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City or town? Confusing ballot to determine fate of Fishers

October 17, 2012

A group of residents is crying foul over questions on the ballot in November that will determine whether Fishers remains a town, becomes a city with a council and city manager, or a city with an elected mayor.

The Nov. 6 vote represents a critical turning point for the fast growing suburb, whose population of about 80,000 people makes it the state's largest community with a "town" form of government.

There are three possible outcomes: Fishers continues as a town with seven council members and a professional town manager; Fishers reorganizes as a city in combination with Fall Creek Township and has nine at-large council members who elect from among their ranks a mayor and hire a city manager; or Fishers becomes a second-class city with six district councilors, three at-large councilors and an elected mayor.

Dueling lobbying groups City Yes and Reorganize Fishers are pushing the city options.

Reorganize Fishers, which has the endorsement of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, argues its preference would eliminate a layer of government and save the city $1 million per year.

City Yes, which argues an elected mayor and district councilors would provide independence along with checks and balances, filed a complaint this month with the state of Indiana alleging the Town of Fishers is pushing voters toward the appointed-mayor option via a letter to residents that fails to discuss the option that Fishers remain a town, and with confusing wording on the ballot questions.

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General has referred the complaint to the State Board of Accounts, a spokesman said.

"They have consistently provided a one-sided view in mailings and meetings with the full intent of staying in power," said Joe Weingarten, a spokesman for City Yes. "People have the right to vote and not have these kinds of shenanigans going on."

Weingarten takes issue with the town spending $28,000 with a public relations firm on what he sees as advocacy of a position. He also takes issue with the savings claim and says Fishers could still hire a professional manager even if it converts to a second-class city.

But Town Manager Scott Fadness said in a video on the town's Future of Fishers web page that his interest is making sure everyone has all the facts about their options.

"Fishers is engaging in an extensive public education campaign to equip residents with unbiased information concerning the upcoming referendum questions," Fadness said.

The ballot will have two questions:

— Shall the Town of Fishers and Fall Creek Township reorganize as a single political subdivision?

— Shall the Town of Fishers change into a city?

A vote of "no" on both is a vote for Fishers to remain a town.

From there, it gets tricky. For Fishers to change into a city with an elected mayor, voters must vote "no" to the first question and "yes" to the second. If voters say "yes" to the first, even if they say "no" to the second, Fishers would reorganize while keeping a council-manager form of government.

That's Weingarden's concern: "If you vote yes on the first question, the second question becomes null and void," he said.

If voters opt for the "reorganized" Fishers city option, the change would take effect in 2013. Becoming a second-class city would take a few years longer.

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