Huntertown voters will be asked on the Nov. 6 ballot whether they want to reverse a decision they made six months ago to create a utility board.
In the May election, Huntertown residents voted 371-177 to appoint a utility service board to operate water and sewer utilities and sanitation pickup.
The town originally created a utilities board in January, but that board consisted of all five members of the town council. Dave Rudolph, the towns clerk-treasurer, is not on the board.
The new board would have to include a municipal executive as chairman and a professional engineer, and the board could not include any paid or unpaid municipal officer or employee, including council members, according to state law.
But that voter-supported board has yet to be created although it is set to start Jan. 1. No members have been selected because the council is hoping the public will vote to abolish the board.
In the first quarter of 2011, council meetings often turned hostile as council members and Rudolph argued repeatedly about the legality of establishing a utilities board that was made up of all five council members.
The council voted 3-2 to create a utilities manager position on Jan. 18, 2011, with the manager reporting directly to the utility board.
Rudolph argued that it took away the help he needed to do his job and subsequently sued the town.
Now the council has gathered enough signatures to place another question on the Nov. 6 ballot, asking voters whether the utility board should be abolished.
Council President Jim Fortman issued a statement at a recent council meeting urging voters to vote yes to abolishing the board.
While the effort to use a referendum to immediately undo a previous referendum is rare, Fortman said he hopes it will be successful.
The utility board has no control anyway, Fortman said. The town council has the final say, so its an extra piece of government that is not necessary.
Were hoping the public votes to do away with the utility board, Fortman said.
But if that doesnt happen, Fortman said the town council will do what is required by law and go from there.
What is required by law is still somewhat in question.
Fortman said that although the new board would have to have a Republican/Democrat ratio and be more diverse, the towns attorney has found nothing that says there must be a professional engineer on the board.
We would like to see it voted down, Councilman Gary Grant said.
Asked why the council initiated the utility board and now wants to abolish it, Grant said council members received bad advice to begin with.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, said having competing referendums so close to each other is uncommon, especially in Indiana.
State law allows residents to take few issues to the ballot directly and requires 2 percent of registered voters from the last Indiana secretary of state election to sign a petition. In Huntertown, that number is 24 signatures.
If residents vote to keep the utility board, Downs said the argument could become who should serve as municipal executive – the clerk-treasurer or the council president.