Hamilton County Council votes to censure Hern

Jeff Hern

Jeff Hern

By Adam Aasen

The Hamilton County Council voted 4-2 June 7 to censure councilor Jeff Hern after he accepted an agreement in the Hamilton County Superior Court May 24 on a charge of stealing a political opponent’s campaign signs during the 2016 primary campaign.

Councilor Rick McKinney, who had his signs stolen, publicly stated he would like to see Hern resign from the council. Several members of the public at the meeting and an editorial in a local county newspaper asked for the same. McKinney said it is possible to remove a councilor with a two-thirds vote of the council, but that wasn’t proposed at the June 7 meeting.

At the meeting, Hern said he never admitted guilt in this case.

The signed agreement to withhold prosecution, obtained by Current, states that prosecution would be withheld if Hern, “the defendant, admits the offense of criminal mischief, class A Misdemeanor.” The document also states that Hern must pay McKinney $892.49 for the cost of the campaign signs and send him a letter of apology. If Hern complies with the signed agreement, then “prosecution of this matter will be withheld,” according to the document.

At the meeting Hern said, “there is no crime,” and that he only agreed to the deal because he said his attorney advised him it would cost $20,000 to proceed.

“This is surprising to me that there’s been an ‘admission of guilt,’” Hern said.

Hern’s cell phone was discovered at the scene where McKinney’s signs were stolen, but Hern said that cell phone and checkbook had been stolen from his car, a claim he reiterated at the June 7 meeting.

“As there’s people that want to push Trump out of office and put Hillary Clinton in, others wanted to push Barack Obama out of office, others wanted to put George Bush out of office, other people were fighting to get Bill Clinton out of office,” Hern said. “That’s what we do. We fight to get the people want in office and get out those we don’t.”

Hern was running against McKinney and four others in the Republican primary for three open seats on the Hamilton County Council. Hern, McKinney and Brad Beaver won the primary and general elections.

McKinney, who introduced the resolution to censure Hern at the meeting, said he’s never received an apology from him and believes that Hern isn’t complying with his deal.

“I don’t know Jeff if you’re living in a fantasy land,” McKinney said. “Because the agreement was contingent number one that you admit what you did.”

At the meeting, Amy Massillamany abstained because she said she wanted more time to review it all. Hern voted against his censure along with Councilor Steve Schwartz.

“I think if we’re going to start casting stones at Mr. Hern and asking him to resign for a supposed crime that he committed, there are probably other felonies and other crimes committed, and if you want to go back and look you can eliminate three or four other members,” Schwartz said.

Council president Fred Glynn responded to Schwartz, stating that the council needs to make a statement that this kind of behavior is unacceptable in elections.

“None of us here are perfect,  but my thing is that this directly affected a member of this body,” Glynn said.

McKinney took offense with Schwartz’s use of the phrase “supposed crime.”

“It wasn’t supposedly,” McKinney said. “It was an admission in the court.”

Councilor Paul Ayers said he voted in favor of censuring Hern because he hasn’t spoken up to apologize.

“The seriousness of the act isn’t really my concern,” Ayers said. “My concern, with Councilor Hern, after he (pleaded)  guilty, after it was public knowledge, there hasn’t been a word of apology, and as I understand it, not even the fulfillment of the what was ordered by the court … As much I really don’t like doing this, I’m going to vote yes because of your total silence.”

Fishers resident David Giffel spoke during the public comment time and said he thinks Hern “disrupted the election,” and a petition was making the rounds to ask Hern to resign.

“What he’s not doing is making a restitution to the voters,” he said.

Carmel resident Jim Decamp read a statement detailing how upset his neighbors and colleagues are about the actions Hern has been accused of.

“Based on personal conversations with the people in my precinct, people remember the details of what happened 13 months ago and they do not like it,” Decamp said. “Mr. Hern was recently in Hamilton Superior Court, and he now stands in the court of public opinion. His misconduct has cast a shadow over the important work of the Hamilton County Council. The voters of Hamilton County deserve better. Mr. Hern, I call upon you to resign.”

Hern said at the June 7 meeting that he has no plans to resign.

Update:

According to councilor Fred Glynn, removal of Hern is unlikely at this point.

“I don’t think removal will be pursued because state law says the conduct has to happen when he is in office,” he told Current on June 8.

According to McKinney, there is no ethics code for the county councilors.

“Unfortunately we never adopted a specific one, because at the time Meredith Carter proposed one be adopted, Christine Altman was on Council and objected so it died,” he said.

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