Government and Media & Marketing

Commentary: Is this any way to run a government?

September 3, 2007

As someone who writes and pontificates about the events of the day, summer is usually my slow season. I have to work hard to find things to write and talk about for public consumption.

However, this summer has been a whole different matter. We have all been taken aback by the tax protests and subsequent government actions to mitigate the damage. But that wasn't the big story that caught my attention.

The story that stuck in my craw was the one concerning former City-County Councilor Patrice Abduallah. Abduallah had to resign his District 15 seat after it was revealed by bloggers and the mainstream media that he did not live in his district. The residence Abduallah listed on his re-election form was not in his district, but rather across the street from the district he was supposed to represent. After about a week of controversy, Abduallah stepped down.

Now that might seem really cut and dried, but there is a bigger issue here. Were Councilor Abduallah's votes legal and proper? According to documents obtained from Marion County Clerk Beth White's office, Abduallah filed his candidate paperwork in late January. The clerk told Abduallah in February that his candidacy address did not match that of his voter registration. The office offered him an opportunity to amend his form, but he declined.

On my morning radio program, I interviewed a local community activist, Abu Henderson, who was willing to swear under oath and penalty of perjury that he notified council President Monroe Gray in April about Abduallah's address controversy, and the council president told him he was aware of it and would follow up on it.

And to add insult to injury, the home address listed for Abduallah on the council's private home address list dating back to at least January is not in his district.

So, here we have a situation where the councilor knows he is not in his district, the clerk knows the councilor is not in his district, and the council president knows the councilor is not in his district, yet the councilor continues to sit on the governing body as if he lived in his district. Abduallah is casting votes, including controversial ones like the $90 million public-safety tax increase, which passed on a margin of 15-13, with one abstention.

Remember this point, because council votes must have at least 15 votes to pass.

Under Indiana law, once an elected official no longer resides in his district, he must give up the seat. Now city attorneys have pointed to Indiana case law, which says that, even if an elected official is serving improperly, his votes still count until someone brings up a challenge to the legislative body.

Putting on my lawyer hat, I went and researched the case law. While no one may have broken the law, I cannot accept the proposition that this is the way a government should function.

I refuse to believe that, when the Indiana courts were crafting a rule for situations when elected officials no longer live in their districts, but are still allowed to serve, that their intent was to protect bad actors instead of honest mistakes. We have a situation in the state's largest city where an elected official's votes are being allowed to stand, when the president of his elected body knew something was wrong and the county clerk, whose job it was to protect the integrity of the electoral process, knew something was wrong, but no one did anything. It makes me call into question the trust and faith (if there is any left) that citizens have in their decision-makers.

This is no way to run a government, folks. No way at all.



Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and of counsel at the law firm of Lewis & Wilkins. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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