Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed

Bloomington’s plan commission is scheduled to convene a regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 13.

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From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

The meeting agenda  includes two residential projects—one on 3rd Street near the police station, and another at Johnson Creamery—which together could mean 179 additional bedrooms for Bloomington’s housing inventory.

Andrew Guenther won’t be helping to decide whether those projects are approved. That’s because the city of Bloomington has rejected Guenther’s claim to a plan commission seat, which is based on an attempted appointment by the Monroe County’s Republican Party chair, William Ellis.

Instead of Guenther, it will be Chris Cockerham serving in that seat on Monday. Cockerham is a Republican, who’s the choice of Bloomington’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton. Cockerham has already served for one meeting as plan commissioner, on June 8, which is what prompted a lawsuit.

A court hearing is now set for Aug. 5. If any part of the hearing goes Guenther’s way, it might not be Cockerham who serves in the seat for the next while. Guenther and Ellis are asking the court to keep Cockerham on the sidelines of any plan commission meetings, until the matter is resolved. Continue reading “Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed”

Amendment filed in lawsuit over Bloomington plan commission seat

An amended complaint filed on Monday, in the already pending lawsuit over a Bloomington city plan commission seat, adds a new legal question to the mix.

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From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

Now the judge in the case is being asked to decide whether the commissioner who previously held the seat met the statutory conditions for appointment.

The plaintiffs—Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis and would-be plan commissioner Andrew Guenther—are asking the judge to find that Nick Kappas’s appointment was void ab initio (from the beginning).

They’re not saying that Kappas himself did anything wrong.

It was Kappas who previously served in the seat, from 2016 to the end of 2019. But Bloomington mayor John Hamilton did not reappoint him.

When Hamilton did not appoint anyone to the seat for 90 days, Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis announced he had the authority to make the appointment, and chose Andrew Guenther to fill the seat.

Hamilton and the city’s legal team don’t agree with Ellis’s position. So Hamilton appointed Chris Cockerham, who is a Republican like Guenther. At Cockerham’s first meeting as a plan commissioner Guenther asserted his right to the seat. When Cockerham did not yield it, Ellis and Guenther filed the lawsuit.

How does Kappas get drawn into the mix, given that he is making no claim to the current seat?

It’s a matter of political party affiliation. Kappas did not have one, from the time he was appointed through his time of service on the plan commission. Continue reading “Amendment filed in lawsuit over Bloomington plan commission seat”

Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat

In the pending lawsuit over the rightful appointee to a city plan commission seat, the city of Bloomington filed a motion on Monday to have Andrew Guenther’s claim dismissed, based on the idea that Guenther lacks standing to file the lawsuit.

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Chris Cockerham (left) and  Andrew Guenther (right) have claims to the same seat on Bloomington’s plan commission. Cockerham, the mayoral appointment, is now serving on the commission. Guenther has filed suit challenging that appointment.

Bloomington’s claim that neither Guenther nor Republican county chair William Ellis have standing is based on Bloomington’s contention that even if the facts alleged by Guenther and Ellis are assumed to be true, they “are incapable of supporting relief.”

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Guenther and GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Guenther and Ellis say that Guenther is the rightful appointee to the seat, under Indiana state law, which says: “The county chair of the political party of the member whose term has expired shall make the appointment.”

Bloomington’s argument for dismissal hinges on the fact that that “the member whose has term expired,” namely Nick Kappas, was not a Republican.

Continue reading “Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat”

Partisan case for partisan judges: Who rules on lawsuit over Bloomington plan commission seat?

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Art based on one of the recusals made by assigned judges in Guenther & Ellis v. Cockerham & Hamilton.

On June 9, a lawsuit was filed in Monroe County’s circuit court disputing the mayoral appointment of the plan commission seat where Chris Cockerham had sat the day before.

In the lawsuit, Andrew Guenther asserts that he has been duly appointed by GOP Monroe County chair William Ellis, and should serve on the commission instead of Cockerham.

It’s not yet decided which judge will hear the case. Owen County circuit judge Kelsey Hanlon, who’s facilitator of District 20, has been asked to appoint a special judge. One of 26 judicial districts the state, District 20 is made up of Monroe, Owen, Lawrence, and Greene counties.

What makes picking a judge a challenge for this case? Partisanship. Continue reading “Partisan case for partisan judges: Who rules on lawsuit over Bloomington plan commission seat?”

Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat

On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed over the disputed seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

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Chris Cockerham (left) took his seat on the plan commission on Monday night, as Andrew Guenther (right) asserted a claim to the seat in the Zoom video conference chat window. A lawsuit was filed on Tuesday over the seat.

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Andrew Guenther and Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Cockerham has already served as planning commissioner for one meeting, on Monday this week.

In mid-April, Ellis declared his right to make the appointment as chair of the Republican Party. The announcement from Ellis came after Hamilton for several weeks did not fill the vacancy that was left when Hamilton decided not to re-appoint Nick Kappas. Kappas’s term expired at the end of 2019.

How does Ellis argue that he has the authority as Monroe County GOP chair to make a plan commission appointment that’s normally made by the mayor? Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat”