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This and that: End of the week edition
As court papers filed to remove her from office, Fairfield trustee offers a parting shot in next year’s budget. West Side’s big school ranking. And plans to clean up after downtown derailment
Thanks to Duke Energy for sponsoring today’s Based in Lafayette edition. Today, Duke highlights the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, the Tippecanoe County Historical Association’s annual recreation of 18th century life at and near a fur-trading outpost along the Wabash River. A $3,000 Duke grant helped support TCHA’s Native American cultural programming for this year’s Feast, including during today’s Feast School Day, which will bring 3,000 school children to Fort Ouiatenon. General admission for the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon will be 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1-2, at Fort Ouiatenon, on South River Road, four miles southwest of West Lafayette. For advance tickets, schedules, parking and shuttles, traffic details and more, go to: feastofthehuntersmoon.org
This and that for a Friday morning …
COLES’ PARTING SHOT?
In the countdown to a court date that could seal her time as Fairfield Township trustee a few months before her four-year term is up, Taletha Coles got a parting shot in for those who follow.
The same day paperwork was filed in Tippecanoe Circuit Court as the last gasp of her term, Coles patched in by phone Thursday to listen in on a public hearing on her 2023 Fairfield Township budget.
The budget is one she advertised with a zeroed-out tax levy to finance the township’s general fund, leaving the next trustee and board to operate off cash reserves for the coming year.
“It’s definitely a spiteful move,” Monica Casanova, one of three Fairfield Township Board members, said after Thursday’s budget hearing. “Come on, she didn’t do any of that any of her other years. She absolutely knows what she’s doing.”
Coles declined to comment over the office phone’s speaker during and after the meeting, except to object to conversations after the budget hearing about her pending court hearings and whether the township board would be able to undo what she’d done before the state’s budget deadline on Nov. 1.
Instead, Coles had a staffer leave an emailed statement at each township board member’s place at the conference table in the Wabash Avenue offices.
In it, Coles contended that the general fund was fully funded for 2023 through surpluses built over the years. Cutting the tax rate by 97% in the general fund and using cash reserves would work for the township, she said.
“The incoming trustee and board will have the option to fully restore the tax levy to the current levels when adopting their first annual budget next year,” Coles wrote. “There will be no penalty from reducing the tax levy for the 2023 budget year.”
Ben Roeger, a financial consultant with Indianapolis-based C.L. Coonrod & Co., said the township had enough in reserves to make up the difference in 2023. He said that because Coles already published the tax rates, the township board wasn’t in a position to raise that tax rates, given state laws that allow rates to be lowered after publication but not increased.
Would the board be able to redo the budget, given the circumstances, if the judge rules that Coles did – as the township board, Tippecanoe County commissioners and the Tippecanoe County Council agreed over the past two months – neglect the duties of her position and use township money for personal uses?
Roeger could only shrug. Coles is the first township official facing ouster under a law the went into effect July 1, 2022.
Officials with the Department of Local Government Finance did not immediately respond to that question, either.
April O’Brien, a Republican on the Nov. 8 ballot against Casanova for township trustee, said the next trustee will be penalized for a year, following a trustee who kept doors to the township offices locked, wouldn’t account for emergency township relief offered to residents and refused to give details about how she was spending township money.
“It doesn’t make sense at all,” O’Brien said. “The next trustee will be opening up the doors, and people will be coming in to get assistance. … I realize that we can float by. But it’s an intentional slap in the face, basically.”
Perry Schnarr, a township board member exasperated by Coles for the past two years, said: “What do you expect?”
The Fairfield Township Board will be asked to vote on the budget at 11 a.m. Oct. 11 at the township offices, 718 Wabash Ave.
Whether Coles will still be in office by then is up in the air.
Circuit Court Judge Sean Persin issued a citation for Coles to appear in court at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, to discuss a petition, filed Thursday, from township and county officials calling for her removal from office.
For more, this happened Tuesday: “Taletha Coles down to last chance, as county council agrees she needs to go”
It wasn’t clear Thursday whether Persin planned to hold a hearing on the petition that day or use the court time as an initial hearing. During a short hearing Sept. 16, Persin told County Attorney Doug Masson that he understood the law called on him to settle the matter in 20 days, but that he was interested in getting Coles and the county into court to talk through what that hearing might look like.
Persin’s citation includes a warning to Coles if she was thinking about no-showing: “… if you fail to appear, the court may grant the relief requested.”
The county’s filing in court Thursday also asked the judge to order Coles to return any pay from the township dating to the Sept. 29 court filing.
WEST SIDE’S BIG RANKING: The #RDP social media feeds were buzzing the other night with news that the district had been ranked tops among public schools in Indiana and No. 8 across the country, based on Pittsburgh-based school rankings site Niche’s view of the top high schools and districts for 2023.
Niche ranks schools based on a number of factors, including academics, teachers, clubs and activities, college prep and administration.
A bit deeper into the numbers: West Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School was No. 2 among public high schools in the state, behind the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities in Muncie, and No. 60 among public high schools in the nation.
For other districts in Greater Lafayette, Tippecanoe School Corp. was No. 31 among 291 Indiana public districts. Lafayette School Corp. was No. 74 on that list.
For more, here’s a way into the Niche rankings.
UNDER THE DOWNTOWN LAFAYETTE DERAILMENT: Freight has been running across a downtown Lafayette rail bridge since the weekend, days after four cars carrying slag from steel plants derailed Sept. 21 and took a dive into the Wabash River. Still unsettled: What’s going to happened to the assorted remnants of axles, rails and contents from that Norfolk Southern load crossing the river that Wednesday afternoon. Drone photos by Bob Young the remaining debris tangled among a log jam that was already there before the derailment. On Thursday, Connor Spielmaker, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, said the rail company would meet with contractors next week “to begin working the plan for that.” Also unsettled: What caused the derailment. Federal Railroad Administration representative last week said that report could come in the next six months.
Thanks, again, to Duke Energy for sponsoring today’s Based in Lafayette edition.
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