Turmoil among Indy Dems continues as Clay fires council staff; critics cry ‘retaliation’

The turmoil between Democrats on the Indianapolis City-County Council continued Wednesday as embattled president Stephen Clay moved to fire the council’s lawyer—an act which critics said they believed was in retaliation for the lawyer’s moves two days earlier that helped put Clay’s presidency in jeopardy.

Fred Biesecker, the council’s lawyer, told IBJ in a text message he was fired Wednesday by Clay but that he didn’t know why—and didn't necessarily believe Clay had the authority to fire him. He was seen walking out of the City-County building with his belongings, in an image captured by a WTHR reporter. The council’s clerk, NaTrina DeBow, was also apparently fired.

Biesecker is also the parliamentarian for the council. Republicans on Monday tried to block Democrats’ attempts to put a vote to remove Clay as president on next month’s agenda and instead send it to a committee that they control, but Biesecker quashed that.

Vice President Zach Adamson said the apparent firing was in “retaliation for Fred ruling against their attempts to send that motion to a committee which he is on.”

Adamson said it was apparent that Clay also did the firing “in preparation for the next meeting,” when the actual vote to remove Clay would happen.

“He’s going to now hire from his own arsenal of minions,” Adamson said.

Clay did not immediately respond to IBJ’s request for comment but told a Fox59 reporter that he justified the firing because he was the president.

But it's unclear if Clay actually has the authority to remove Biesecker from the role.

"I told him that my client is the full council, not him, and that in my view under the council rules I remain as general counsel until the full council approves a successor," Biesecker told IBJ. "He said his legal counsel disagrees."

Biesecker said he hadn't thought about whether to pursue legal action.

Adamson send Clay a letter on Wednesday asking that he make “no staffing changes prior to the Feb. 19 election.”

“To remove staff prior to this vote is reprehensible and is once again a reflection of our lack of Councilor Clay’s ability to lead in a manner that serves the best interest of our city,” Adamson said.

The moves come after Clay’s decision to work with Republicans to oust former president Maggie Lewis from the role.

After Republicans helped him earn the presidency, he gave them leadership roles on three council committees.

DeBow, who said she didn’t know why she was fired, said she was escorted out by a sheriff’s deputy, which she “didn’t believe was necessary.”

“I honestly do not know what [Clay] was trying to do,” DeBow said. “I don’t know if there was some type of retaliation because of Monday night. He did not give any kind of reasoning.”

“I have to be voted out of office in the same manner the president is,” DeBow said.

DeBow said she didn’t believe Clay had the authority to fire her because hers is a statutory position voted on by the council for a one-year term. She said she is figuring out her next steps.

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