Fast forward about 18 months and Southport is again in the news, this time over the resignation of almost the entire police force of Southport. WISH-TV reports:
Being an attorney, obviously my eye caught the comment that Southport had spent tens of thousands of dollars which had devastated the budget. The article talks about how $35,000 alone was spent on one case, where a local resident who was sued civilly for praying at council meetings in protest of Mayor Thoman's decision to change tradition and eliminate the public prayer before council meetings. Apparently Mayor Thoman filed the lawsuit without informing council. Why someone would file a civil lawsuit instead of handling the matter criminally makes little sense.
The city of Southport is without police protection after all officers and the chief quit because of a conflict with the city's mayor.
Council members said the police department resignations are the last in a series of events that has them pitted against their own mayor, a man they say has spent tens of thousands of dollars worth of city money on attorneys.
Southport is a town of only 1,800 people, a place where folks still sit on their porches to chat. Lately, Mayor Rob Thoman has been the talk of the town.
A former Southport council member, Greg Dent, voted for Thoman. "And I would like to apologize for that and I would like to apologize to anyone who voted for him at my request," he said.
Council Member Susan Schmoll regrets her decision, too. "He had the police remove this 70-year-old man and it's cost the city close to $35,000 to sue this man to keep him quiet and that is done without our knowledge or our approval."
Charles Lynch, who attends every council meeting, was the man sued by Mayor Thoman. He said Thoman ordered police to arrest him for praying out loud. Something that opened every council meeting until Thoman took office.
"I stood up and when I stood up he grabbed my arm behind me and he handcuffed me," said Lynch. According to Lynch, Mayor Thoman not only sued him with city money, but he's spent a lot of the cities money on lawyers.
"Southport is broke and now he's saying that he can't pay the police department," said Lynch.
Officers and the chief resigned after they said the mayor demanded a speed trap on Southport Road and required that violators pay citations to the city of Southport rather than Marion County. "
I would be surprised if there is a Southport if he stays in office," said Council Member Dent. "I don't think the city could last through his term."
Because the city of Southport does not have a judge or court to handle traffic citation disputes, all citations have to go to Marion County's court system. Mayor Thoman did not return WISH-TV's calls or messages. He is expected at Monday night's monthly council meeting and many residents plan to be there.
Then I learned that the law firm billing the tiny City of Southport tens of thousands of dollars was the politically-connected Barnes & Thornburg. In short, Mayor Thoman, the ultimate outsider, had rushed after the election to hire the ultimate insider law firm and peddler of political influence in the city, Barnes & Thornburg. That should sound familiar because it is exactly the approach outsider Mayor Greg Ballard took after his election win.
Why in the world would a city of 1,800 want to use one of most expensive law firms in the city to handle tasks that could be performed, as well or better, and certainly much cheaper, by virtually any other law firm in town? There is only one reason - the attempt to buy political influence by the Mayor. In exchange for city business, big law firms kick back money in campaign contributions to the elected official who then gives more business to the law firm. In the meantime, the politically-connected law firm uses influence to try to keep the elected official in power.
It is one thing when you're talking the City of Indianapolis with over 800,000 residents paying the inflated legal bills of a big, politically connected law firm. When you're talking a city with 1,800 residents, the impact of those unnecessary and excessive legal bills can be dramatic.
Southport is not alone. The Town of Speedway also employs Barnes & Thornburg and other large law firms for routine tasks that could easily be performed by other law firms. Undoubtedly their residents are being hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees that could easily be dramatically by sending the legal work to other law firms. Again, the reason the political influence wielded by the firms, not the quality of the legal work.
We need to demand that our elected officials, from the smallest city to Indianapolis, the largest city in the State, be more responsible when spending our tax dollars.