CCC President Stephen Clay fires council staffers

City-County Council President Stephen Clay
City-County Council firings
City-County Council chaos
City-County Council firings
City employees fired suddenly

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The wild ride for Indy’s City-County Council continues.

Embattled City-County Council President Stephen Clay fired NaTrina DeBow, a council clerk for 12 years; and Fred Biesecker, a council attorney for six years, on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (WTHR Photos/Mary Milz)

Embattled Council President Stephen Clay fired at least three council staffers Wednesday morning ahead of a vote to remove him power next month. CityBeat Reporter Mary Milz confirms Clay fired NaTrina DeBow, who served as council clerk for 12 years; plus Fred Biesecker, a council attorney for six years. He said he made the decisions as part of the transition between leadership, saying he has the job and authority to do so. "I did it. I own it. It's mine," he said.

DeBow's assistant, SaRita Hughes, was also fired Wednesday.

"We are operating as I understand it within the authority and scope of this office," Clay said. "We are the president of this City-County Council, and until such time we are not the president any administration has the right to determine its staff. We have been giving analysis of this since the day we took office and this has been a day of transition."

Biesecker carried a crate of his belongings as he was led out of the council office by a sheriff's deputy Wednesday. He told Eyewitness News he was going home after being told he "was fired, effective immediately."

He called his dismissal "a petty move."

Biesecker's firing came shortly after LeBow was terminated.

"I have been let go from the council by President Clay," DeBow told Eyewitness News. "He said he was relieving me and did not believe there was a legal reason he could not."

Clay told reporters, "what we had happen today was a transition, which happens with any new administration."

Fellow Democrats quickly challenged the moves, especially the firing of DeBow.

"We do not believe it is within his authority to remove the clerk of the City-County Council. She is elected, so we believe it is illegal," said Jared Evans.

DeBow was just re-elected three weeks ago.

That same night, Clay defeated Maggie Lewis, a fellow Democrat who served as president for six years, in a 14-11. His election followed a week of allegations that he groped a 14-year-old boy some 15 years ago. While Clay was interviewed by an IMPD officer at the time, no charges were ever filed. Clay called the allegations "baseless, vicious and unfounded," saying Lewis was behind them.

Clay reportedly got help from Republicans on the council by promising them leadership roles on council committees to win the vote over Lewis.

Earlier this week, Democrats who oppose Clay as president called for a vote of no-confidence in his leadership, which would force him to step down and set the stage for a new election in February.

"Why do that before the vote next month?" Clay asked. "I'm not on a time schedule."

"I think this only goes to further show the actions that were taken last Monday were correct," Evans said.

While Evans called the firings Wednesday payback, Clay insisted they were not retaliatory.

"This is a decision made by the office of the president. It does not have to be done in caucus or concert with anyone, so this decision is mine. I did it, I own it and stand behind it...period. Thanks all, who all whatever changes to be determined...thanks all," Clay said.

Clay is the council president until at least the next council meeting on February 19, so there could be more changes in the days ahead.

Councilor Zach Adamson retained his position as vice president on the council. He sent a letter to Clay before Wednesday's firings asking him not to make any staffing changes. That letter read, in full:

Dear President Clay,

As the Council continues to address their issues of no confidence in the election of Councilor Clay as president we ask that he make no staffing changes prior to the February 19 election.

Many of the staff of the Indianapolis City-County Council office are currently contractual positions selected by the Council president and voted on by all Councilors. To remove staff prior to this vote is reprehensible and is once again a reflection of our lack of Councilor Clay’s ability to lead in a manner that serves in the best interest of our city. We ask that he stop his action immediately and cease to make any staffing changes prior to the February 19 vote.

Many thanks in advance for your most serious consideration.

When Clay went forward with the firings anyway, Adamson tweeted, "Just as Trump tries to impede the investigation in Washington, right here in Indy, President Clay is firing the Council parliamentarian for ruling against him. Call the Council office NOW and demand he halt retaliatory firings! 317-327-4242."

Adamson later told WTHR, "I can't even speak. He has no shame. He's firebombing the council because he can't control it."

Also, Republican councilor and minority leader Michael McQuillen texted – "President Clay did not consult with or reach out to me about today’s staff firings.”

Biesecker returned with an escort Wednesday night to get more of his stuff. He waited for someone to unlock the door to what used to be his office.

"It's one thing to be fired, it's something else to be sort of treated like a criminal, you know, escorted out of the building, for heaven's sake. I mean, that's ridiculous, but so be it," he said.

Neither Biesecker nor DeBow would say if they thought being let go had anything to do with the vote that could lead to Clay's removal as president.

"I didn't ask him for a reason and he didn't give me a reason. You have to ask him, I guess," Biesecker said.

DeBow told Eyewitness News she never saw it coming.

"It is what it is and he's done what he thinks he's able to do and that is his prerogative, but I will be determining whether or not that is something that should have been done," she said.

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