Chesterton Tribune



Pine Township Board goes to court against Township Trustee Watkins over fire contract for her husband's department

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The Pine Township Board is going to court after Pine Township Trustee Tammy Watkins unilaterally--and over the board’s specific objection--awarded a fire protection contract to the Town of Pines Fire Department for the whole of unincorporated Pine Township.

Watkins announced the completed fire protection contract to the Pine Township Board at its Oct. 3 meeting, two days after the contract went into effect. Watkins had previously terminated a fire protection contract with the Beverly Shores FD, which unsuccessfully challenged the termination in court. The Beverly Shores FD had been providing fire protection under contract to unincorporated Pine Township since the dissolution of the Pine Township FD in 2016.

Watkins serves as secretary of the Pines FD Inc.; her husband, Robert Watkins, as its chief; and her son, Michael Watkins, as its assistant chief.

At its July 30 meeting, the Pine Township Board refused to approve a proposed contract with the Pines FD--despite Watkins’ insistence that it do so--and instead voted unanimously to adopt a resolution which stated, among other things, the following: that the Beverly Shores FD “is more experienced and more capable of providing better fire service with better equipment than the Pines Fire Department Inc.”; and that it “has better mutual aid relationships” than the Pines FD.

On Nov. 1, the Pine Township Board’s attorney, Terry Hiestand, filed a motion to intervene before Porter Superior Court Jeffrey Clymer. That motion seeks three things:

--An order from Clymer which would put the matter of fire protection service to binding arbitration, “wherein the arbitrator would have the opportunity to fully consider the proposals for fire protection and make a decision that both the Township Trustee aned Township Board would be required to accept.”

--An injunction which would prevent Trustee Watkins from disbursing any funds to the Pines FD pending the conclusion of binding arbitration.

--And an order which would authorize the use of Pine Township moneys to pay the cost of arbitration and the Township Board’s legal fees.

Hiestand’s motion notes the following: that the Pine Township board’s position “is and always has been” that it “must approve any contract for firefighting services”; and that Indiana Code is very clear on the issue, to wit, I.C. 36-8-13-3, that “the executive of a township”--that is, the trustee--“with the approval of the legislative body”--that is, the township board--may contract with a volunteer fire department that maintains adequate firefighting service.

Hiestand’s motion also notes: that the Pine Township Board did not authorize Watkins to terminate the Beverly Shores FD’s contract; and that its members “believe that the capabilities of the former contractor, Beverly Shores Volunteer Firemen Inc., are superior to the capabilities of Pines Fire Department Inc.

Finally, Hiestand argues that Watkins “has an irreconcilable conflict of interest due to her relationships with the Pine Fire Department Inc.”

Clymer is set to hear the motion at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20.


Posted 11/19/2019




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