Eight cities, towns back Whitestown in legal fight with Zionsville

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Eight communities are backing up Whitestown in its attempt to stop Zionsville from merging with Perry Township.

The Indiana Court of Appeals issued a ruling in June that allows Zionsville to reorganize with Perry Township and add the position of mayor without converting to a city. Whitestown is appealing the decision, but the state Supreme Court has not said if it will consider the case.

The towns of Chandler, Danville, Fortville, North Manchester, Pendleton and Plainfield and the cities of Batesville and Boonville recently submitted arguments urging the Supreme Court to review the issue and rule in favor of Whitestown.

In the documents, the communities cite concerns for the impact the decision could have on long-term growth and development. Several of the towns have pending annexation disputes.

Whitestown filed the lawsuit against Zionsville in June 2014 to protect its western border. A merger essentially would encircle Whitestown, with Zionsville to the east and Perry Township to the west. Whitestown argued that the two bodies couldn’t merge because they were not adjacent to each other.

Zionsville officials claimed that its 2010 reorganization with Eagle Township allowed the town to assume township powers and borders, making it adjacent to Perry Township.

In the argument submitted by Plainfield, attorneys with Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP argue that, once Zionsville merged with Eagle Township, the township ceased to exist, and Zionsville cannot flip between using township or town powers when convenient.

“If Zionsville was solely a ‘town,’ it could not have reorganized with Perry Township,” the document reads.

The towns supporting Whitestown argue the appellate decision redefines adjacency to allow reorganization in “bizarre and inefficient ways,” and the hybrid town-township government would cause “public policy nightmares.”

The communities also identify several other examples of mergers that could happen if the ruling isn’t reversed, including Carmel reorganizing with parts of Washington Township, Clay Township merging with Washington Township, and parts of Fall Creek Township combining with Noblesville Township to form a government with 35 non-adjacent areas.

Several examples in Johnson and Hendricks counties are also listed.

The towns argue it would be “chaotic” to allow any of those examples to occur.

In spring 2014, governing bodies for Zionsville and Perry Township authorized the merger, and voters in each entity approved the plan in November.

A Boone County judge ruled in favor of Whitestown in October, but a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals that heard the case in March agreed with Zionsville.

Jeff Papa, former Zionsville Town Council member, was sworn in as the town’s first mayor immediately following the decision from the appellate court, and former Perry Township Trustee Sam Baldwin was chosen to serve on the council.

By reorganizing with Perry Township, Zionsville added 15 square miles to its land, for a total of 71 square miles.

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