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Government Services and Finance Law Alert - Mayor Cannot Remove Utility Superintendent

The Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled that the former mayor of the City of Lawrence, Indiana, lacked authority to unilaterally terminate the city’s utility superintendent. The dispute, City of Lawrence Utils. Serv. Bd. v. Curry, arose in 2011 after the then newly elected mayor of Lawrence terminated the utility superintendent, citing differences in objectives for the city’s municipally-owned utilities.

In its analysis, the court initially noted that, while a utility service board generally has the authority to appoint and remove a utility superintendent under Ind. Code 8-1.5-3, such authority is “subject to” the mayor’s authority to appoint and remove a department head under Ind. Code 36-4-9 and 36-4-11. Id. at 2-8. The court then turned to those chapters and found that, in this case, the mayor’s statutory removal authority under Ind. Code 36-4-9-4 was not triggered because the city had not established a Department of Utilities or a department head position under Ind. Code 36-4-9-4(c)(7) Id. The court therefore determined that the utility superintendent’s termination fell under the statutory process contained in Ind. Code 8-1.5-3, where “the superintendent may [only] be removed by the [utility service board] for cause at any time after notice and hearing.”

In its conclusion, the court noted that its decision “may well offend sound public policy” but reiterated “that its job ‘is to interpret, not legislate, the statutes before [it].’”

For more information, please contact the Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities team members Nick Kile at Nicholas.Kile@btlaw.com or 317-231-7768; Hillary Close at Hillary.Close@btlaw.com or 317-231-7785; or Lauren Box at Lauren.Box@btlaw.com or 317-231-7289.

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This Barnes & Thornburg LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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