Stephen Clay resigned as president of the Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night—and his colleagues voted unanimously to replace him with Vop Osili—following six weeks of strife and political infighting on the city's legislative body.
Council members and the public expected Monday night’s council meeting to be a tense affair: Clay was facing removal after raising the ire of his Democratic colleagues by working in January with Republicans to oust fellow Democrat Maggie Lewis and gain the top spot. He then rewarded his GOP supporters with committee chairmanships.
Democratic council members sued Clay over his firing of key council staff members, including the lawyer and clerk. A settlement reached between the parties on Friday called for a neutral arbiter to act as parliamentarian at Monday night's meeting.
It even seemed as though Democrats would have to fight to get their previously approved motion to remove Clay acted on—as he left the proposal off the agenda.
Instead, shortly before the meeting started, Clay announced his intention to resign and support Osili’s candidacy. Clay said he didn’t regret his actions over the past several weeks and planned to remain on the council.
Clay said his resignation is "in the best interest of moving this branch of government forward. This council has proven we can have robust and vigorous debates and somehow find common ground.”
As a result, the meeting went fairly smoothly and lacked the drama that had taken over the council in previous weeks.
In a series of procedural moves, council members approved the election of a new president, with Lewis recommending Osili to the position and no one else challenging him for the spot. That essentially meant Osili was elected unanimously.
Osili said Clay had contacted him earlier in the day and “indicated this was the direction he wanted to go” as opposed to having a contentious meeting.
Osili said his first task as president was to rebuild trust. He said the council had “shaken the confidence of our constituents.”
“That was yesterday,” Osili said. “It’s time that we move on. I know that it is within all of our abilities to work together and I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a statement that he looked forward to working with Osili.
“For two years, I have worked with all 25 City-County councilors to address the challenges confronting our city,” Hogsett said. "Whether a structurally balanced budget, increased funding for infrastructure or putting more officers on the street, Democrats and Republicans have come together and moved our community forward. In that same spirit, I look forward to working with President Osili and the City-County Council on behalf of Indianapolis taxpayers.”
Lewis said she was eager to “put all that foolishness behind us” and said, “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to start the healing process.”
As for Lewis' future? “This is not the end for Maggie Lewis, by no means,” Lewis said. “A bump in the road—yeah, maybe—but I have a job to do and I’m going to continue to do my job."
Minority Leader Mike McQuillen, when asked if the last six weeks were worth the controversy, said Republicans had gained power on the council, which was a “win.”
But McQuillen acknowledged, “I would be very surprised if there were Republican committee chairs after tonight."
It's also unclear whether Clay's Democratic colleagues will allow him to come back into the caucus after ejecting him in recent weeks.
Still, just like that, as the council got back to work under Osili, the political drama that had consumed the council seemed to dissipate—at least publicly.
Council members moved on to the bread-and-butter work of local government: approving people to various local boards, acquiring real estate, and changing speed limits in neighborhoods.
Then the council adjourned. And Vice President Zach Adamson let out a sigh and wiped his brow.