The Zionsville Town Council publicly announced at its Aug. 3 meeting the cost so far of the ongoing legal battle between the council and mayor, with the council president saying the suit will likely put the town over its annual legal budget.
Zionsville Town Council President Josh Garrett gave a financial update on the town’s legal expenses in 2021.
For 2021, the town’s legal budget is $599,000, of which $180,000 is for town retainer; $186,000 is for the town council’s retainer; and $233,000 is for other legal matters, Garrett said.
Garrett said the town and town council retainers are on budget. Known invoices through mid-June, however, put the town’s non-retainer matters at $228,386.99 for the year. In total, Garrett said the town had spent approximately $472,000 of its $599,000 budget as of mid-June and that the town has another $120,000 in retainer expenses to pay before the end of the year.
Most of the non-retainer matters stem from a lawsuit Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron filed against the town council in March after the council denied her request to discharge Zionsville Fire Chief James VanGorder. Soon after, Styron placed VanGorder on a one-week paid administrative leave and assigned him to a managerial role reporting directly to her and the town’s deputy mayor. In response, VanGorder filed a request for injunctive relief, which added to the town’s legal fees.
In the suit, Styron requested a judge determine whether the town’s mayor has the authority to demote department heads without council approval. Boone County Judge Matthew Kincaid ruled the mayor does not have the authority. Styron stated VanGorder’s traditional duties as fire chief were restored after the ruling, but in late July she appealed the decision, which is expected to add to the town’s legal expenses. The above figures do not include legal fees associated with the appeal.
“Any other legal matter spent, effectively, from this point moving forward, will put us over budget,” Garrett said.
It is unknown how much over budget the town will be at the end of the year because of ongoing litigation expenses.
“That money has to come from somewhere,” Garrett said.
Town officials said legal expenses that exceed the town’s legal budget might be paid for by an additional appropriation at the end of the year. Garrett said the additional appropriation might need to come from the town’s general fund.