Council members, ex-clerk file lawsuit against Clay over staff firings

Eight members of the Indianapolis City-County Council and fired council clerk NaTrina DeBow on Thursday sued embattled council President Stephen Clay, alleging that his decision to fire DeBow and the council attorney was illegal.

The plaintiffs also asked the Marion Superior Court to grant a temporary restraining order that restricts Clay or those acting for him from “taking any action to prevent DeBow or the Council’s general counsel Fred Biesecker from performing their legal duties.”

The plaintiffs are Democrats Zach Adamson, Jared Evans, Christine Scales, Maggie Lewis, Frank Mascari, William Oliver and Vop Osili, and Republican Jeff Miller.

DeBow and Biesecker were fired Jan. 31, a decision that Adamson alleged was in retaliation for procedural moves the council took that could result in Clay being removed from office.

The plaintiffs say Clay, a Democrat, broke Indiana law and Marion County ordinances governing council personnel with the firing, and by denying other counselors to receive advice from Biesecker.

"Such a Court order is necessary because Clay's illegal, unauthorized and autocratic actions of attempting to summarily terminate and prevent both DeBow and Biesecker from performing their respective jobs, without authority from the full Council, are continuing to harm the Councillors, Clerk DeBow, and the public, by throwing the Council into chaos and preventing it from performing the Council's public business for the people of Marion County,” the complaint says.

The suit alleges that shortly before the Jan. 29 meeting in which the council acted to take steps to remove Clay from office, Clay called Biesecker into his office.

He allegedly twice told Biesecker that Council Minority Leader Michael McQuillen had asked Clay to fire Biesecker before the meeting.

“Biesecker perceived this as a warning that if he did not support McQuillen’s efforts on the council floor, on behalf of Clay, to delay or defeat the removal-related motions, Biesecker would be fired,” according to the complaint.
Two days later, the complaint alleges that Clay summoned Biesecker and DeBow, separately, to his office and told each they were fired.

McQuillen told IBJ after the lawsuit was filed that “I never told [Clay] to fire Biesecker.”

“I never told him to fire anybody, but I did offer advice of what I would do if I was president,” McQuillen said. “If I was the president, I would certainly be exploring my options … talking to attorneys that are unbiased and able to interpret the council rules."

The complaint alleges terminating DeBow without the direction of the full council was unlawful because “only the full council may appoint or terminate the Clerk.”

The complaint also says firing Biesecker has effectively put new council business on hold because council members “require the general counsel to draft and review proposals that are to be considered by the full council.”

The lawsuit comes one day after council Democrats censured Clay and expelled him from their caucus.

In a resolution, they said Clay conspired with the Republicans against the Democrats for his own political advancement. Clay has, “through his dishonesty and blinding self-interest, shown a staggering disregard for the rules of the council and the residents we serve,” the resolution says.

Clay did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

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