Wednesday was the first day it was possible to file the forms to declare an official candidacy for municipal elections in Indiana’s 2023 election cycle.
In Monroe County, nine candidates got that paperwork task out of the way on Day One.
Filing their CAN-42 forms on Wednesday, in order of filing, were: Kerry Thomson (Bloomington mayor); Susan Sandberg (Bloomington mayor); Sue Sgambelluri (Bloomington city council District 2); Don Griffin (Bloomington mayor); Ron Smith (Bloomington city council District 3); William Ellis (Ellettsville town council Ward 2); Jonas Schrodt (Bloomington city council at large); Brett Heinisch (Bloomington city council, District 3); and Nicole Bolden (Bloomington city clerk).
From left: Judge Erik Allen, and recount commissioners Bob White, WIlliam Ellis, and Fred Turner.
Recount commissioner Fred Turner.
From left: Dave Hall, Cory Ray, Fred Turner, Bob White, William Ellis.
From left: Recount commissioners Bob White and William Ellis.
Recount commissioner William Ellis.
Republican Jake Dodds has been confirmed as winning one of the three seats on the Benton Township board in Monroe County, Indiana.
The result of a manual recount of the ballots, which concluded Thursday morning around 11 a.m., provided a 3-vote margin for Dodds over fourth-place finisher, Democrat Hans Kelson.
Before the provisional ballots were adjudicated on Nov. 18—that’s 10 days after the Nov. 8 Election Day—Dodds was up by 6 votes over Kelson. Dodds had 621 votes compared to 615 for Kelson.
The adjudication of the provisional ballots added 2 more votes to Kelson’s total. That reduced the margin to 4 votes—621 to 617. That’s when Monroe County Democratic Party chair David Henry filed a petition requesting a manual recount.
After the manual recount, Dodds had one fewer vote and Kelson had the same number, leaving a 3-vote gap.
That means the Benton Township board that’s sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2023 will consist of Dodds, and Democrats Sean McInerney and Joseph Husk. The Benton Township trustee’s election was won by Democrat Michelle Bright over Republican Josh Dodds.
Judge Erik Allen out of Greene County oversaw the recount work. On Thursday, after the recount commissioners had completed their work at Monroe County’s Election Central, Allen told them: “I observed the process from beginning to end, and I have full confidence in the job that was completed.”
The court of appeals said there is no requirement—that for someone to be appointed to a partisan-balanced board or commission, they have to be a member of some political party or other. That means someone who is unaffiliated with any party can be appointed to a partisan-balanced board.
Filing the petition were former Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis, who is now vice chair, and Andrew Guenther, who at the time was affiliated with the Republican Party.
They say Guenther should now be sitting in the seat left vacant by Nick Kappas in January 2020, when Bloomington mayor John Hamilton chose not to reappoint him. Their claim is based on a state law that allows a party chair to make an appointment under certain circumstances. Ellis chose Guenther as his appointee.
The city of Bloomington’s position is that Chris Cockerham is the rightful appointee. Cockerham was the person Hamilton appointed. He has been serving for the last two years on the plan commission as the successor to Kappas.
Giving rise to the dispute is the statutory partisan balancing requirement for the five mayoral appointees to city plan commissions in the state of Indiana. No more than three of the five can be affiliated with the same political party.
At a meeting of Republican Party precinct chairs held at Ellettsville town hall on Tuesday evening, they gave county party chair Taylor Bryant the authority to fill vacancies on the Nov. 8 election ballot.
Bryant would have until noon on July 3 fill ballot vacancies.
Before the vote, county vice chair William Ellis said Bryant’s authority is just for cases where no GOP candidate filed for the May 3 primary election, and does not extend to filling a vacancy for an office due to resignation or death.
As of Tuesday, the GOP does not have on-the-ballot candidates for several Monroe County races, like prosecutor, clerk, assessor, and two judgeships. That’s due in part to the fact that Monroe County voters favor Democratic Party candidates. In the 2020 presidential race, Democrat Joe Biden won over Republican Donald Trump by a 28-point margin.
In a ruling issued Friday morning, Indiana’s court of appeals reversed the decision of a lower court that found Andrew Guenther had been rightfully appointed to Bloomington’s plan commission seat in spring 2020 by then-chair of the Monroe County GOP William Ellis.
The court of appeals found on a 3-0 vote that the lower court’s ruling was “clearly erroneous.”
According to the ruling, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s appointment of Chris Cockerham to the contested seat was valid. Cockerham has been serving on Bloomington’s plan commission since his May 2020 appointment by Hamilton.
Reached by The B Square shortly after the ruling was released, Guenther indicated that he was not yet sure if an appeal to Indiana’s Supreme Court would be attempted.
The three-member panel on the court of appeals reduced the various questions of law that were in front of it to just one: For boards and commissions that have a partisan balancing requirement under Indiana state law, is it possible for an appointee to have no affiliation at all with any party?
Guenther and Ellis said no. The city of Bloomington and Hamilton said yes.
The court of appeals agreed with Bloomington and Hamilton.
Friday’s ruling says that the disputed statue should not be interpreted to mean that an appointee to a partisan-balance board or commission, like a plan commission, must have some partisan affiliation or other.
Saturday’s voice vote by the party’s precinct committeemen and committeewomen was not controversial. It’s not a dramatic change in party leadership. Her election just elevated Bryant from party vice chair to chair.
And Bryant’s first appointment, to fill her vacant vice chair spot, was a familiar face—William Ellis, who up to now has served as party chair. Saturday’s news could be fairly described as a simple swap in the roles of Ellis and Bryant.
It’s an appointment that is normally supposed to be made by the city council. The mayor makes appointments to two of the seats and the city council makes the other three.
That’s under normal circumstances, when the appointing authority fills a vacancy in a timely way.
On Tuesday night, at a meeting of the city council’s four-member transportation committee, council attorney Stephen Lucas weighed in on the announcement Ellis had made three weeks earlier.
“I don’t see a reason why William Ellis would not have the authority to make that appointment, Lucas told committee members.” Lucas continued, “The state law [Ellis] cites allows for the appointment by the county chair, when the appointing authority does not fill a vacancy. I think that’s the case here.”
For a partisan-balanced board, a party’s county chair can make an appointment for a seat of a member with an expiring term, if that member is affiliated with the same party. Ellis’s appointment replaced Alex Cartwright, who is a Republican.