NEW RICHMOND — The New Richmond Town Council reconvened on Tuesday with no formal opinion on whether the council president is breaking the law with his dual role as the town’s maintenance superintendent, though state law signals that the same person cannot hold both jobs.
Questions over Council President Luke Martin’s simultaneous positions resurfaced in November when Councilman Carmine Azzato demanded Martin’s removal as superintendent. The council then voted to settle the issue by asking the town’s attorney to seek a formal opinion from the Indiana Attorney General or State Board of Accounts.
Town attorney Rob Reimondo was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Reimondo said Wednesday he’s been in communication with the attorney general’s office and would ask Martin to call a special session to discuss the issue sometime before January’s council meeting.
Separately, Azzato asked an attorney for the Indiana Election Division to weigh in. In an email dated Nov. 4, co-counsel Matthew R. Kochevar wrote the “answer is no” to the question of whether an elected town official can be employed by the same town.
“Once they entered the town office they were elected to they are considered to have resigned from their town employment position,” Kochevar wrote, citing a 2012 state law.
Martin became superintendent in 2015 and began serving on the council the following year, according to government employee compensation records. The town said it has previously received assurances from the State Board of Accounts that there is no issue.
The awkward nature of Martin’s dual roles was illustrated Tuesday when the council voted to pass annual salary ordinances for town employees. Martin abstained from the vote on the superintendent’s salary as legally required.
“I’m getting real close on my hours, so I’m going to save what I’ve got left in case we have a snow event that I have to take care of,” Martin said in his superintendent’s report to the council.
The councilmen got into a heated exchange over an ongoing dispute about a padlocked door at the town’s maintenance shop.
Azzato claims Martin locked him out after he began checking on apparent maintenance issues. Martin acknowledged padlocking the door and reportedly told Azzato in a text message that too many people were trying to break into the shop using the town key.
“The only building you need into is the town hall,” Martin told Azzato.
“Are you speaking as the maintenance guy or are you speaking as the president, because you can’t govern yourself,” Azzato replied.
Controversy over Martin’s roles is playing out at the same time as a debate over the town’s contract with Coal Creek Fire/Rescue for fire services, which expires at the end of the year.
The council voted against renewing the contract in September over concerns that New Richmond was paying more than Wingate, which receives fire services through a separate agreement. New Richmond officials say the town will continue to maintain the firehouse but want Coal Creek Township to pay the cost of the contract.
The department is now asking the town to give 12 months notice before terminating the contract, allowing the department time to find a new home.
“The intent is to never kick out the fire department,” Clerk-Treasurer Alaathea Foust said.
Fire Chief Darren Forman sought to clarify the status of the contract. Forman said the department was told “unequivocally” at the special meeting that the town would no longer compensate the agency after the end of the year.
“Then I get a phone call from the township trustee’s office saying that they want to negotiate [the contract] to the attorneys,” said Forman, who supports reaching a new agreement. “Then you just said, no, you voted against it, we’re done.
“So are we in negotiations, or are we not in negotiations?”
The council voted to table the discussion to allow Reimondo and township attorney Stu Weliever to meet with the township board. Forman supports negotiating a new contract.
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