Chesterton Tribune



Rivas and others file suit to challenge Commissioners' redistricting plan

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An attorney representing Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas and four residents filed a lawsuit against the Porter County Board of Commissioners Monday arguing the new ordinance restructuring the County Council districts is invalid under Indiana law.

Edward Hearn of the Johnson & Bell Ltd. law firm filed the documents in LaPorte County Circuit Judge Thomas Alevizos’ court. With it, he filed a request for a preliminary injunction hearing.

A hearing has been set for Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 9 a.m. in Alevizos’ court, one day before candidate filing starts for the 2014 county elections.

Called into question is Porter County Ordinance 13-17 approved during the Commissioner’s regular meeting Dec. 17 creating four new Council districts based on 2010 Census data.

The plaintiffs, which include Rivas, Portage Twp. residents Danielle Cauley, Ryan Bailey, Brian Smolnicky and Westchester Twp. resident Patrick Heely II, assert that the new District 1 and District 2 “do not have contiguous boundaries.” In the ordinance, the Commissioners placed Westchester precinct 17 in District 2 which the suit claims is completely detached from the other precincts, encircled by precincts in District 1 giving it the appearance of “island.”

State statute requires that the County’s executive body Ð the Commissioners Ð “shall, by ordinance, divide the county into four contiguous, single-member districts” and thus Ordinance 13-17 is not in compliance with Indiana Code, the suit claims.

All of the plaintiffs have found themselves in a new County Council district under the plan. Heely argues that his precinct, Westchester 17, has been “illegally placed as an ‘island’” while Cauley, Bailey and Smolnicky feel that their district is invalid because it does not have a contiguous border.

Rivas, on other hand, had his precinct of residence Portage 33 moved from District 2, which he represents currently on the County Council, to District 4. It states in the suit that Rivas intends to run again for his District 2 seat and due to the ordinance must relocate in order to be eligible.

Hearn told the Chesterton Tribune that Rivas is the only plaintiff who intends to run for office. The rest are citizen voters who wished to participate in filing the suit, said Hearn, adding that the ordinance affects all citizens living in these precincts, not just the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs also made a case for temporary and permanent orders to nullify Ordinance 13-17, saying that if it is not restrained, Rivas or other candidates in the altered precincts would be “forced to contribute funds to an election in a district that is illegal and void.”

If the 2014 election is carried out based on improper precincts, the results would be invalid, the suit contends.

Also, the plaintiffs contend that an “emergency” exists given the short time before candidate filing begins in the county Jan. 8. and they have asked the judge to rule on restraining the ordinance before then.

Hearn said that if the judge does end up granting the request for restraint, then the precincts would revert back to the previous county ordinance establishing the Council districts. Since Indiana law only permits Council redistricting in odd-numbered or non-election years, Hearn said the Board of Commissioners would have to wait until 2015 before they could redistrict again.

Should the judge grant the restraint after candidate filing begins, there “could be problems,” Hearn said, as candidates may be signed up in improper precincts. Circumstances of whether the election would have to be delayed or halted would be the judge’s decision, Hearn said.

Ordinance 13-17 was approved with a unanimous vote by Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South. Evans made a statement before the vote saying that the districts were created by making the population numbers as equal as possible and that state law requires that districts must not cross precinct boundary lines.

County Attorney Betty Knight, who legally represents the Commissioner Board, could not be reached for comment this morning.


Posted 12/31/2013