Top state leader pays Ripley County a visit
Indiana Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann made rounds in Ripley County recently. She first visited the Southeastern Career Center on Nov. 4 and learned about their building and resource needs. The Center, which is made up of 12 schools, is trying to find ways to fund building expansion, as the enrollment continues to increase. There may be funds available through the state for the vocational school.
In the afternoon, the Lt. Governor spoke to a crowd of about 30 at the Milan ’54 Hoosiers Museum. The crowd was gathered to talk about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and the State’s role in some of the issues.
Attendees were encouraged to discuss different topics and how theState may be able to help. Property taxes for farmers, small business issues, tourism, and state highways were some of the topics. Ellspermann was impressed with the museum and said she was looking forward to returning to the county in the future.
KATHERINE TAUL PHOTO
Pictured at left, Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann held a meeting at the new Milan ‘54 museum. She also visited the Southeastern Career Center.
State statute ‘clear’
Sunman clerk-treasurer has to be removed
Sunman Clerk-Treasurer Kristina Schneider will be removed from office after all.
Schneider pleaded guilty to official misconduct charges for misuse of the town credit card and was sentenced on November. 1 to a 12-month probation term. Her charge was reduced from a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor by visiting Judge Jon Webster of Jennings County; however, at the hearing, Prosecutor Ric Hertel brought up an Indiana code that requires removal of public office if convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. Schneider’s attorney, Robert Ewbank, claimed this 2008 law did not apply because Schneider was already in office. The judge said at the end of the sentencing hearing he would review the statute and forward his written order to the county clerk.
Webster filed his conviction and sentence order Nov. 6, and amended it Nov. 12 due to a typographical error, correcting the 5-8-1-38f Indiana code that states a person elected or appointed in public office convicted of a Class A misdemeanor must be removed from office. The bottom of the judge’s conviction order stated, “The court will send or give a certified copy of this judgment of conviction and Order of Sentence to the Clerk of Ripley County as required by Indiana code 5-8-1-38f.
That code then spells out removal of office for a Class A misdemeanor and filling the vacancy. Hertel said she triggered the statute by her guilty plea. “It’s very clear she cannot remain in office due to the statute” he said. “She can’t appeal her conviction and it is that conviction that removes her from office.” It’s now in the county party’s hands to follow the statute for removal of office.
Ewbank told Ripley Publishing Friday morning that he did not know of any order from the judge and he had not received copies of the order from the clerk, nor had there been any phone contact. “There was no mention during the probation order of not holding public office,” he commented.“It’s very clear
remain in office…”
The Ripley County clerk’s office faxed the judge’s order Thursday to Ewbank’s office and also mailed him and Schneider a copy on Thursday. The order from Judge Webster was received Wednesday by the county clerk’s office. Schneider, a Republican, has been town clerk for 23 years. She has not been on the ballot since 1992, as she had no opposition. She has remained in office during these charges and proceedings, and she has paid back over $3,600 in restitution before she was arrested in December, 2012.
According to Brad King, co-director of the state election division, the law is clear, and once convicted, “automatically takes effect.” He didn’t say it was common, but it does happen. He referenced a case in Hancock County this year where the coroner was charged with a felony and dropped to a Class A misdemeanor, but had to be removed from office because of the statute. He also said in the past, appeals court held the conviction prior to the statute and the person was subsequently removed from office. It didn’t matter that the office holder committed the act before the law was made or not.
A conviction of an elected official, and subsequent removal, is rare here.Ripley County Republican Party Chairperson Ginger Bradford said, “I’m not happy about it,” Bradford said, “I don’t want to have to be in this position.” Bradford has been in contact with the state election division leaders about the issue and further proceedings to fill the chair.
As party chair, she understands she will make the clerk-treasurer appointment to fill out the four year term (the clerk-treasurer election is November 2014). She said she plans to talk to Wayne Jenner, council president, to discuss the position and any recommendations this week. Jenner testified on Schneider’s behalf at the Nov. 1 hearing. Bradford said they will want someone in good standing with the party. In the interim, a deputy clerk will assume Schneider’s duties. Since Schneider pled guilty to the charge, the conviction cannot be appealed, but the sentencing could be appealed, according to Ric Hertel. “This can’t be stopped,” Bradford said Friday. Schneider has remained in office since the Nov. 1 sentencing hearing.
Sunman Town Council meets the third Thursday of the month, and the November meeting will be Nov. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall. A new clerk would have to be sworn in before assuming any official clerk duties. It’s not clear if that will happen by the regular town council meeting,