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Timeline of fire district news
Published on: 06.29.10

The Brown County Fire Protection District has been discussed, debated and litigated since 2007. According to Brown County Democrat archives:

Jan. 16, 2007: After hearing contract disputes between Jackson Township Fire Department and the township trustee, and citing “systemic problems we’ve had for years, if not decades,” Brown County Commissioners Blake Wolpert and Stephanie Yager suggest looking into creating a countywide fire district. A fire district, State Fire Marshal Roger Johnson explained to The Democrat, would have its own tax rate and would distribute funding to different departments, which would keep their own identities.

May 9, 2007: Bill Lloyd takes out a full-page ad in The Democrat: “A Public Safety Proposal Sponsored for Our Volunteer Fire Personnel and Our Community,” laying out how a fire district could be created and what it would and wouldn’t do to individual fire departments and fire service.

May 16, 2007: Mark Imhoff, public information officer for the Brown County Volunteer Fire Department, writes a letter to the editor noting that “the fire district proposal is not in any way endorsed by, and is, in fact, not favored by the Brown County Volunteer Fire Department.”

May 23, 2007: Township trustees Paul Hardin of Washington and Ron Sanders of Jackson, in a joint letter to the editor, “urge all Brown County residents to let the county commissioners know they oppose the creation of a fire district.” Bill Lloyd also writes a letter, inviting opponents of his suggestions to meet with him.

May 30, 2007: Lloyd buys another full-page ad, noting “the merits of a countywide fire district.” Among them, he asserts: grants, lower homeowner insurance premiums and the end of “turf politics” by establishing a citizen merit board.

June 19, 2007: Fire district discussion comes up at a Brown County Commissioners meeting. “My biggest concern is that the district becomes a group that doesn’t understand the concerns of volunteer firefighters,” Dan Wilhelm, a Brown County dept. firefighter, says. “If the district is put in place,” firefighter Imhoff adds, “there’s a very good chance that some of the most trained and experienced firefighters in the county would quit.”

June 20, 2007: After trading letters to the editor with various fire district opponents for several weeks, Lloyd takes out a half-page ad again noting “features of the proposed fire district.”

July 2, 2007: Commissioners submit a proposal to move forward with a fire district, asking for written comments from the public and the creation of a task force including a representative from each of the six fire departments in the county, and a separate committee to define “adequate” fire service. Washington Trustee Hardin announces a petition drive against the fire district.

July 25, 2007: Darrell Kent, in a letter to the editor, calls the fire district a “boondoggle.” (He would later be elected commissioner in November 2008.)

Aug. 7, 2007: Opponents of the fire district proposal gather for a “Say no to fire district” meeting in an effort to collect signatures of the required 51 percent of freeholders in the county representing two-thirds of the appraised property value in the county, in order to defeat the proposal. About 120 people show up for the three-hour meeting.

Around Aug. 19, 2007: Lloyd proposes a fire district ordinance independent of the committee charged with looking into one. That committee had recommended against a countywide fire district, instead recommending a Citizens Oversight Safety Committee. 

Aug. 21, 2007: Commissioners Stephanie Yager and Blake Wolpert approve Lloyd’s ordinance on first reading.

Sept. 5, 2007: Representatives for and against the fire district plead their cases to the Nashville Town Council.

Sept. 11, 2007: Five Brown Countians file a lawsuit against the county commissioners, contending that the board did not abide by Indiana code when they established the fire district, and asking for a halt to progress.

Oct. 10, 2007: The commissioners seat a five-person fire board: Patrick Nielander, Thomas A. Williams, Lynn Shaw, Jeff McCabe and Richard Stamm.

Oct. 15, 2007: The fire board meets for the first time. Bill Lloyd is appointed as the board’s volunteer legal counsel.

Oct. 23, 2007: Special Judge Roderick McGillivray denies the five Brown Countians’ request to halt progress of the fire district, saying, “It is in the best interests of the citizens of Brown County to allow the fire trustees to proceed with their preparations for a comprehensive fire protection plan while this litigation proceeds.”

