For the better part of nine months, New Palestine Town Council member Angie Fahrnow warned fellow council members not once, not twice, but on many instances about potential nepotism issues between clerk-treasurer Tonii Pyle and former town manager David Book, who was Pyle’s father-in-law.
In the end, the council learned its lesson as Pyle has officially tendered her resignation in a move that will still cost the town and continues a fractured relationship between town leaders and Pyle.
In a statement, Pyle, who delivered her resignation to Hancock County Clerk Lisa Lofgreen, said that her office had tried to bridge a gap with the current town council.
“For the last nine months, the clerk-treasurer’s office has been trying to bridge a gap to create a healthy work environment with the current town council that the town employees and voters expect and deserve. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. Pursuant to Indiana Code 5-8-3.5-1, Notification is being presented to the Hancock County Clerk of Courts of my resignation of the office of the New Palestine Clerk Treasurer, effective 9/9/2020,” Pyle wrote.
The town will now have to select someone to fill the remaining years on Pyle’s term. The position will be advertised and town council will be holding public interviews September 23 at 7:00 p.m. Pyle ran unopposed for the clerk-treasurer position in 2019 after working under former clerk-treasurer Becky Hilligoss.
The resignation comes on the heels of the discovery that Pyle had abandoned her office earlier this month, cleaning it out and locking up important town files in a cabinet the town does not have a key for. In addition, the council discovered the town’s employees were not paid on time.
While Fahrnow voiced concerns multiple times, she took no joy in the resignation, telling Giant FM she does not feel good about the situation.
“I never feel good about situations like this because in the end the town is the one paying the price. Furthermore, I don’t feel good about the fact that several unanswered questions remain. There is still town property we do not have back. I am upset that she got away with as much as she did. I am ready to move forward and put a positive light back on our small community and focus on the things that are important for this town,” Fahrnow said.
A source speaking with Giant FM on the condition of anonymity said Pyle deleted all of the town’s payroll documents, including the backup and then scrubbed the computer.
“She deleted it all. Council is missing files, signed ordinances and checks,” the source told Giant FM.
The resignation could bring about an end to what has been a frosty relationship between council and the clerk-treasurer’s office.
Earlier this year, the 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 said she hopes positives will come out of everything the town has dealt with.
“I hope that all of this has brought to light the bigger picture, which is the amount of control the state of Indiana gives to the clerk treasurer and the damage they can do to a town. You can have no financial background and run for clerk-treasurer and not be responsible for any of your mistakes. There should be better laws in place or it should be moved to an appointed position,” Fahrnow said.