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Chance for a ‘change of heart’ in Wabash Township fire standoff?
As a feud continues in Wabash Township, a meeting at the Statehouse ponders legal options to get trustee to back down and save firefighter jobs
What are the chances a closed-door meeting at the Indiana Statehouse shook loose a solution for a standoff between the Wabash Township trustee and just about everyone else over the fate of the township’s fire department?
No one coming out of the room – one that included a local state senator, two state representatives and a handful of state staffers versed in the rules of funding and township control – could say for sure after two hours Monday afternoon.
“This is very much a fire alarm moment for us,” Brendan Betz, one of three township advisory board members, said after the session aimed at saving the township’s three, full-time firefighters – set to be laid off June 29 by Trustee Jennifer Teising.
“By far, the best action is to have the trustee walk back what essentially is an unjustifiable firing that puts the entire township at risk,” Betz said. “A change of heart is possible. … It’s hard to know. We’re dealing with an irrational actor.”
State Sen. Ron Alting, a Lafayette Republican who set up Monday’s meeting, said that afternoon that he didn’t have that same modicum of faith, as tensions linger and Teising seems content to dig in her heels on a plan to strip the fire department to a volunteer force supplemented by a handful of part-timers.
“Change of heart?” Alting asked. “That ain’t going to happen. I don’t think she has it in her.”
Instead Alting, along with Democratic state Reps. Chris Campbell and Sheila Klinker, outlined potential legal options to keep Teising from following through.
That included encouraging the township board to crowdfund cash to finance legal fights to keep the fire department intact. The specifics of those potential suits, Alting and Betz didn’t say.
“But there’s options, let’s just say that,” Alting said.
Nothing, Alting said, was guaranteed.
From the archives:
“She still holds the cards right now,” Alting said. “Let’s just keep focused on the firefighters’ jobs, for public safety. That’s the crucial point right now.”
Teising was absent. She wasn’t invited.
Teising also hasn’t responded to messages seeking comment.
The Statehouse meeting came a day before an emergency township board meeting scheduled for Tuesday night.
A week ago, Teising vowed during a Zoom appearance at a packed township meeting that she’d be there in person Tuesday, after getting peppered with questions, accusations and mocking by residents ticked off by her plans.
During that meeting, Teising insisted that she’d tried to come up with long-term plans to stabilize funding for the fire department without relying on emergency measures she said had become commonplace with her predecessors. She championed a tax-funded, emergency loan that brought in $440,000 to help expand the firefighter ranks, including the three she intends to lay off. But Teising said township board members and county officials compromised her plans when they wouldn’t help create a fire district that would have the chance to provide sustainable revenue.
The township board tried to find a workaround, passing a resolution that would allow Teising to move money from a fire department capital fund to a fire department fund for operations. Township board members said the maneuver would give the township two years to investigate long-term solutions while keeping the firefighters on the job. Teising rejected that.
That week, she also abandoned the township office, putting up a sign that pointed to office hours at a private residence on Knox Drive in West Lafayette. Her sign claimed the problem was with difficulty getting reliable internet coverage and a shortage of staff.
Meanwhile, Teising faces 20 charges of theft stemming from accusations that she continued to accept a paycheck though she’d moved out of the township after selling her West Lafayette home in June 2020. That case is scheduled for trial July 29.
Betz said the township board would try to lay out its case again Tuesday night, hoping to get Teising to soften her stance. He said the board was looking into fire protection options as it weighed legal options.
“I know we will have fire protection, one way or another,” Betz said. “We know there are entities that don’t want to work with us because of Jennifer. It’s just the way it is. … We might need to count on some of the better angels in the community, at this point.”
Ed Ward, a former Wabash Township fire chief, was at the Statehouse meeting and called it productive.
“Being able to have the attention and open dialog with our legislators gave us not only hope but provided clarity and a strong belief that we're not as ‘stuck’ as we thought we were going into the meeting,” Ward said.
“Of course, we spent a significant amount of time trying to find and work through options to retain the three remaining career firefighters who are being terminated in just eight days,” Ward said. “Without a doubt, there are options still available. Some are easier than others, but only Ms. Teising will be able to decide if it's an easy process or incredibly difficult one.”
IF YOU GO: The Wabash Township Advisory Board will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Wabash Township Fire Station, 2899 Klondike Road. The meeting also will be broadcast on Zoom at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/77380873209.
