The Westfield City Council will consider an ordinance at its May 23 meeting that would change the city’s third-class status to second-class, which would add two members Westfield’s current seven-member city council.
If approved, the change also would eliminate the city’s clerk-treasurer position and replace it with a city controller. As a third-class city, the clerk-treasurer is an elected position. If Westfield becomes a second-class city, a city controller would be appointed by the mayor – a selection Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said would be based on recommendations from the city council.
Cook and the city’s current clerk-treasurer, Cindy Gossard, have been embroiled in multiple lawsuits and countersuits after Gossard refused to provide full access to some of the city’s financial reports and accounts during a September 2020 citywide audit by BKD CPAs & Advisors, Baker Tilly and Taft Stettinius & Hollister.
In 2021, Gossard commissioned her own third-party investigation of the clerk-treasurer’s computers after accusing the city of installing spyware on the clerk-treasurer’s office computers. When the city’s IT department discovered Gossard’s investigation, the department believed it was an active cybersecurity breach, which fueled the back-and-forth litigation.
Baker Tilly provided the report from its citywide audit in 2021 and encouraged the city to transition from a third-class city to a second-class city. A statement from Cook said the change is being pursued because Westfield’s population has surpassed the 35,000, which is the threshold for second-class status. Cook said the business needs of each of the city’s departments also have changed as Westfield has grown.
“Moving to second class status would also mean adding two seats to the current seven-member council and dividing the clerk-treasurer’s duties between an elected clerk and a mayor-appointed controller,” a statement from Cook read. “According to the ordinance, the hiring of a controller would be based on recommendations from the council to the mayor.”
Westfield is the last of Hamilton County’s four cities to seek second-class designation.
“Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville all moved to second class status as their populations grew, understanding, among other advantages, that it provides better representation of its citizens because council districts become much larger,” Cook’s statement reads.
Cook also said a change to second-class designation would not remove the checks and balances provided by an elected clerk-treasurer.
“That argument undermines the voting power of the city council,” the statement read. “The council votes on the financial needs of the city and Westfield will still be examined yearly by the State Board of Accounts.”