Lawrence budget court case slowly moving forward


A court case between Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier’s administration and the Lawrence Common Council is making slow progress as both sides have filed back-and-forth motions in court.

The petition initially was filed March 23 in Marion County Superior Court over the Lawrence Common Council’s decision to appropriate $250,000 to investigate who was at fault when the city’s 2022 budget was not submitted to the state by deadline.

The petition asks the court to declare the appropriation null and void, based on state statutes that say an appropriation cannot be made without the mayor’s recommendation. Collier’s petition also asks the court to rule that the council was at fault for the 2022 budget issue, because it allegedly failed to provide details needed for that budget to be submitted on time.

The petition does not seek monetary compensation; it asks only for a ruling on the legal process. A five-judge panel will consider the case.

Soon after the mayor’s petition was filed in court, naming all the Lawrence Common Council members as co-defendants, the council filed a motion for extra time to answer the petition, and a second motion asking the court to require the mayor’s office to release funds for the council’s legal fees in the case.

“In order to defend itself in this lawsuit, the Council is entitled to legal counsel on the terms it deems appropriate to defend itself,” the motion states. “The Mayor cannot obstruct that payment by refusing to cooperate in the appropriation, and this Court should order the Mayor to make money available to the Council to pay its attorneys on terms the Council deems appropriate (provided that the Council makes an appropriation available to the Mayor to pay his attorneys at the same amount).”

The motion notes that, if successful, the mayor’s petition would essentially end the council’s investigation.

“In other words, the mayor is attempting to defund an investigation of himself,” the motion states. “The mayor is also seeking to sue the council and prevent the council from defending itself from the mayor’s own allegations.”

Collier’s administration responded to the motion May 15. In his response, the mayor stated that he is willing to work with the council to provide funds for a legal defense, “and in fact previously extended a unilateral offer to recommend an additional appropriation of $50,000 as an initial installment for the council’s professional fees budget. This court should deny the council’s request and require the council to work with the mayor to properly appropriate funds through the statutorily required budgetary process.”

The mayor’s response states that Indiana code does not exempt appropriations for a city council’s legal fees from the required appropriations process, which he said starts with a recommendation from the executive branch.

The council began its investigation into the 2022 budget last fall. The budget normally would have been submitted to the state in fall of 2021. According to the mayor’s March 23 petition, Collier’s office submitted a proposed budget in September of that year, totaling $27.8 million. The council chose to reduce that budget by several million dollars. The mayor’s office did not support those cuts, and therefore let the council know that it must provide the details about where those cuts should be made.

According to the petition, the final budget ordinance that passed in late October did not include the specific line-item details required to submit it to the state. The mayor’s petition says that his office did inform the council and the council’s financial advisors that if it did not have that information, the 2022 budget would not be submitted and the city’s budget would revert to the 2021 budget.

The reversion meant that the spending plan for 2022 matched that of 2021, totaling $25.7 million. The mayor’s petition notes that the council’s financial advisor gave a presentation to the council in May of 2022, and the mayor’s office held budget workshops over the summer. Collier’s petition states that each of those events included information about the reversion,

In a statement, Council President Tyrrell Giles said the council did not know about the reversion until November of 2022.

At deadline for this story, the council’s response to the March 23 petition had not been filed.