Bad blood between Madison County Council and county commissioners Kelly Gaskill and Mike Phipps has come to a full boil this month.
On June 10, the council denied the commissioners’ request for an additional appropriation of $171,515 to pay for services already rendered by the Indianapolis law firm of Bose McKinney & Evans.
Councilman Steve Sumner noted that commissioners had failed to follow a policy they had created requiring department heads and other elected officials to get permission from the council to spend more than $2,500, even when money has already been appropriated.
Sumner also pointed out that the county would have spent $300,000 on attorney fees in the first five months of the year if the additional funding had been approved. He noted that amount would pay for a staff attorney for the entire year.
Madison County had just $150,000 in the commissioners’ budget for legal fees and costs for the entire year of 2019. In 2018, the county paid Elwood attorney Jeff Graham and associate Ashley Hopper a total of about $244,000.
This year, the commissioners have had some costly legal fees to cover, including defense against a lawsuit challenging redrawn commissioners’ districts. The county, which prevailed in court, is seeking to recover $139,069 in attorney fees and other related costs.
At the June 10 meeting, Gaskill and Phipps were incensed by council’s unanimous vote to deny their attorney funding request.
Phipps pointed out that a contract had been approved with Bose McKinney & Evans at the beginning of 2020.
Council President Pete Heuer, who noted that council would reconsider the attorney funding request at its July 14 meeting, attempted to silence Phipps three times, saying, “Mr. Sumner has the floor.”
But Phipps continued to talk, and Heuer asked security to remove Phipps and allow him to sit in the council chambers.
The juvenile behavior continued June 15 when commissioners convened for a regular meeting.
With important business to attend to, and representatives of the county auditor’s office, as well as several other local officials and members of the public present, the meeting lasted less than five minutes.
Phipps immediately made a motion to adjourn and Gaskill, pointing out that there was no attorney present, seconded the motion. The third commissioner, John Richwine, voted against it, but the motion passed, 2-1.
Recognizing that the clock was ticking on important business, Phipps and Gaskill did actually conduct business at a commissioners meeting Monday. Attorney Jonathan Hughes of Boze McKinney & Evans was present, though he noted he wasn’t sure how he would be paid.
At the Monday meeting, commissioners approved the county’s participation in a COVID-19 relief fund that will make $4.2 million available to the county and its townships for pandemic-related expenses. They also decided to maintain the cumulative bridge fund at its current level, and they approved county payment of claims.
But Gaskill, who insists that an attorney must be present for commissioners to conduct any business, warned that the July 6 meeting would be canceled.
“All this animosity has got to stop,” Gaskill said after the Monday meeting. “At the end of the day a county cannot go without an attorney.”
She’s right about the “animosity” between the council and commissioners. For the good of Madison County, it’s got to stop.