TERRE HAUTE — It’s hurry up and wait.
But, what then?
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett has 30 days to decide whether to file an appeal with the Indiana State Supreme Court, contesting the state Court of Appeals’ 2-1 decision to throw out his 2007 election and mandate a new contest for what it termed a “vacant” position because of Hatch Act violations.
If the Supreme Court decides not to rule on his case, or upholds the appeals court decision, the City of Terre Haute could be in for a new election to determine its mayor.
But as to the whens and how’s, no ones quite sure yet.
And, it’s still a long way off from the polls, officials within Bennett’s administration said Thursday.
“If I had to guess, the Indiana State Supreme Court’s going to decide this case,” Darrel Zeck, public affairs director for Bennett, said immediately after a media conference to discuss the ruling.
Zeck said he doesn’t think either side really wants a special election considering the cost to taxpayers.
“I don’t think it’s that good,” he said of the odds for that scenario.
However, if required, the election would be expensive, as Bennett and others noted that 2007’s election’s cost about $580,000, and that was with preparation and contracts in place.
City and county officials “must be squirming” as $3 million already needs cut from Terre Haute’s budget by 2010, Zeck said, again emphasizing his belief that the Supreme Court will hear Bennett’s case.
“As soon as they can,” he said of Bennett’s plan to file the appeal.
Both Bennett and former Mayor Kevin Burke’s legal fees for this ongoing case are paid from personal and campaign funds, with no tax dollars used, he said.
Bennett’s legal costs are “close to $40,000 already,” he said, noting the additional fees ahead if this case goes to the Supreme Court.
City Attorney Chou-il Lee said in the event the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, the timeline for a decision is completely unknown.
“I have no idea,” he said, noting that the Supreme Court is a “very busy organization” and that scheduling would come on top of the 30 days Bennett has to decide to file.
Bennett said at the media conference that he definitely would be a candidate if the courts insist a new election be conducted.
And again, a timeline for that function is unclear as a campaign period would be granted by the courts.
“… Dig out the signs,” Bennett said in reference to the requisite re-campaigning that would come with a special election.
But the “incredible burden” that a special election would cost the taxpayers is one he hopes to avoid, he said.
Normally the city’s controller would assume the position of mayor in the case of incapacity, but that scenario is not applicable in this case because those statutes deal primarily with incapacity and the mayor is still technically in office, Bennett said.
But all of those ifs are still pretty hypothetical until it’s decided whether or not his case will be reheard at the appeals level or the state Supreme Court, he said.
Meanwhile, Lee said “for the city, we need to continue doing the city’s business.”
The court decision has nothing to do with normal city operations, Lee said, as both he and Bennett described it as standard legal proceedings.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE — It’s hurry up and wait.
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