News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News

September 11, 2013

Judge panel rules against Seelyville official

TERRE HAUTE — A panel of five Vigo County judges has ruled that Seelyville’s clerk-treasurer is not entitled to be paid a salary as office manager of the town’s sewer and water utilities in addition to the clerk-treasurer’s pay.

In March 2012, Connie Hinsenkamp, Seelyville’s clerk-treasurer, filed a lawsuit against the town’s council, claiming it had overreached its authority in a separation of powers for elected officials.

In the lawsuit, Hinsenkamp states she receives $16,636 a year as clerk-treasurer and claimed she should also be paid an additional $31,559 as compensation that had been paid to the former clerk-treasurer, plus health insurance and 12 days of vacation.

Hinsenkamp has been paying herself compensation since taking office in January 2012. A dispute over that arose with the town council in February 2012, and Hinsenkamp filed a lawsuit a month later.

In an Aug. 28 ruling, signed by judges John T. Roach, David R. Bolk, Phillip I. Adler, Michael J. Lewis and Chris A. Newton, the court stated “that the duties of the office manager for the Seelyville municipal sewer and water departments are not the duties of an elected town officer and the person who holds the elected clerk-treasurer’s office is not entitled to be paid the money allocated by the town council in its salary ordinance for that position and therefore petitioner [Hinsenkamp] is not entitled to that sum set out in the salary ordinance for that position of office manager as compensation.”

The judicial panel was requested by Chou-il Lee, attorney for Hinsenkamp.

“This ruling means the town will no longer be paying an individual for two jobs when they are only doing one,” said Richard Shagley II, the town council’s attorney.

Asked if Hinsenkamp would have to refund any salary money, Shagley said “that has not yet been determined.”

Attorney Lee, reached Tuesday evening, said he had spoken with Hinsenkamp and “we are going to appeal.” An appeal was likely in this matter regardless of the outcome at this level, he added.

“This is a case of first impression, so there are no cases that speak to this. When you are dealing with cases of first impression, to find out what the answer really is, you take it up to the next level,” Lee said.

Hinsenkamp, reached later in the evening following a Seelyville Town Council meeting, said she had no comment at this time.

As to Hinsenkamp’s contention she has the right to control billing and collections in the utility department and the right to be paid the salary of the utility office manager, the court ruled whether Hinsenkamp is responsible for the billing and collection of two utilities is not relevant to the issue of who gets the pay of the utility office manager.

The responsibility for billing and collections has historically, for more than 44 years, been that of an employee of the town council, not the clerk-treasurer, the judges ruled.

“While the title previously used was utility bookkeeper, it was changed to utility office manager in 2004. But the functions were the same,” the court ruled. Hinsenkamp, the court ruled, “does not have the responsibility for billing and collection of sewer and water bills in Seelyville.”

When the dispute arose in February 2012, the town council took action, making it clear the duty to bill and collect for water and sewer utilities were not duties of the clerk-treasurer. The council voted unanimously and adopted a document on Feb. 14 stating that the clerk-treasurer was not responsible for billing and collections in the utility departments.

On participating in a group insurance plan provided by the town, the judicial panel ruled Hinsenkamp is entitled to the insurance as an elected official as of Jan. 1, 2012, and is deemed an employee by law for purposes of group insurance.

“The town must allow the clerk treasurer to participate like any other employee of the town in any group insurance plan provided by the town to its employees,” the court ruled.

The court also ruled that a prior practice of approving claims after the public part of the town council meeting had been adjourned did not violate the referenced statutes because at least two of the three council persons approved the claims, which constitutes a quorum and a meeting of the legislative body.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Reporter Arthur Foulkes contributed to this report.

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