SIDNEY – A clerk-treasurer and a town council member have resigned after it came to light that they had not been legally elected or caucused into office.
According to more than one person who attended Monday’s town council meeting when the resignations were announced, the practice of inserting people into elected positions without an election or caucus has been happening in Sidney for a long time.
Republican Party Chairman Mike Ragan said he recently learned of possible irregularities over some elected positions and brought it to the town’s attention.
The resignations, all effective Tuesday, Jan. 14, include:
Clerk-treasurer Lana Wolfe, who had been elected years earlier as a Republican, but was defeated by Marcia Dierks in a re-election bid in 2017. However, Dirks then quit in less than a year and Wolfe stepped back into the role, but was never legally appointed through a caucus.
Town council member Ricky Bradley, a Republican, also resigned and admitted Monday night that he doesn’t have any paperwork showing he was properly placed into office.
Complicating the circumstances is the additional resignation of another town council member, Kenneth Koontz, who is seriously ill. Ragan said he was unsure if Koontz was in good legal standing.
Jack Wolfe, a Democrat town council member since 2010, is believed to be in good standing and is – for now – the only elected official in town.
The town has not conducted an election since 2011.
Sidney is south of Pierceton in southeast Kosciusko County, and is the smallest incorporated town in Kosciusko County with 79 residents, according to a U.S. Census estimate for 2018.
Both Ragan and Brian Smith, chairman of the Democrat Party in Kosciusko County, admitted they were unfamiliar with town operations.
“The citizens didn’t know, the board didn’t know,” Ragan said. “For this to go on for ten years is just phenomenal.”
The practice of town residents unceremoniously stepping in has been happening for decades.
Marvin Evans, one of a handful of people at Monday’s council meeting, said he’s lived almost his entire life in Sidney and remembers when they began having trouble decades ago with finding three candidates for each of the town’s three wards. Eventually, officials began allowing people to serve regardless of which ward they lived in.
Evans described the unofficial maneuvering as “making do without the formalities.”
“It’s just how it was. You quit. They go look for somebody else. Then somebody else quits and they find somebody else,” Evans said. “It’s the way its been for a long time.”
Evans recalls the elections had been held at Amazing Grace Church and only about 20 people would turn out to vote.
Chairmen for both political parties in Kosciusko County pledged to work quickly to fill the vacancies through the use of a caucus.
Ragan announced the caucus for the clerk’s position and the council seat will be held on Jan 23.
Brian Smith, the Democratic Chairman, said he would work to finalize the plans for a caucus to fill the one town council seat.
Officials had little to say in public about potential repayment of salaries from the two officeholders. Locally there is a history and expectation that those funds be repaid. That was the case when Kosciusko County Commissioner Ron Truex resigned a few years ago after learning he had moved outside of his district.
The Indiana State Board of Accounts will likely review the circumstances, Ragan said.
Jack Wolfe and Bradley ran Monday’s meeting at the community building for more than 45 minutes, reviewing bills and hearing complaints about junked vehicles and other issues before ending the meeting and turning it over to Ragan and Smith.
There was no outrage or big speeches, just an acceptance that things were not handled correctly.
Neither Koontz nor Lana Wolfe attended the meeting.
Ragan urged the town in the future to have an attorney available who attends town council meetings.
The town works with an attorney in Columbia City, but that he’s never attended a council meeting or suggested he attend a meeting, officials said.
Jack Wolfe wondered aloud why nobody in the town was ever informed about the election issues. Bradley also questioned why nobody alerted the town.
“It seems that nobody noticed you,” said Austin Rovenstine, who serves as he Kosciusko County Republican Party Secretary and researched the irregularities with the county clerk.
“We never get noticed. That’s the problem with this town,” Wolfe said. “We’re kind of out of sight, out of mind.”
Ragan thanked the elected officials for their service but made it clear that the past actions should not continue.
Ragan said he and Smith “will do everything we can to make sure this never happens again.”
Officials discussed the challenges of finding three people willing to be appointed.
Bradley and Lana Wolfe are prohibited from applying for their former seats but could apply for the other openings.
One person at the meeting did express plans to seek a position on the council.
Sharon Rancourt said she plans to run for Bradley’s seat. She predicts it will be hard to fill all three slots.
“Sidney has an aging population. It’s hard to find people that want to participate,” Rancourt said.
Editor’s note: This story was edited for clarity.