Embattled City-County Council president to face lawsuit over firings

Stephen Clay

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Citing “chaos” and violation of state law and municipal ordinances, the fired clerk of the City-County Council and several Democratic council members are on the verge of filing an injunction to freeze the actions of President Stephen J. Clay.

The “Verified Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Mandate and Injunctive Relief” claims in the weeks after Clay’s upset victory to ascend to the president’s post, the east side pastor and councilman threw the council’s operations into disarray with the Jan. 31 firings of Clerk NaTrina DeBow and Attorney Fred Biesecker.

Ten council members allege they cannot conduct normal council business without the legal advice of their general counsel Biesecker.

Deposed President Maggie Lewis and Republican Jeff Miller are among the plaintiffs, as well as William Oliver, one of the Democrats who originally supported Clay’s election Jan. 8.

Three weeks later, council Democrats issued a vote of no confidence in Clay setting the stage for a new president’s election Feb. 19.

The anticipated complaint alleges that shortly before the Jan. 29 council meeting in which the no confidence vote was cast, Clay called Biesecker to his council office and warned the attorney that Minority Leader Michael McQuillen, a Lawrence Republican, wanted the president to fire the counsel. The injunction claims that Biesecker took this as a warning to offer parliamentary support to McQuillen’s later unsuccessful efforts to delay or defeat the removal-related motions, and if the attorney did not acquiesce, he assumed he would be fired. At the meeting that night, Biesecker ruled the McQuillen motions were out of order and the no confidence ballot was passed.

Two days later, on Jan. 31, Clay told Biesecker his contract, which expired at the end of 2017, was not being renewed and “Biesecker was escorted out of the office by a Deputy of the Marion County Sheriff in a manner designed to humiliate and expose him to public ridicule.”

Clerk DeBow was also fired that day in what Clay claimed was the typical “transition” that occurs when a new president takes office. Though he denied it at the time, Clay later admitted that he also fired Deputy Clerk SaRita Hughes.

In the proposed injunction, attorneys for DeBow argued that she serves at the pleasure of the full council, not merely the president. DeBow was reappointed to her post by the council Jan. 8.

“Defendant Clay has harmed the Councilors by denying them the support services required to be performed by the Clerk and the general counsel/parliamentarian, thereby throwing the Council into chaos and making it impossible for them to perform the Council’s public business,” reads the anticipated injunction.

Clay has continuously claimed his actions are within city human resources protocols and legal as so advised by attorneys whom he has refused to identify.

Last night, the council’s Democratic Caucus met and voted 13-0 to elect a new council president and voted 11-2 to oust Clay from the caucus.

A source told FOX59 News that Clay was invited but did not attend the caucus.

The injunction is expected to be filed Thursday.