Southport councilors battle over dismissal rules, police

UPDATE (March 4, 2019)-- The lawsuit connected to this case was dismissed.

Original story:

SOUTHPORT, Ind.-- Southport is usually a quiet suburb of less than two thousand people nestled into the south side of Indianapolis, except on Monday nights when the Common Council meets to do city business and often fights amongst itself.

Tonight will be no exception.

On the agenda of the divided five-member council is a plan to surrender some of its oversight of the police department to a mostly unelected board and set a process whereby councilors can investigate and dismiss each other from office.

“I think some would think there is too much consolidation of power in certain sectors of the government and there’s too much bickering,” said Councilor Larry Tunget. “It's unsettling and I don’t think the people think they’re getting a truly fair government in Southport.”

Over the weekend, more than 500 fliers were passed out to Southport neighbors by Councilor-at-Large Shara Hostetler and her supporters, drawing attention to the council’s upcoming agenda, resolutions and proposed ordinances which cannot be typically found on the city’s own website.

Hostetler posted two proposals on her website: one to give standard operating procedure oversight of the Southport Police Department to the Board of Public Works and Safety and the other to establish a process so that councilors can band together to dismiss a fellow councilor whether or not a crime or wrongdoing has been alleged.

“I think it's directed because some official in Southport has a vendetta against another official,” said Tunget who often finds himself on the short end of 3-2 council votes while he supports Hostetler. “It shouldn’t even be brought up at all because there’s no need, there has never been a need in the past and I suppose if we ever need to remove a councilor, we already have the Indiana code in place by the state legislature so I don’t see the point of such an ordinance.”

Council President Joseph Haley took over Hostetler’s seat at the head of the council when other councilors retaliated against the councilwoman after she filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Southport Police Department, filed a complaint that the Southport Clerk/Treasurer violated the Open Records Act and began cooperating with an investigation into the police department. Haley said the proposed ordinance brings the city in line with state law when it comes to removing an office holder.

“The way I read it it's just the way as the state of Indiana has their code to set up to protect in case something illegal happens,” said Haley who dismisses fears that the ordinance would be used to retaliate against a councilor due to political or personal differences. “I would be open to any amendment that makes sure that people’s liberties and constitutional rights and the law are valid and verified.”

Former Mayor Jesse Testruth disagrees.

“What they’re doing now is they’re trying to eliminate certain city councilors for sticking up for the citizens. These two city councilors that I know of, they’re out here beating the streets, they’re talking to citizens,

“As a citizen it basically sounds to me like they’re trying to dominate the board. They get rid of certain people off the council and place people in their position then they dominate the city and they run the city.”

The council will also consider surrendering SPD standard operating procedure oversight to the Board of Public Works and Safety which has a single elected official among its members.

“Criminals would love to have our playbook and when we tell people what our playbook is people die and people get hurt and that’s not a good thing,” said Haley who claims council oversight of the SOP would cost Southport officers their lives. “They are originally of the purview of the Board of Public Works and Safety which the mayor is the head chief executive of the Board of Public Works and Safety.”

“It takes away from the governing body of the city, that’s the city council, they govern the city,” said Testruth. “The main official duty of the city is to protect the citizens and by taking it away from the government you’re taking away everything.”

The council meets at 7 p.m.

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