By Hope Shrum
INDIANAPOLIS—Elected county officers may soon be removed for neglecting their duties, including not getting correct certification, moving out of the county they’re elected in, and “charging illegal fees.”
Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, sponsored House Bill 1030 as it went through the Senate. The bill was amended on March 18 in the Senate Local Government Committee, which changed one of the biggest aspects of the bill. A motion to dissent, or not to accept the Senate amendment, has been filed in the House, meaning the bill could go to a conference committee to resolve the difference.
The amendment removed the reason the bill was originally written. During HB 1030’s third reading in the House on Feb. 9, Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron, said he authored the bill when a county recorder failed to show up to work and do his job for 18 months. He said there needed to be a process for removing an elected county officer for not being present for their job.
Now the bill outlines the process for removing a county officer—auditor, treasurer, recorder, surveyor, and assessor—for neglecting their duties and “charging illegal fees” instead of not being physically present at the office.
While the bill no longer specifically states that a county officer can be removed from office for not showing up, Niemeyer said that situation would fall under “neglecting duties.”
According to a Chicago Tribune article from December 2019, there have been three absentee elected officials in Lake County in recent years. Aside from the recorder who didn’t go into work for 18 months, there was also a councilwoman who missed almost a full year of meetings between 2014 and 2015 because of undisclosed health issues. The other absentee was a councilman who was sworn in for a second term while he was in jail for multiple felony charges.
Niemeyer also said “charging illegal fees” could mean a couple of different situations—for example, if a county officer is charging a fee that is legal but they are putting that money in the wrong fund or if they are actually taking in money in an illegal way.
According to the Chicago Tribune, former Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 for crimes including using money from his campaign fund and the food pantry for dozens of gambling trips to Michigan.
During its final reading in the Senate on March 23, Niemeyer said the bill does not affect the coroner and sheriff.
He also said the amended bill sets a procedure for the county council and executive body to create joint resolutions to bring charges for removal. Then each one of those resolutions will create a public hearing, one for the county council and another for the executive body.
“This bill does not disallow a citizen from bringing their own suit against someone they think should be removed from office, and they have to get an attorney and they can do that,” Niemeyer said. “Or it gives them another option to go to the county executive and county legislative body to see if they can start these procedures on behalf of the citizens of that county.”
Niemeyer said the amendment clarifies that the resolutions have to be passed by a majority vote in each body, and they have to have “really good reasons” to want to remove an elected officer.
Since the county officer up for removal can petition for judicial review in a court, Niemeyer said if the officer wins the court case, the county has to pay for their legal fees.
Aylesworth declined an interview with TheStatehouseFile.com, saying he won’t talk about the bill until it is completely finished after it gets a final review in the House and is potentially signed into law by the governor.
Hope Shrum is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.