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County council meeting erupts into arguments
Updated on: 01.27.14

The Jan. 21 Brown County Council meeting started with arguments and allegations of lies. At one point, police showed up.

It ended with some county officials apologizing to each other.

Councilman Jerry Pittman launched a discussion about a topic not on the meeting agenda. He claimed that in December, the county commissioners invalidated the council’s one appointment to the Brown County Area Plan Commission -- Peggy Thompson -- by improperly scheduling her for a new, four-year term. He said that move will render Thompson invalid to serve on the APC and the Brown County Board of Zoning Appeals for three years starting in 2015.

Thompson is a BZA member by appointment from the APC. If Pittman is correct, Thompson continuing to serve on the APC and BZA after 2014 could jeopardize decisions those boards make.

County council President David Critser said the staggering of terms, which the commissioners did to bring Brown County into compliance with state law, was correct, according to County Attorney Barnes and Thornburg.

That triggered a statement by Pittman about his lack of confidence in the firm's legal advice. The county paid the Indianapolis firm $100,000 over 10 months in 2013, including rates as high as $550 per hour.

“Which opinion would you care to take? The one they have on Monday or the one they have on Thursday?” Pittman said, referring to advice given to the county redevelopment commission. Pittman is also a member of that board.

Pittman and redevelopment commission members Evan Werling and Larry Ness distributed a report containing emails from County Attorney Chris Jeter that show changes to advice he gave the county about which governmental boards make APC and BZA appointments.

Brown County Commissioners President John Kennard tried to explain that the changes in legal opinion resulted from the law firm receiving information from Brown County piecemeal. It was not until Jeter met with APC and BZA attorney David Schilling that the matter became clear.

Kennard said there is no conspiracy or cover-up as Pittman, Werling and Ness suggested.

Kennard also said that the commissioners resetting the board members' terms was the correct action.

When Kennard denied an allegation from Pittman about not returning phone calls, text messages and emails from Werling, Werling showed Kennard his cell phone containing no responses for nearly two months. Kennard and Werling yelled at each other, with Kennard saying he called Werling twice and did not hear back from him.

Werling then bet Kennard $500 that he did not know the state law under which Brown County operates.

“I don’t know the specific law,” said Kennard, who said he relies on attorneys to provide that information.

Werling took offense to Kennard stating that he made errors while researching the APC and BZA laws. “No, this was not my mistake. This is a Barnes and Thornburg mistake, and you know it,” Werling said.

Pittman then upset Kennard by insinuating that the county commissioners illegally made decisions about the APC and BZA situation during a Dec. 3 closed-door meeting with their attorney in Indianapolis.

Critser said the matter had been resolved and it was time for the county to move on, but Ness disagreed.

“We ought to be unique where we ought to be, and that’s in the beauty of this county and its people. And we’re stupid if we think we want to be unique with respect to a law that can’t be understood by those who are intended to oversee it,” Ness said.

After several minutes of Ness talking about how embarrassed he was of the county council, Critser pounded the gavel repeatedly before saying, “I’ve heard enough.”

Critser later apologized to Ness, who did the same.

Before the meeting, Pittman reportedly told Critser he wanted off the redevelopment commission. The council replaced him with Councilman Steve Gore.

Werling and Ness were appointed to the county redevelopment commission by the county commissioners. They are considered “at-will” appointments, which means the commissioners can replace them at any time.

Obituaries
See Full List »

David O’Neal Williams, 75, Bloomington
  Father of Tony Williams of Nashville

Raymond M. Richardson, 83, Morgantown
  Father of Rob (Jennifer) Richardson of Brown County

Florence L. (Schonfeld) Cave, 76, Peoga
  Mother of Linda (Roger) Smith of Nashville

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