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State high court hears arguments in Zionsville merger case

September 23, 2015

The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday morning from attorneys representing Zionsville and Whitestown in an ongoing reorganization battle.

The case revolves around whether Zionsville has the ability to merge with Perry Township—a move the governing bodies authorized in spring 2014 and voters in each community approved in November 2014.

Whitestown filed a lawsuit in 2014 to prevent the reorganization and protect its western border. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Zionsville in June, and Whitestown appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Most of the discussion at the hearing focused on whether Zionsville is adjacent to Perry Township. State law requires governing bodies to be next to each other when they merge.

Mark Crandley, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg LLP representing Zionsville, argued that because Zionsville reorganized with Eagle Township in 2010, and Eagle Township was adjacent to Perry Township, then the town assumes adjacency.

“But Eagle Township is no longer,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush said. “There’s this ghost Eagle Township border that’s out there.”

But Crandley said because Zionsville assumed Eagle Township’s responsibilities, such as providing poor relief and cemetery maintenance, then the town essentially added its former borders.

“We inherited those powers,” Crandley said.

He added that regardless of the question about Eagle Township, there is also a small portion of southwest Zionsville that touches Perry Township.

Stephen Unger, an attorney with Bose McKinney & Evans LLP representing Whitestown, claims that piece of Zionsville is an “island” and doesn’t meet the adjacency requirement because the land is not contiguous with the rest of the town.

“It’s not a hard case,” Unger said. “They are entirely separated by Whitestown.”

There is no timeline for when the Supreme Court will rule on the case.

After the Court of Appeals ruling earlier this summer, Zionsville was allowed to add the position of mayor without transitioning into a city. Jeff Papa, former Zionsville Town Council member, was sworn in as the town’s first mayor immediately following the decision, and former Perry Township Trustee Sam Baldwin was selected to serve on the council in his place.

The merger with Perry Township added 15 square miles of land to Zionsville, for a total of 71 square miles.

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