By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
A federal judge has ruled in favor of the city of Anderson in a case involving the dismissal of two employees who claimed they had been fired by Mayor Kevin Smith for political reasons.
U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson entered her order in favor of Smith and the City of Anderson, effectively ruling that neither acted improperly when deciding to replace Diana Priser and Pamela Clendenen after Smith was re-elected as mayor in 2011.
Smith took office in January 2012. Priser and Clendenen filed the lawsuit in March 2012.
Priser, formerly of the city’s Department of Economic Development; and Clendenen, former mayor Kris Ockomon’s executive manager, each claimed they were removed from their jobs because they supported Ockomon’s re-election bid. In part, the two plaintiffs claimed their First Amendment rights had been violated in their firing; however, the judge said Smith did not violate their rights.
According to the Aug. 19 order, which acted as the framework on the ruling, the city argued that it’s entitled to make its own personnel decisions on those positions because of the inherently political nature of their jobs. Therefore, the employees wouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment.
Priser and Clendenen argued that their positions weren’t inherently political and they didn’t necessarily perform the exact duties laid out in their job descriptions.
Magnus-Stinson used case law to back up her decision, citing previous cases which claimed, “one cannot run a government with officials who are forced to keep political enemies in key and trusted positions,” and “a public employee may be dismissed on the basis of politics.” She said the former employees’ positions dealt with protected and confidential political information, and they weren’t entitled to keep those positions.
The judge also dealt with the issue of the job descriptions, writing, “at issue is not Ms. Priser’s position as she performed it, but rather the duties inherent to the office she held. Here, it is undisputed that the duties of Ms. Priser’s job as detailed in her job description demonstrate the politically sensitive nature of her office.”
The order also cited Clendenen’s job duties, which included overseeing the mayor’s calendar, drafting departmental policies, preparing significant financial reports and having access to internal department meetings and confidential information. Magnus-Stinson determined these responsibilities were patently political, and weren’t protected under the First Amendment.
The case had been set to go to trial on Sept. 9, but that became unnecessary after the Aug. 19 summary judgment.
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