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Wednesday, February 28, 2018 1:00 am

General Assembly

Bill addresses councilman's dilemma

Armstrong could keep seat and job now under county

DAVE GONG and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A measure being offered in the Indiana Senate would allow Allen County Councilman Bob Armstrong to serve out his elected term even though he's also a county employee.

He was faced with choosing between his job or his elected office under a law passed last year by the General Assembly.

“I think it's just fair, because it's no fault of my own that this happened to me,” Armstrong said.

“At least somebody at the Statehouse had the courage to look into what was going on.”

That person was Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, who has authored the amendment for House Bill 1233.

“It was an unintended consequence,” she said of the law. “It's only fair.”

Fort Wayne Senate President Pro Tem David Long also said lawmakers are trying to help Armstrong avoid an inadvertent consequence.

Late last year, Allen County commissioners voted to dissolve the independent Solid Waste Management District where the 58-year-old Armstrong has worked for 10 years, bringing it under the county's umbrella.

A change to state law allowed counties to make such a change.

That means that after Thursday, Armstrong will be bound by a separate state statute stipulating that public employees can't serve on elected boards that determine their departments' budgets.

He pointed to former Fort Wayne City Councilman Marty Bender, who is a deputy chief with the Fort Wayne Police Department. Bender announced he would not seek re-election in 2015.

Bender, who was first elected to the City Council in 2007, made his announcement ahead of a change to state law that barred public safety employees from holding elected positions in the cities where they work. Because Bender was already sworn in when the law changed, he was allowed to carry out the remainder of his term.

Armstrong said he has always abstained from any vote on Allen County Council that pertains to the Solid Waste Management District and has never failed to file conflict-of-interest paperwork with county officials.

And he said he doesn't plan to seek a fourth term in 2020.

Kyle Kerley, a Republican, finished second last year to Justin Busch in the Republican Party caucus for the late County Councilman Roy Buskirk's seat. Kerley said he understands the rationale of letting Armstrong finish his term since that is the previously used precedent.

“It's the right thing to do because that's how the law was applied in the past and it was originally put into effect, but as somebody who follows politics closely, sometimes it seems they take extraordinary measures to pass bills that ultimately affect a very small minority of people. In this case it's one person,” Kerley said.

“It's the right thing to do, but from a 10,000-foot view, what could our state reps be using our time better on?”

nkelly@jg.net