The rift between the New Palestine Town Council and the town’s clerk-treasurer grew a little wider recently as members of the council approached the Hancock County Election Board about the validity of Tonii Pyle’s win and ability to serve as clerk-treasurer.
According to town council members, Pyle obtained signatures illegally on her nomination petition during work hours and during council meetings. Pyle was a deputy clerk-treasurer at the time of the signatures and was elected in 2019.
Town council member Angie Fahrnow told the election board that she raised concerns when she turned in her signatures and never heard anything back.
“I came and verbalized how the signatures were obtained and was told they would ask. I was never told to fill out anything. There were several complaints I turned in and never got a phone call. I came and verbally turned in complaints when I turned in my signature sheets, nobody ever got back to me,” Fahrnow said.
Members of the election board said they were unfamiliar with those claims, noting they first time they heard of any issues were July 1 when they received an email asking about the opinion of signatures Pyle obtained.
Board president John Apple said any petition had to be submitted in September of 2019 and that election results were finalized two weeks after the general election. Pyle ran unopposed and received 185 total votes.
“It seems to me that this board doesn’t have the jurisdiction to hear anything on this. The deadlines have passed for filing sworn statements of challenge and contesting the election. We are looking at an office holder at this point,” Apple said.
Members told Fahrnow they do not have the authority to change the results of an election or remove people for alleged violations and suggested she take the matter up with the county prosecutor. Fahrnow and fellow council member Bill Niemier did just that, as they filed a report with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, alleging ghost employment, which is a Level 6 felony in Indiana. A conviction would mean Pyle would be removed from office, however, it will be up to Brent Eaton, the prosecutor, to file charges.
Indiana Code 35-44.1-1-3 defines ghost employment as any public servant who knowingly or intentionally assigns to an employee under the public servant’s supervision any duties not related to the operation of the governmental entity that the public servant serves. In other words, town council members allege Pyle committed a violation of getting signatures during work hours, which was not part of her job.
Fahrnow told Giant FM she was not surprised with the decision, stating she had actually expected it and will be moving up the chain of command.
“Several attempts have been made by the council to bridge the gap between the clerk and council, but the clerk keeps burning that bridge. All of this discord started after council’s attorney told the clerk-treasurer she needed her own attorney. Our town attorney continues to empower the clerk-treasurer, which only makes this situation more toxic,” Fahrnow said.
Earlier this year, the town council censured Pyle.