The Herald Bulletin

December 25, 2013

Court rules commissioners exceeded authority

Elected officials not covered by union pact

By Ken de la Bastide The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana Court of Appeals ruling in a Madison County case could have long-range effects on local governments in the state.

The Court of Appeals ruled the Madison County Commissioners and Madison County Council had no authority to sign a collective bargaining agreement interfering with the independence of the elected officials.

“We conclude that the Commissioners and Council, by entering into the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), exceeded their authority and encumbered the officials’ right to appoint and discharge their deputies and employees,” the court wrote.

In most of Indiana’s 92 counties officials are elected to specific offices, including the sheriff, treasurer, clerk, assessor, recorder, prosecutor, judges, coroner and surveyor.

Last January, Grant County Judge Warren Haas, serving as a special judge, issued a ruling that collective bargaining agreements signed by the Madison County Board of Commissioners and Madison County Council were not binding on elective officials.

The United Auto Workers Local 1963, representing Madison County employees, filed an appeal with the Indiana Court of Appeals seeking to have the collective bargaining agreement pertain to all elected officials.

The Indianapolis attorney representing the UAW couldn’t be reached for comment this week.

Madison County Assessor Larry Davis and Recorder Angela Shelton were elected to office in 2010. Prior to beginning his term, Davis notified five employees who would be relieved of their positions.

The UAW filed a grievance with Davis and Shelton charging that they violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

The commissioners requested that Davis reinstate two of the employees, a request that he refused.

Shelton in March 2011 terminated an employee for performing “substandard work” and the UAW filed grievance that she has violated the collective bargaining agreement.

Haas determined in his ruling that the commissioners do not have general employment authority over all of the elected officials’ deputies and employees.

The Indiana Court of Appeals determined the commissioners only have hiring authority over positions spelled out in state statute. If that was the case it would render statutes empowering the appointment power of other elected officials as meaningless.

“In the present case, UAW ardently insists the Commissioners, rather than the Officials, have the authority to appoint and discharge deputies. We disagree,” the opinion states.

The UAW also asserted the commissioners and County Council had the authority to enter into the collective bargaining agreement to regulate the personnel policies affecting the official’s deputies.

“The trial court concluded ‘that the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) imposes impermissible restrictions on the ability of the elected officials to select, discipline, remove, and direct the work of their deputies and employees.”

The Court of Appeals determined the officials have complete discretion to hire and discharge their employees, subject to limitations imposed by state law.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Haas that the collective bargaining agreement obstructs the independence of the officials to staff their offices as they deem best.

Follow Ken de la Bastide @KendelaBastide on Twitter, or call 640-4863.