Outgoing Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron, who has less than two weeks remaining in her term in office, issued five vetoes on Friday.
Only three of them stuck.
The vetoes by Styron, a Democrat, related to five ordinances passed by the all-Republican Zionsville Town Council at its Dec. 6 meeting: the town’s American Rescue Plan Act spending plan; a clarification of the rules for the Zionsville Town Court; a revision of permits required for banners and signs; the town’s fine structure for false alarms; and a line-item veto from the town’s 2024 non-Department of Local Government Finance budget for grants intended for three local not-for-profits using ARPA funds.
The council on Monday unanimously voted to override Styron’s vetoes of the town’s ARPA spending plan and her line-item veto from the 2024 non-DLGF budget. The council chose to let the other three vetoes stand, but the next town council could review them after Jan. 1, Town Council President Jason Plunkett told IBJ.
Styron has twice vetoed the council’s ARPA spending plan due to disagreements about the inclusion of $510,000 for three Zionsville-based not-for-profit organizations: the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce, zWorks and the Zionsville Cultural District.
She explained her first veto on Nov. 16 in a statement saying the council “has not made community involvement a priority” in determining which organizations should receive ARPA funding. Town council members disputed that and noted public hearings were held last year.
Rather than override Styron’s first veto last month, the town council amended the ARPA ordinance and approved it on Dec. 6.
Styron explained her vetoes issued Friday in memos to the town council. She wrote that ARPA grants “should be open to all Zionsville non-profits and awarded through an equitable application-based grant process.” She applied similar reasoning to her explanation of the line-item veto in the non-DLFG budget.
“This was just basically, ‘Here’s some organizations we really like and we’re going to give them money,'” Styron told IBJ. “There wasn’t any kind of a process, and it doesn’t square with the sort of accountability and transparency that we’ve been striving for throughout my whole term.”
In her memos explaining the vetoes of ordinances regarding the Town Court, permits for banners and signs and the fine structure for false alarms, Styron wrote that the town’s administration and other officials were not provided opportunities to review and comment on them.
“All of these were just done and thrown out there at the very last minute,” Styron said.
Plunkett said there had been discussion since October 2022 about updating the town’s code of ordinances and the three vetoed ordinances had been discussed at two meetings this fall.
“The argument that they didn’t have an opportunity to participate or comment on these ordinance rewrites is absolutely false,” he said.
Republican John Stehr, a former news anchor with WTHR-Channel 13 in Indianapolis, will succeed Styron as mayor on Jan. 1.
The Zionsville Town Council on Monday morning also approved an ordinance that amends the town’s salary ordinance to compensate Fire Chief James VanGorder for $50,000 in legal bills related to Styron’s 2021 lawsuit in which she sought to determine whether the town council could keep her from demoting him.
When the seven-member council unanimously denied the request to demote VanGorder, Styron presented VanGorder with a revised job description for the role of fire chief that limited his duties and responsibilities largely to advising the mayor and her staff “on technical and administrative matters regarding assigned projects,” among other things.
In February 2022, the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed a prior ruling by the Boone Superior Court that the mayor could not unilaterally demote the fire chief without approval from the town council.
Styron said she thinks compensating VanGorder for his legal fees potentially sets a bad precedent for the town.
“This is a slippery slope that I think doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” she said. “So, I think that it’s just a big, big mistake.”
The town council discussed potentially holding a meeting on Dec. 29 in case Styron issues a veto of the salary ordinance amendment.
“I would hope she does not veto it,” Plunkett said.
Styron told IBJ that she would need to take a closer look at the amendment.