Reorganized roles


Court ruling allows Jeff Papa to become Zionsville’s first mayor

By Ann Marie Shambaugh

When Jeff Papa woke up the morning of June 2, he had no idea that he was about to make history.

But with the Indiana Court of Appeals reversing that morning a Boone County ruling that invalidated Zionsville’s reorganization with Perry Township, Zionsville officials quickly threw together a swearing-in ceremony to make Papa the first mayor of the newly-expanded town.

“I’m happy that the questions about the reorganization were answered and now we can get to work with our new partners in Perry Township and repair our friendship with Whitestown and move forward,” Papa said a few hours after assuming his new role.

In November 2014, voters in Zionsville and Perry Township approved a reorganization plan, which expanded Zionsville’s area by about 40 percent and created the position of mayor. The Town of Whitestown responded by filing a lawsuit seeking to block the reorganization, but the appeals court found their arguments lacking.

“The trial court erred when it entered summary judgment for Whitestown and against Zionsville on the question of whether Zionsville was denied authority under the Act to reorganize with Perry Township,” the appeals court ruling stated.

The Whitestown Town Council has scheduled a meeting in executive session on June 9 to discuss sending the issue to the Indiana Supreme Court. Whitestown Town Council President Eric Miller expressed disappointment that Zionsville proceeded as if the matter were decided when a higher court could issue a different ruling.

“Whitestown was prudent in awaiting review by the Court of Appeals and similarly believes the parties should see the case through to its conclusion before taking any further action on the reorganization,” Miller said in a statement. “We believe it is in the best interest of residents in the area to not move forward with Zionsville’s reorganization plan to incorporate and develop the bordering community of Perry Township without providing municipal services.”

 Quick change

The original plan approved by voters was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2015, and provided a year for the reorganization to take place. Now Zionsville has half that amount of time to figure out the details, which includes creating a department of records and finance, defining the role of mayor and providing services to all of Perry Township – even the sections previously annexed by Whitestown and Lebanon.

“The plan calls for one year to make this transition,” Papa said. “Now we have a little less than six months so we’re really going to have to work hard to pull it off.”

Yet Papa is confident the transition will occur smoothly and on time, as the council had been hoping for this outcome and planning as if it would happen, even if they had no idea when. He also said that Perry Township officials are eager to begin the process.

“It’s going to be a great partnership,” Papa said.

Sam Baldwin, the former Perry Township trustee, was also sworn into her new role as a member of the Zionsville Town Council on June 2.

 Uncertainties remain

Although Zionsville is quickly moving ahead to complete the reorganization, some details are still up in the air. The approved plan calls for Papa to serve as mayor only until the end of the year, and he is not allowed to run for mayor in the November election.

Zionsville Town Council member Tim Haak filed to run for mayor in the May primary but was not on the ballot because the court did not make its ruling before the election.

Papa – who works as chief of staff and chief legal counsel for the Indiana State Senate by day – believes it would be fair to list Haak as the Republican mayoral candidate in the November election, and he expects that candidates from other parties should still have time to file for the position. It remains to be seen, however, exactly how the final November ballot will come together.

The court ruling also eliminated the elected position of clerk-treasurer, a seat that was on the May primary ballot. Voters selected the town’s current deputy clerk Amy Lacy over current town councilor Candace Ulmer, but it will be up to the town’s future mayor to appoint a new director of the newly-formed department of records and finance beginning in January 2016.

“My hope is the new mayor would pick Amy Lacy,” Papa said. “I think that would be the fair thing to do.”