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Justices hold mayor lacked authority to fire utilities superintendent - Labor and Employment Law News

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Labor and Employment Law News

Posted on: Feb 16, 2017

By Ryan Sink, Fox Williams & Sink LLC

On February 8, 2017, Indiana's Supreme Court decided a question of statutory interpretation involving the termination of the Superintendent of the City of Lawrence Utilities. The Mayor of Lawrence, Dean Jessup, unilaterally terminated the Superintendent, Carlton Curry, without going through the Board of Utilities, and without providing notice and a hearing. Two competing statutes were seemingly at odds. First, Ind. Code § 8-1.5-3-5(d) favored the plaintiff and states that "[t]he superintendent may be removed by the board for cause at any time after notice and a hearing." Second, Ind. Code § 36-4-11-2(d) favored the defendant and states that the Mayor has the authority to "suspend or remove from office any officers, deputies, or other employees of the city appointed by the executive or a prior executive...."  

Ultimately, Indiana's Supreme Court sided with the plaintiff and held that in this circumstance, the Superintendent was wrongfully terminated and the Mayor could not terminate the Superintendent without notice, a hearing, and a cause finding by the board, none of which happened. Indiana's Supreme Court came to this conclusion because the Superintendent was not appointed by a Mayor, meaning Ind. Code § 36-4-11-2(d) did not apply (removal power only applies if "appointed by the executive or a prior executive").  Additionally, the Mayor could not legally appoint the Superintendent because it had not established a Department of Utilities, and without appointment power there can be no removal power. 

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