On Monday, Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron filed a notice of appeal of a decision denying her request to demote Fire Chief James VanGorder. In June, Boone Superior Court Judge Matthew Kincaid said the move would exceed the mayor’s authority as defined in the town’s reorganization document passed in 2014.
In March, Styron filed a suit for a judicial determination of powers after the Zionsville Town Council voted against her request to demote VanGorder. She argued the town’s reorganization document only spoke to “discharging” a department head, not demoting. In her argument, Styron said mayors who have the power to hire a department head, also have a reciprocal power to demote or discharge.
At that time, she also stripped VanGorder of his duties but allowed him to retain the title and pay of chief. VanGorder then countersued the mayor as a third party to the lawsuit. He dropped his counterclaim when his powers were reinstated a week after the ruling. A hearing on an injunction to force the mayor to reinstate VanGorder’s duties on July 1 was canceled.
Zionsville Town Council president Josh Garrett said he is disappointed in the appeal and the amount of tax dollars spent in the endeavor.
“She has spent $69,854 and the town council has spent $61,253,” Garrett said. “Total to date, this is at the end of June, is $131,107. Not cheap.”
Garrett said he could see another $100,000 or more spent on this phase of the case.
“This is money that will have to come from somewhere or not be spent somewhere else because we’re paying lawyer fees,” he said.
He added the whole incident is unfortunate.
“Now all this does is throw a lot of things in disarray,” he added about the fire chief’s status, the relationship between the mayor and the council, budgeting issues and more. “It really is just something no one wants.”
The Indiana Court of Appeals is the second-highest court in the state. It’s ruling is final unless the Indiana Supreme Court decides to hear the case.
The next step is a brief to be filed with the appellate court.
On Monday, Mayor Styron put out a statement concerning the appeal:
“The Mayor retains the authority to supervise and direct the daily activities of department heads, such as the Fire Chief and the Chief of Police, who serve under appointment by the Mayor. The Mayor continues to assert that she also retains the authority to withdraw the mayoral appointment and return the Fire Chief or Chief of Police to the last rank held prior to appointment, without the approval of the Town Council, pursuant to Indiana law and the Town’s governance rules. Because the allocation of authority between the Mayor and the Town Council on this issue pursuant to the Town’s Reorganization Resolution has not yet been determined by a higher court, it is important to appeal this decision so that the Indiana Court of Appeals can make a determination that will provide clarity not only on the issues that exist now, but also those that may arise in the future. Mayor Styron remains committed to protecting the interests of the residents of the Town of Zionsville and to working on behalf of the best interest of the Fire Department. There will be no further comment at this time.”