By DAVID A. MANN
Judge Jerome Jacobi in court order Friday afternoon declared that Jeffersonville is a second-class city under the state’s classification system following an emergency hearing in Clark Superior Court No. 2, city officials said.
The classification, approved with an ordinance last year, is population-based and changes the makeup of elected offices in city government. As a second-class city, Jeffersonville is to have six districts and three at-large council representatives — rather than the current five district, two at-large system. Also, the elected clerk-treasurer’s office is set to change to a clerk’s office — with financial duties handled elsewhere — under the new classification.
According to attorney Larry Wilder, confusion about Jeffersonville’s status arose after a candidate sought to file for the new clerk’s office.
Clark County Voter Registration wasn’t aware of the new office. Wilder said he delivered officials there a copy of the city council ordinance that reclassified the city.
However, an attorney with the Indiana Election Board didn’t share Wilder’s opinion that the reclassification had taken effect because population numbers from the 2010 Census hadn’t been certified by the Indiana General Assembly. The board is responsible for certifying the city election results after the primary and general elections.
A city has to have 35,000 residents before it can be a second-class city.
Wilder said that if their attorney questioned the second-class city status, it could have kept the election results from being certified and thus negated the vote. The result would have been either a special election or a holdover — in which all current office holders would have kept their seats, Wilder said.
There was enough of a question, according to Jeffersonville City Councilman Nathan Samuel, that city officials decided to seek a declaratory judgment essentially saying that Jeffersonville was a second-class city based on numbers that had been certified: The 2000 Census.
Wilder said that the city had 38,593 residents based on the 2000 census. That includes new residents that were taken in under annexations in 2008 and 2010.
Jorge Lanz, engineer with the firm Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz, testified that the city’s population was actually closer to 50,000 residents based on the numbers from a census his firm conducted for a recent redistricting effort, Samuel said.
No representative from the state was present at the hearing and Jacobi granted the declaratory judgment, officials confirmed.
“We wanted to make sure there was representation,” said Mayor Tom Galligan.
Asked if he thought there would be challenges to the declaration, he replied, “I don’t know why there would be any legal challenges. It helps the annexed area.”
Bruce Herdt — an annexed resident who has filed a lawsuit challenging the redistricting effort — felt the city should have probably stayed as a third-class city for this election cycle.
“If they got a court to sign off on it, I have no objection to them having six districts instead of five.”
He said his problem is with how the city council drew the district lines, which was also based on 2000 census data. He’s argued that the population data was too old and therefore inaccurate, leaving those in outlying areas under represented. The city has said the most recent census numbers are the most legally solid when it concerns redistricting.
The news broke late in the afternoon and state officials could not be reached for reaction to the declaration.