News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 20, 2007

Mayoral election challenge gets court date

Mayor-elect Bennett ordered to appear at pre-trial conference

TERRE HAUTE — A judge on Tuesday scheduled a conference for attorneys to discuss the election challenge that Terre Haute Mayor Kevin Burke hopes will win him a second term.

Vigo Superior Court Division 3 Judge David Bolk scheduled a pre-trial conference for 2 p.m. Nov. 28 for the petition filed on behalf of Burke, who seeks to disqualify Mayor-elect Duke Bennett based on the Hatch Act. Bennett won the mayoral election earlier this month after defeating Burke by 107 votes, less than 1 percent of all ballots cast in the race.

Burke, in a separate petition, has filed for a recount.

The petition challenging Bennett’s eligibility states that Burke should be declared the winner because he received the second-highest number of votes.

“This appears to be the next step in the process,” Burke said of the scheduled conference, “and I’m certainly encouraged that we’re looking at doing this next week because I think the entire community is anxious for the entire issue to be settled.”

Judge Bolk also issued an order for the mayor-elect to appear at the conference.

Burke’s petition alleges that Bennett was ineligible for candidacy because his employer, Hamilton Center Inc., receives federal funding, including money for its Early Head Start program. The Hatch Act limits the political activity of employees of some government agencies.

It also affects employees of certain not-for-profits based upon the federal funds the organizations receive. A U.S. Office of Special Counsel Web site lists Head Start money as an example of such funds for which a receiving agency could be subjected to the Hatch Act.

Bennett has said that he checked with attorneys before he first ran for mayor in 2003, and they were of the opinion he would not be in violation of law — including the Hatch Act — by running.

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