Nov. 8-10, 2007: Fire district opponents stage petition drives at Cordry Sweetwater, Fruitdale, Van Buren and Brown County (Nashville) fire stations.

Dec. 13, 2007: At a fire district board meeting, Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Glenn Elmore and board Vice Chairman Dick Stamm report having problems working with Jackson Township Trustee Ron Sanders and Washington Township Trustee Paul Hardin, in regards to fire contracts and information. Hardin reportedly tells Stamm, “The fire district does not exist.”

Jan. 17, 2008: Special Judge Roderick McGillivray  conducts a pretrial conference in the case of whether or not the fire district was formed illegally. Attorney for the county, Jim Roberts, explains that the fire district topic first came to the attention of the commissioners after they’d heard, for the past three years in public meetings, about conflicts between volunteer fire departments and their respective township trustees. Having a countywide fire district, he said, “is an attempt for county government to address these problems in a uniform way.” Kurt Young, attorney for the five Brown Countians opposing the district, notes that “what matters is whether they followed the statute.” McGillivray says his decision will be based on whether or not the law was followed, not on whether having a fire protection district is a good or bad idea.

Jan. 17, 2008: Young, acting as Brown County (Nashville) VFD assistant chief, proposes to Nashville Town Council a fire service contract that prevents other entities from taking over command of a fire scene and prevents the town from transferring its contract with the fire department to another entity. He said the clause protects the town and the fire department, not letting either party make the other’s decision to opt in to the fire district. The council asks that he amend the contract by adding an “escape” and bring it back for further review.

Feb. 8, 2008: Judge McGillivray rules that the Brown County Commissioners acted legally when they created a countywide fire protection district without a freeholder petition. He reasons that if the petition-by-freeholder process was the only way to create a fire district, it would exclude anyone who does not own property in the area. The group opposed to the district appeals the decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Feb. 13, 2008: Longtime county councilman David Rudd announces his intent to switch parties, citing a comment by commissioner Bill Austin during fire district debate, in which he reportedly said he didn’t want to be a part of the Republican Party if the party was going to take an approach of not listening to the public. “I have decided to take his words and put them into action,” Rudd said.

Feb. 19, 2008: The Brown County Council tables a request from commissioner Stephanie Yager to appropriate $11,280 of money from timber sales to the Wildland Fire Initiative, a program being organized by the fire district board, instead of putting it in the county’s general fund. Six of the nine firefighters who’ve completed training are from the Jackson Township VFD. County Council President David Critser says, “I feel like when I dole out the money, I want it to go equally and not have someone come back and say you just supported one department. If you don’t have the cooperation of the fire departments, every one, you can have the biggest damn fire you want to up there in Jackson Township, but if you don’t have anyone willing to call this group because they don’t want to mess with them, they’re useless.”

March 2008: John McKune is chosen by the fire district board as its fiscal officer.

March 17, 2008: The fire district board withdraws its request for timber sales money.

April 2008: Citing McGillivray’s ruling in Brown County, the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance changes its position on the way fire districts can be created.

April 30, 2008: Bill Lloyd pays for and the League of Women Voters approve a full-page ad,
“A Chronology of the Brown County Fire Protection District,” reviewing Brown County Democrat stories and letters to the editor about the district.

May 6, 2008: Commissioners Stephanie Yager  and Blake Wolpert lose their bids for re-election in the primary.

Aug. 28, 2008: Brown County Fire Protection District officials appear before the Local Government Tax Control Board to request approval of a maximum tax levy equal to what the county’s six fire departments say it takes to operate each year, or $420,000. Fire district board Chairman Jeff McCabe stresses that the board will keep its promise to not increase taxes for fire service in 2009, and it is noted that the levy request approval does not obligate the county to actually levy the taxes. The board unanimously approves his request. Commissioner candidate Mary Fouch, at the hearing, says that as a member of the Cordry Sweetwater Volunteer Fire Department, she doesn’t mind doing fundraisers to support the department, and calls a tax levy “welfare.” “We do not have a fire protection problem in Brown County,” she says. “We have problems, but to me they are ego problems.”

