on depreciation on large pieces of equipment.
Thanks again to the Builders Association of Greater Lafayette for sponsoring today’s edition. BAGL will host its annual Home Building & Remodeling Show from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds. For more details, click the graphic below.
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