County leaders debate second-class city status


By Adam Aasen

City leaders in Hamilton County spoke to the 2016 class of the Hamilton County Leadership Academy on Sept. 17. Noblesville mayor John Ditslear, Fishers mayor Scott Fadness and Westfield mayor Andy Cook were all in attendance. Carmel City Councilor Ron Carter filled in for Carmel mayor Jim Brainard who was at a summit in California.

One topic that was touched on is the idea of becoming a second-class city. The idea was a topic in the recent primary election in Carmel. If Carmel were to become a second-class city, it would mean replacing the elected clerk-treasurer with an appointed city controller. It would also mean adding two seats to the council. Here is a little bit of what each leader said about second-class city status.

Noblesville mayor John Ditslear

“You have to be 35,000 or above to be a second class city. We did the census in 2005 and we determined we were 39,000. We did not do the census just to change to a second-class city. We did it because some of the taxes and revenue is based on population. However, some eight years later, our clerk-treasurer, who had been there for six terms and has done great, but she announced her retirement. That made an opening for someone – and I didn’t have anyone in mind –but we get a lot of squirrels who want to run for office. It’s kind of a popularity contest and there are no qualifications to be mayor or clerk-treasurer according to state statute except to be 21 years or over. I could just see someone getting in with no financial experience so we did vote make the change and in a previous election we added the two additional members.”’

Westfield mayor Andy Cook

“Right now, officially we’re still at 32,000. We are doing a special census in the next few months, which I will guess put us above that number. We’re merely doing that for tax issues. Our motivation is not really a second-class city. Frankly, I’d rather to vote to four than five [councilors to get a majority.]Dealing with nine instead of seven. That may change in years from now but I haven’t heard much talk about that. “

Carmel city councilor Ron Carter

“We passed 35,000 a long time ago. In fact, state law used to be when a community reached the level of 35,000 population, you automatically became a second-class city. Our outgoing clerk treasurer was instrumental in 1997 or 1998 in getting that changed so that in order to go to a second-class city, the council had to vote for that change. Unfortunately, we have not had a majority of council members who would vote for that change for various reasons. That I’m happy to say has now changed. Starting Jan. 1, we will have a majority of council members according to their campaigns last spring that pledged they were interested in becoming a second-class, so we will introduce ordinances to do so. Unfortunately, that will not take effect until four years because of the fact that the law says the elected clerk-treasurer will fill out his or her term. One of the biggest things for us is this: our budget for next year will probably be in the neighborhood of $135 million. Now, mayor Ditslear said, there are no qualifications for clerk-treasurer. I can tell you that a city the size of Carmel needs to have a financial manager. Clerk-treasurers by the very nature of their job are bookkeepers and they look backwards. We need to look forward. You have a hard time if you only rely on a clerk-treasurer in terms of making decisions for the future.”

Fishers mayor Scott Fadness

“I think that duplication of the checks and balances of government, the city council serves as the power of the purse so to speak, so they approve or revoke your ability to spend money as the mayor to some degree. Do we need another check and balance for that? I don’t think that’s required. I will tell you that as economic deals become more complex, public-private partnerships, just the scope and scale of these cities, you need a professional financial manager to deal with them.”