Friday, March 4, 2011

Turmoil in the Wayne Township Trustee's Office

Inside sources are reporting that the Wayne Township Trustee’s Office, under the leadership of newly elected Trustee Andy Harris, is in turmoil. Shortly after coming into office on January 1, 2011, Harris terminated six to seven African-American employees. According to the same source, Harris also fired an African-American employee from the court’s staff. The replacements were all white.
Wayne Township Trustee
Andy Harris

Harris though brought with him a prominent African-American Republican, Aaron Williams, the son of Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams and an often mentioned candidate for the City-County Council. Aaron Williams had worked on Harris’ campaign and was hired by Harris to be Director of Communications and Public Affairs. 

Harris, who had pledged during the campaign to get rid of the Chief of Staff position, hired his campaign manager and long-time friend Susan Scott essentially to the same position, but gave her a different title “Chief Deputy Trustee.”  Scott, who has only a high school diploma, had previously been a customer service representative at a fireplace store. Williams, who has two college degrees and graduated from the Kelly School of Business, had management experience unlike Scott. Yet Harris made Susan Scott his second in charge.

The Wayne Township Board asked for the new employees’ resumes prior to approving their salaries. Harris though refused to provide the resumes, possibly because he didn’t want to reveal the weakness of Scott’s background to serve as No. 2 in the office and to earn a $65,400 salary. (Williams’ salary was $65,000.) Reportedly Susan Scott did have a strong asset though, her husband, Rick Scott, had been appointed Assistant Chief of the Wayne Township Fire Department by Harris, the number two position behind Chief Gene Kozen. 

Aaron Williams
Appearing recently before a legislative committee, Harris announced that Indianapolis Mayor Ballard was against the elimination of township government, a position contrary to Ballard’s public position. Harris had taken some heat from the Ballard administration because of that comment.

Meanwhile things in the office began to deteriorate for Williams. According to sources, Susan Scott and her husband, Rick, increasingly worked with Harris to isolate Williams’ influence in the office. Things came to a head Tuesday morning when Harris fired Williams, supposedly for the purpose of changing the management structure in the office.

It is not clear whether Harris’ disagreement with Ballard’s position on township government could have played a role in the firing of Williams, a Ballard supporter.

Others have speculated that the discharge had to do with Susan Scott’s jealousy of Williams’ education and experience and the fact that Williams was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, someone who could threaten her position in the office.

Regardless of the reason for the firing, one has to wonder about the Wayne Township Trustee’s office under Harris’ leadership. While Harris has not hired family members to lucrative positions like his predecessor David King Baird did, Harris has stocked the office with close friends, a fact that was reported back in early January by Channel 6 when Board members raised concerns over Harris' personnel moves.

With regard to Susan Scott, questions have been raised whether she has the education and experience to be serving as No. 2 in the Trustee’s office.

Finally, the attorney in me has to wonder whether Harris consulted with an attorney before making his personnel moves. This is not the old days of patronage when a newly elected official could fire everyone including low level employees.. Now, if the person is not a policy-maker, terminating that employee is problematic at best. Then you add in the fact that the employees Harris let go were all African-Americans replaced by whites.  I certainly hope Harris has budgeted for the inevitable lawsuits that his actions will produce.

Let’s hope the next 46 months of Harris’ stewardship of the Wayne Township Trustee’s Office goes better than his shaky two month start.


Jon E. Easter said...

I think you have it pretty right here Paul. I'm hearing the same thing from people in the know there. The relationship between Harris and the Democratic majority on his Township Board is strained, from what I hear, at best.

Harris is a great guy, but I wonder how much exterior politics may be playing a part in what's going on in Wayne. After all, Harris was on Mayor Ballard's staff.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I heard though that Harris wasn't particularly close to Ballard. So being on his staff may be overrated.