Indiana Court Ruling Allows One Town to Absorb Another

Zionsville can now reorganize and take over Perry Township.

By Michael Anthony Adams

A ruling Tuesday by the Indiana Court of Appeals will allow Zionsville to absorb Perry Township and elect a full-time mayor.

Nearly 60 percent of voters supported the plan, which calls for Perry Township, a rural area with about 1,000 residents, to become part of Zionsville.

Before the ruling, the Boone County town known for its brick-paved streets and shops and restaurants had a population of 25,115.

In October 2014, a Boone County judge ruled against Zionsville in a lawsuit filed by Whitestown, which argued that the reorganization violates a number of state laws governing towns and townships. Zionsville appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which sent it down to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

"The trial court erred when it entered summary judgment for Whitestown and against Zionsville," the appeals court justices wrote in their decision. "We accordingly reverse the entry of summary judgment and remand this case to the trial court with the instructions to enter judgments consistent with our opinion today."

This ruling will allow the Zionsville Town Council to restructure the government. Residents will get their first mayor but will lose the clerk-treasurer position in the reorganization.

Council President Jeff Papa was sworn in Tuesday as acting mayor of Zionsville, which will grow to about 71 square miles with the addition of Perry Township, west of the town's current boundaries.

Municipal elections will be held in November. Zionsville will become one of the first towns in Indiana to elect a mayor.

"I'm happy the questions regarding the reorganization have been answered by the Court of Appeals, and look forward to working with our new partners from Perry Township, as well as repairing our friendship with our friends neighbors in Whitestown," Papa said.

Zionsville leaders wanted the full-time position of a mayor to manage the town and advance its interests without the town having to take on the regulatory and financial burdens associated with becoming a city, Papa told The Indianapolis Star in April.

Before the ruling, Republican council member Tim Haak announced his candidacy for mayor.

"Exciting day," Haak told The Indianapolis Star on Twitter on Tuesday night. "Looking forward to election date being set and hopefully becoming Zionsville's 1st mayor."

He said Papa would do a great job as interim mayor. "He was instrumental in the process & the lead architect of the reorganization," Haak said.

Whitestown officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. Haak, 46, has served on the Town Council since 2008. A former council president, Haak now represents the town's 2nd District.

"Being on the council has really shown me, for one, how hard it is to keep a town going and running, but also that there is a need to have a mayor in a community our size. ... We need that day-to-day decision-maker," Haak said. "I correlate it to having a large corporation without a CEO being governed by a remote board of directors that meets once a month. We're trying to do the best we can as a council, but we just need someone there every day to make those decisions for us."

Star reporters Justin Mack and Michael Auslen contributed to this story.

(c)2015 The Indianapolis Star