(DUGGER) - Folks packed into the the tiny utility building in Dugger. (WTHI)
They were voicing their support for the town marshal, Dave Heaton.
Recently, at a board meeting the city council said that his job was in jeopardy. They didn't give a reason, other than "neglect of duty."
Monday night was the first public meeting since the previous one and the public wanted their voices heard. Around 50 supporters wearing I support Dugger Dave T-shirts
However, the board turned away public comment about Heaton until a future meeting on Feb. 16th at 6 p.m. in the Dugger Community Center.
It was when the city clerk treasurer Michelle James made some allegations about council president Dwight Neilson that emotions picked up. James revealed that Nielson tried to force her to fire the town utility clerk, Carolyn Settles.
James is the only one who can fire Settles, but she said she had no reason to do so.
When asked why he wanted Settles fired, Nielson said that he didn't trust her. He said he believed Settles had originally revealed the council's intent to fire Heaton. The firing attempt became public when James read an open letter during the meeting to the town council. In the letter dated Jan. 30th, Nielson say he wants Settles removed from office on Feb. 1, if James would not comply, she says Neilson threatened to cut Settle's hours to zero, stating he had the support of fellow town council members Kermit King and Lane Lovelace.
Nielson did not deny the letter or that he recommended Settles be fired., but he did say is was just his idea and not the councils.
James refused to fire Settle and contacted the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns to confirm her view Indiana Code 36-5-6-7 places responsibility for hiring and firing directly with her.
She told Nielson he had no jurisdiction over the matter and told him he was leaving the town vulnerable to being sued. She added that Nielson had not been in office 30 days and all ready exposed the town to two lawsuits. She says the town's entire budget would be spent on legal fees.
She told the council that if they voted to fire Settle she would refuse to enforce the edict, because they have no power to fire her. Bodine added he'll investigate and see if what Nielson said could be considered slander.
James further told the council that if she was named in a lawsuit, Indiana Code allows her to hire counsel out of town funds and she would do that to ensure the council did not over step their bounds.
Nielson, says he blames Settle for informing Heaton about his plans for the removal of the town marshal. After he alleged she found a fax detailing Neilson's plans to fire Heaton. Neilson told the council he did not trust Settle, but added his concerns don't stem from her work in the water office, whereupon Settle's attorney John Bodine, who is also representing Heaton, stepped forward and warned "At this point in time you have exposed the town to a defamation suit."
From there, the meeting devolved into disorder. At one point Heaton himself had to calm things down.
When things cleared, Heaton's lawyer said he would represent Settles as well.
"They (the board) continue to overstep their authority for whatever reason, but the statutes are very clear," attorney John Bodine.
Meanwhile, James said she's glad she got the matter out in the open.
Settles' and Heaton's lawyer said he plans on filing suit against the board.
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