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 Town Council Makes Open Government a Priority

January 30, 2008 - Members of the Knightstown Town Council began their first regular monthly meeting of 2008 by unanimously affirming their oaths to abide by state laws, particularly those dealing with access to government proceedings and records.

At the outset of the Jan. 16 meeting, new council member Terry Guerin noted that a commitment to open governance had been part of the platform on which he and two other independent candidates successfully ran in last fall's election. He said he was pleased to say that the entire council was "of the same mind and philosophy" with respect to this issue.

"We took those words seriously," Guerin said of the oaths of office he and the other two new council members, Clyde South and Bob Weber, took at the first of the year. He said he was going to make a motion that would "seal the covenant … that exists now between the council and the citizens of Knightstown" as a result of that oath of office.

Guerin's motion called on the council to reaffirm "its oath to uphold and adhere to the laws of the state of Indiana, especially as it pertains to the dissemination of information to the general public." The motion also said the council would "not intentionally withhold information concerning town business from the general public unless there are legal reasons or ramifications from doing so."

South, the council's vice president, seconded Guerin's motion. Council President Valerie Trump and members Steve Nelson and Weber joined Guerin and South in giving the motion the council's unanimous support.

The council also voted unanimously at the Jan. 16 meeting to amend the town's personnel policies to include a new "Conflict of Interest in Employment" policy. Guerin said the new policy was not intended to shed "any kind of negative light" on families who have more than one members employed by the town, but was intended to clarify an issue not addressed by current policies.

The new policy begins by stating, "Standards for hiring, promotion, reappointment, evaluation, working conditions, responsibilities, salary and termination for all employees at the Town of Knightstown are based on ability, qualifications for the position, and performance." It goes on to say that being related to a town employee "by blood, marriage, adoption, domestic partnership, or other personal relationship in which objectivity might be impaired" will not bar one's employment, promotion or reappointment with the town.

The new policy precludes, however, a town employee from directly supervising a relative, and only permits relatives to work for the same town department if prior written approval has been given by the department head and town council. The policy concludes by saying relatives "should not participate in roles which have the potential for influencing employment decisions," citing "peer review" as an example.

Trump announced that town attorney David Copenhaver's firm had agreed to a 90-day extension on its legal services contract with the town. She said other attorneys who had been or will be contacted about possibly representing the town included Bill Baker (New Castle), Greg Morelock (Greenfield), Chuck Todd (Cambridge City) and Mike Wallman (Indianapolis). The last two attorneys already have other area public agencies as clients: Todd represents the town of Carthage, and Wallman is CAB's legal counsel.

After a discussion with Linda Birr-Conn of the Henry County Animal Shelter, the council voted to continue its contract with the shelter for animal control services on a month-to-month basis. Birr-Conn told the council, which plans to look at other possible animal control options, that the contract's annual fee of $4,800 has been the same since 1997.

Acting on a recommendation Trump said had been received from Knightstown Library Director Mary Miller, the council voted unanimously to appoint Barb Carter to the library board. Carter replaces John Fiega, who resigned from the library board in September. The council approved an agreement with the town of Kennard that will have Knightstown workers helping to clean out Kennard's sewer mains and storm drains. Under the agreement, which Knightstown's legal counsel will draft, Kennard will pay a minimum of $100 at $50 an hour for Knightstown's equipment, plus labor costs for the Knightstown employees who will run the machinery.

The council also approved a resolution on Jan. 16 authorizing the transfer of $5,000 and $25,000 from the cash depreciation accounts of the town's water and sewer departments, respectively, into those utilities' cash operating accounts. Clerk-Treasurer Judy Haines told the council that at the end of 2007, the cash operating balances for both utilities were in the red, with the water at -$445 and the sewer at -$2,126, because of "lack of revenue."

At the request of Norm Bohnert of Make a Difference Knightstown, Inc., the council approved a motion directing works manager Mel Matlock to have town employees finish previously agreed upon work on the Public Square. The council also approved Bohnert's requests for closure of parts of U.S. 40, removal of the fish fry wagon from the square, and exclusive use of the square and other areas for the MADK's annual car show activities, set for June 20 and 21.

Knightstown resident Dan Webber advised the council and others present that 21 people attended a neighborhood crime watch program meeting on January 12. "There's a lot of good things happening with this," he said. The group's next meeting is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12, at Knightstown Town Hall.

Town resident Shirley Richardson told the council she was still concerned about the condition of the property located behind her East Carey Street home, a property she had complained about previously. Chief of Police Danny Baker told the council that the garage, which had been filled with garbage, had been cleaned out, with the exception of two bicycles, and that the owners had posted "No Trespassing" signs on the property.

Richardson told the council that there are other problem properties in town that need to be addressed, and said she hoped the council, with its three new members, would be more "user friendly." She said she knew people who had declined to bring complaints and concerns to past councils because they felt those councils had been unresponsive.

The council tabled a request that the town insure a 1946 Ford school bus used in the film Hoosiers that is now owned by the Hoosier Gym. Guerin said he was impressed with all the town has done with the Hoosier Gym, but said he had concerns about the liability issues.

The council also tabled its consideration of "ride-along" waivers to cover passengers in the town's police cars, other than other KPD officers, dispatchers or town council members. Council members said they wanted to get more information and plan to revisit the issue at their February 20 meeting.

 

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