Sept. 2, 2008: The Indiana Court of Appeals upholds Judge McGillivray’s Feb. 8 decision that the commissioners had the authority to create the fire district by ordinance. Attorney Young announces he will appeal the appeals court’s decision.

Sept. 8, 2008: At a county budget hearing before the county council, the fire district board’s McCabe and 16 residents on both sides of the fire district debate the appropriateness and need for a fire district. The county council turns down the district’s request for funding, 6-0 with one member absent.

Early October 2008: An appeal of the fire district ordinance is filed, this time with the Indiana Supreme Court. Young, attorney for the five Brown Countians who filed the suit against the district’s creation, requests that Chief Justice Randall Shephard recuse himself because of his involvement in an Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform report. The report recommended that fire service responsibilities statewide be transferred from township trustees to a county executive, and recommended creation of a countywide body to oversee public safety.

Nov. 3, 2008: Attorney Lloyd goes before the commissioners to request a resolution of support for the fire district, which would allow the district board to appeal the county council’s denial of funding to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. Commissioners Wolpert and Yager OK it; commissioner Bill Austin votes against. It passes. The vote is split that way again on a motion to grant 20 percent ($4,000) of state “bailout” money to the fire district. It passes.

Nov. 4, 2008: Two new commissioners are elected: Democrats Mary Fouch and Darrell Kent.

Dec. 9, 2008: County councilman Ed Wojdyla writes to The Democrat, county officials and the state’s public access counselor, questioning the legality of a conversation concerning the fire district that took place after a public meeting, among county officials. The discussion, Wojdyla said, concerned the tax effect of the fire district. The public access counselor confirms that it was an illegal meeting.

Jan. 1, 2009: The new Brown County Board of Commissioners: Mary Fouch, Darrell Kent and Bill Austin, passes its first ordinance of the year, repealing the 2007 ordinance by a former board of commissioners that created the fire district. The move elicits a standing ovation from the roughly 50 people at the meeting. The commissioners also present a set of instructions for the fire district board’s dissolution.

Jan. 3, 2009: Attorney Lloyd files a lawsuit on behalf of Susanne Gaudin, Robyn Rosenberg, Christopher Ainsworth, Barbara Gess, Paul Colvin, Janet Kramer and Leonard Murray, asserting that a petition process must be used to dissolve a fire district.

January 2009: The Indiana Supreme Court rejects the appeal request about the legality of the way the fire district was created, ending that court fight.

January 2009: The Indiana State Board of Accounts offers its opinion: That the commissioners can’t legally dissolve the fire district they way they did.

January 2009: The commissioners hire Indianapolis attorney Stephen Buschmann to defend the lawsuit on behalf of the county, at a cost of $25,000.

Jan. 14, 2009: The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance OKs a levy of $419,885 for the fire district.

Aug. 19, 2009: Special Judge Kathleen Tighe Coridon rules that the fire district was dissolved legally. One of the reasons for her decision involves the meaning of the word “may” in the law.

Fall 2009: Attorney Lloyd files an appeal.

Feb. 23, 2010: The Indiana Court of Appeals reverses Judge Coridon’s decision and finds for the seven Brown Countians, against the commissioners. The ruling means the fire district still legally exists. The court says that the only method in Indiana Code by which a district can be dissolved by ordinance is by a petition drive. Commissioner Austin announces plans to appeal.

May 18, 2010: The appeals court opts not to rehear the case. Commissioner Austin announces plans to file a petition for transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court.

June 16, 2010: Washington Township Trustee Paul Hardin announces "an ongoing Say No to the Fire District" protest at the trustee's office to gather 500 homeowners' signatures on a petition.

June 30, 2010: At the Brown County Democrat's request, representatives for and against the fire district state their cases in a side-by-side, written debate on the Opinions page.

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