Join by phone by calling 312-626-6799 and entering this meeting ID: 773 8087 3209.
County council vacancy: Roland Winger ready to step aside
Roland Winger, a Tippecanoe County Council member for the past 12 years, said he figured he could make it through the upcoming budget season, even as the workload in his day job ramped up.
“I’m fairly confident I could do it, but would I do it well?” asked Winger, a Republican representing District 2 on the nine-member council. “I couldn’t see going at it at the 110 percent I think it needs.”
Winger will resign from his council seat June 30. He announced his decision during a May 11 council meeting, but the news has flown under the radar.
Saturday morning, Tippecanoe County Republican precinct committee members will pick a replacement for the final year-and-a-half of Winger’s term. District 2 includes the northern, western and northeastern portions of the county. The seat will be on the 2022 ballot.
Brown didn’t immediately say who had filed to be considered as a replacement.
Winger’s seat will be the second on the current council replaced by party officials since the 2018 election. Democrats selected Ben Murray to replace Ilana Stonebraker, who left the council when she accepted a job in Bloomington. (Republicans also selected Jody Hamilton to fill the final year of Bryan Metzger’s term after he died unexpectedly. Since then, voters elected Republican Barry Richard for that seat.)
The council is the fiscal body of county government, setting budgets and approving spending.
Winger, a former West Lafayette school board member, was selected to fill the council seat vacated in 2008 when Dave Byers was elected county commissioner. Winger won three elections after that.
Winger is a senior vice president with Allakos, Inc., a firm based in Redwood, California. He oversees the company’s clinical trials for treatments for inflammatory diseases. He said the business has “really started getting busy, as we knew they would.” So, he’s stepping away.
“When I ran in the caucus to replace Dave, I said Tippecanoe County was fundamentally strong then and that I was going to keep a commitment to that. What I committed to was, I’m going to ask the right questions. Are people asking to spend county money running those requests to the ground? Have they looked at all the options? Can they show it’s fiscally sound? That was the job I’ve tried to do.”
He’s running: Sheriff Goldsmith squashes a rumor
Not that it’s a huge surprise, but first-term Tippecanoe County Sheriff Bob Goldsmith is running for a second term in 2022.
The announcement, though, was a bit of a surprise several weeks ago when the Democrat found himself knocking down rumors that he was aiming to be one-and-done in an office that allows back-to-back terms.
On a Saturday afternoon in May, Goldsmith posted this on his personal Facebook account:
“Neighbor heard a rumor that I wasn’t going to run for Sheriff again. That is just a rumor. Announcement time isn’t yet, but I WILL be running again. Just had to squash the rumor.”
This week, Goldsmith said it stemmed from a neighbor who saw a sheriff campaign sign somewhere in the county – “I don’t know how legit it was or who it was, really,” he said – and figured Goldsmith might bail.
“You don’t do this one term and then run,” Goldsmith said. “I love it. I like the department we have. I like the people. I like the community. … I just want to keep it going.”
Who Goldsmith might face in 2022, that’s up in the air. Tracy Brown – Tippecanoe County Republican Party chairman, a county commission and a former two-term sheriff – said he’s hearing conversations. No Republicans have announced, yet.
Brown and Goldsmith each said they expected that sort of movement to start soon, given that most county candidates like to be visible in time for the crowds at the Tippecanoe County 4-H Fair. That’s in late July.
Not that two county fairs ahead of an election is any firm guide.
Goldsmith was a late Democratic addition after a bruising Republican primary in May 2018 between then-Sheriff Barry Richard, then-West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski and John “Woody” Ricks, a lieutenant in the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office. Dombkowski won that race that, during the primary, was seem as the race to decide the office. Not so fast. Goldsmith filed on the last day possible to fill the blank slot on the general election ballot.
Goldsmith said he saw it as a chance to run for a job he always figured he’d run for someday. He didn’t agree with Dombkowski’s take that leadership in the ranks below Richard was broken. He rode that to a slim, 263-vote victory seen as an upset, making him the first Democratic sheriff in Tippecanoe County in decades.
We’ll see who, if anyone, emerges as a challenger.
“Right now, I’m not too worried about it,” Goldsmith said. “There’s still just a lot to do. … But, yes, I am running.”
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