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January 7, 2013

NAPD won’t pursue allegations made against council members

Smith claimed councilmen committed misconduct due to redistricting votes

NEW ALBANY — The five New Albany City Council members who voted against a redistricting plan on final reading during a Dec. 3 meeting were named in a police report filed by local businessman Randy Smith last month.

Smith — who once served on a redistricting committee that spawned from a dispute between some residents over their disagreement with how the council approached redrawing voting maps — accused Councilmen Scott Blair, Greg Phipps, John Gonder, Dan Coffey and Pat McLaughlin of official misconduct.

Official misconduct committed by a public servant is a Class D felony, though it’s unlikely the councilmen will be charged.

Though the council voted down a redistricting plan on Dec. 3, it later passed a different proposal ahead of the end-of-the-year deadline to approve new voting boundaries.

NAPD Maj. Keith Whitlow said Monday “we’re not going to investigate it at all because there’s nothing to investigate.”

“Why would you want to be on the city council if you thought you were going to be investigated by the police for making a legitimate up or down vote for something that was put in front of that body,” he continued.

Smith said he filed the report “because it is in my estimation a direct violation of [the council’s] duties.”

He added that in his opinion, the redistricting plans dating back to 1992 for New Albany have been illegal.

Smith was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the then city council over improper redistricting that was settled in 2007. By law the council is required to redistrict within two years of a U.S. Census, which gave the current council until the end of 2012 to draw new maps.

Some of the council members who voted against the plan that was defeated on Dec. 3 said they opposed the measure because it split too many precincts and moved too many people into new districts.

A new plan was introduced on Dec. 20 and passed on initial readings. The council then held a special meeting on Dec. 27 and approved the redistricting measure on a final ballot.

Gonder said Smith seemed to suffer from “premature retribution” by filing a police report accusing wrongdoing when the council had until the end of the year to approve a redistricting plan.

“I would say it’s a moot point now but I think it was probably incorrect from the starting gate,” Gonder said.

Since the council approves or denies legislation as one body, Gonder said he doesn’t feel it was justifiable to single out certain members in a legal case.

The report was taken by NAPD officer Jack Messer, who served on the council until 2011. Smith worked on Messer’s campaign as a communications director during Messer’s failed mayoral run two years ago.

Whitlow said the NAPD would investigate council members for misconduct if there was personal gain or illegal actions taking place as it pertained to a vote, but added that wasn’t the case with the Dec. 3 redistricting ballots.

“We’re not going to get involved in it,” he said.

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