City-County Council president faces lawsuit, expelled from Democratic caucus

City-County Council President Stephen Clay

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Embattled City-County Council president Stephen Clay was ousted from the Democratic caucus and now faces a lawsuit claiming it was illegal for him to fire the council's clerk and attorney.

Clay was invited to a special caucus meeting Wednesday night but did not attend. At that meeting, all 13 Democrats voted to expel Clay from the caucus. That includes the four Democrats who initially voted for Clay as president. All four of those Democrats have now joined the effort to remove Clay as president at the February 19 council meeting.

Before the caucus meeting ended, seven of the council's 13 Democrats along with Republican councilor Jeff Miller - who has been removed from his own party's caucus because of the child molestation charges he faces - agreed to take more immediate action with a lawsuit. That suit was filed with the courts Thursday morning asking for an injunction that would reinstate Natrina DeBow as council clerk and Fred Biesecker as council attorney and parliamentarian.

The Democrats who signed on include former council president Maggie Lewis, current vice president Zach Adamson, Jared Evans, Frank Mascari, William Oliver, Vop Osili and Christine Scales.

Clay fired DeBow and Biesecker January 31, having them escorted out of the building by sheriff's deputies. DeBow's assistant, Sarita Hughes, was also let go.

While Clay described the firings as a part of a "transition, which happens with any new administration," the move was quickly denounced by the majority of his fellow Democrats who argued Clay had no authority to fire any council employees. The suit alleges that "only the full council may appoint or terminate the clerk," and that the removal of Biesecker has "effectively prevented the council from functioning" under council rules. It claims the end result is "irreparable harm to the public interest."

The motion, filed by three attorneys including Karen Celestino-Horseman - a former City-County Councilor herself - asks for both DeBow and Biesecker to be allowed to return to work immediately with full access to their offices and all equipment.

Frank Mascari, one of the councilors who signed on to the suit, said without the clerk and especially the council attorney, the "council is pretty much at a standstill."

He said of Clay, "He's like a bull in a china shop. It's his way or the highway. His antics are almost like Donald Trump, I hate to say it. He thinks he can just do this and he can't."

The councilors hope to get a hearing on that injunction later today. They plan to ask for a temporary injunction at that hearing, which would last for ten days - but could be extended longer - until a judge can hear the entire case.

The next full council meeting is February 19. One of the agenda items is a proposal to remove Clay as president. To do so requires 13 votes out of 25 members.

Clay beat incumbent president Maggie Lewis for the seat at the January 8 meeting on 14-11 vote. He won with help from all but two Republicans and four Democrats. All of the Democrats who supported Clay at that time say they no longer do.

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