Zionsville council upholds mayoral vetoes on police, fire personnel oversight

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The Zionsville Town Council on Monday morning upheld Mayor Emily Styron’s vetoes of two ordinances that would have required her to get council approval before she could hire or fire the chief of police or the fire department.

The ordinances would have overhauled the processes for public safety board appointments, as well as police and fire personnel decisions, in Zionsville.

In June, Zionsville’s administration realized the town’s police and fire safety boards had never been officially codified as the bodies responsible for exercising disciplinary powers over their respective departments. Earlier this month, when the town council considered official recognition of the boards, it passed an ordinance that gave the council power to appoint three of its own members to the five-person body. Styron vetoed the action and asked the council to reconsider the language, saying she was afforded those powers—and more—by state law.

Styron

“We can draft ordinances that will not force us into litigation,” Styron said. “If this goes to litigation, it will be incredibly costly for this town. It does not need to be the next step.”

Styron also vetoed a separate ordinance that eliminated the mayor’s ability to demote a police or fire chief without a majority vote from the council or the safety board. State law does allow for the majority of a town council to vote against a police or fire chief’s firing, but Styron said the law is quiet on matters of demotion.

The council voted unanimously to uphold the veto of both ordinances.

Josh Garrett, the council’s president, said the council disagreed with the mayor’s evaluation that the safety board had been improperly constituted. He said it was a courtesy for the council to reestablish the code establishing that board, but the mayor has since embraced a false narrative that the council was “trying to seize power from her.”

“It was of the utmost importance to this council that any ordinance recreating these public safety boards would not be given to this council,” Garrett said. “That was what was written, debated and passed.”

Several Zionsville residents spoke at Monday’s meeting in support of the mayor’s vetos.

“You’re reasonable people, I hope you can see how appointing yourself to local boards and giving those boards the authority to make personnel decisions for the police and fire departments may seem a bit sketchy,” Zionsville resident Alicia Clemmons said.

Residents who spoke at Monday’s meetings said they were also opposed to the legal costs that would come with an appeal of the vetos.

“Given the outcry, what was intended to be a sign of good faith in cleaning up some gray area language, I cannot help but agree and personally choose to let the mayor’s veto stand,” Garrett said. “I suppose the adage, ‘no good deed goes unpunished,’ applies here.”

Styron, a Democrat, became Zionsville’s mayor in November. The town council is made up of seven Republicans.

Zionsville is one of just two towns in Indiana to have a mayor. The other is Vernon, in Jennings County.

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8 thoughts on “Zionsville council upholds mayoral vetoes on police, fire personnel oversight

  1. Also highly unusual but not mentioned here: This full council meeting was held at 7:30 in the morning on a Monday, and was given 3 days notice. And this is the meeting where the budget would be voted on.

    What an unusual time for a council meeting, or any public body, to hold its meeting. When a good number of people aren’t even awake and those that are are commuting to jobs, school, and so on.

    1. The council meets every month at 7:30 AM on a Monday. They also meet once a month at 7 PM. Nothing unusual about the meeting time. This veto item was carried over from the last meeting that was held in the evening. Not sure why the budget was approved at this meeting although I do know they were under a time crunch to get it approved before the deadline.

  2. I am confused, which is not hard, but when you vote to uphold a veto, are you agreeing with it or disagreeing with it?

    Usually a group votes to “override” a veto, therefor going against the mayor. Did they vote in agreement to the mayor’s veto?

    1. I believe it means there were not enough votes to override the veto. Reading the Council members’ comments, it appears some did not agree with the veto, but did not think that the risk and cost of litigation was worth a vote to override the veto.

      It’s kinda like a verdict of “not guilty” does not mean the defendent was found innocent, but only that the charge had not been proven.

  3. Its really hard to tell why this story even newsworthy. If by State Law, Mayors are given the authority to unilaterally hire and fire the police and fire cheifs then it sounds like the motion to transfer that power to the board was inherently flawed. Maybe I am missing something. By the way, the last line of the story is either a typo or really new news. Unless I missed a memo, many towns in Indiana have mayors….just asked Pete Buttigieg.

    1. Mark, it was news because if the council had overturned the vetoes, which was very possible, the town would have been in for a legal fight. The last sentence is correct. Towns usually do not have mayors; cities have mayors. Zionsville is a town.

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