Hancock County News

Theft charge filed against New Pal Clerk - Treasurer; town officials contact state leaders for direction

An all-time low.

 

That is how New Palestine Town Council member Angie Fahrnow sums up the council’s relationship with Clerk-Treasurer Tonii Pyle following the town’s latest drama between the two.


On Thursday, Sept. 3, the relationship, which has been strained already, hit an all-time low as Fahrnow filed a theft charge with police against Pyle. The allegation comes on the heels of the town council discovering Pyle had cleaned out her office and had locked up important town files in a cabinet that the town does not have a key for.


Fahrnow told Giant FM that the discovery led to more aggravation.


“I was more aggravated than shocked. Why did she change the locks and not provide a key? The files are still there locked in a cabinet with David Book’s obit attached, and we do not have a key. When we asked if she had a key, she stated “no,” and then we had to pay for a locksmith to open a door to an empty office,” Fahrnow said.


Fahrnow was asked if anyone had noticed Pyle missing and not coming into her office for work. Town Hall has been opened for several months after it being shut down and having limited hours during the Covid-19 pandemic.


“We are told she can conduct her office hours as she sees fit, which is fine, but on an unsecured computer is not okay,” Fahrnow said.


In addition, council discovered the town’s employees were not paid on time this week.


“I felt helpless when the employees started calling and asking about their checks. There was nothing we could do,” Fahrnow told Giant FM.


The latest discovery just adds to the issues between council and its clerk-treasurer since the beginning of the year.  Earlier this year, council voted in favor of censuring Pyle.  In making the motion, councilman Bill Niemier laid out several issues the council has had with Pyle since January, alleging that Pyle has “engaged in conduct and actions that are contrary to, and directly interfere with, the orderly functioning of Town business.”


“The residents of New Palestine deserve better and such deficiencies need to be documented. If Tonii Pyle were an employee of the Town, I would be moving that her employment be terminated, but that is not an available option as she is an elected official. Therefore, my motion, based upon these facts and circumstances, is that the Town Council formally censure Tonii Pyle. Although there may be few practical implications from being formally censured, and the same cannot and does not remove Tonii Pyle from her elected position as the Clerk-Treasurer, such motion does in fact create a formal and permanent record of Tonii Pyle’s failure to properly perform the functions of her elected office,” Niemier said shortly before the vote.


At that meeting, council voted 3-2 in favor of censuring Pyle. Fahrnow and Brandee Bastin joined Niemier in favor of voting yes, while council members Bledsoe and Jarson voted no.


Then last month, the town council learned Pyle had locked several town officials out of the town’s digital financial database as work began on the 2021 budget.


At the time, Fahrnow said by Pyle locking department heads out of the programs, it creates more work.


“It’s an extra inconvenient step to have her print for the department heads, but we continue to find ways to keep moving past the obstacles. She has cost the town thousands of dollars getting help to do her job. That isn’t even including her requested attorney fees,” Fahrnow told Giant FM.


To further complicate matters, town officials also discovered that Pyle, former clerk-treasurer Becky Hilligoss, former town manager Dave Book and current council member Jan Jarson all played a role in modifications to the town’s employee handbook pertaining to return to work provisions for employees returning from medical leave.


The changes include alternate job descriptions for light duties with medical exceptions. It is believed Hilligoss put the changes in the handbook.


Fahrnow again said she was disappointed, but not surprised.


“There were a lot of things that were being done behind Clint Bledsoe and Brandee Bastin’s back,” Fahrnow said, adding there is documentation stating that Jarson was aware of the changes.


And, there is a current investigation by the Indiana State Police regarding ghost employment and allegations that Pyle illegally obtained signatures on her petition to run for office while working and using town property.


Fahrnow is tired of the games.


“I am not at all surprised we are still having issues. What is surprising to me is the State Board of Accounts is telling us they will not do anything until the next audit and they will address the issues at that time. That is in three years. Our attorney is telling us she is an elected official and we have no say in how she runs her office. Our town will be sunk if we stand by and let this continue for the next three years,” said Fahrnow, who added she has reached out to Indiana State Senator Mike Crider, the Open Access Counselor and Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill on the matter.


Pyle is up for re-election in 2023 and the only way she can be removed from office prior to that is if she is convicted of a crime or resigns.


“If there is enough evidence to file a charge, she will have to step down and then the hunt for a new clerk will commence,” Pyle said.