The county commissioners say they have settled into a new distribution of county attorney responsibilities.
The commissioners last month officially accepted the resignation of former county attorney Yvette Kirchoff following a Confederate flag debacle at the courthouse in August.
Commission president Kellie Streeter said Kirchoff's resignation presented an opportunity to more evenly distribute the county's legal responsibilities.
“I think this was a need, without a doubt,” Streeter said. “The amount of work that the county commissioners have added, what with the creation of the Unsafe Building Ordinance, is simply too much for a single attorney.
“So the discussion became, 'How do we adequately split up the work.”
The commissioners had retained Graham Dycus with HartBell LLC, 513 Main St., to handle county legal matters after Kirchoff was suspended.
That wasn't a great long-term solution, however, as HartBell also serves as legal counsel to Good Samaritan Hospital, a county entity.
“Graham's contract was for a specific period of transition,” Streeter said. “It was temporary until we made a final decision.”
In the end, the commissioners tapped the county council's attorney, Andrew Porter with Feavel and Porter LLP, 36 N. Fifth St., to serve as joint counsel.
Then they looked to local attorneys Bryan Jewel and Andrew Kopatich with Kirchoff and Jewel, 517 Broadway St., to handle various ordinance violations issued through the Solid Waste Management District as well as the Unsafe Building Board.
The Unsafe Building Ordinance was passed by the county commissioners last summer. Later, they constituted a board to oversee it.
The ordinance looks to more efficiently handle complaints of eyesore and dangerous properties and designate more money to cleaning them up. The commissioners agreed to set aside $250,000 per year from the county's capital improvement fund to spend razing these houses and cleaning up the properties.
But it's a mountain of work in regards to title searches, placing liens, etc.
Jewel and Kopatich, too, Streeter said, will be handling the work associated with commissioner-owned properties.
“We talked about this a lot during budget hearings,” Streeter said. “We had options as we had several interested attorneys reach out to us.
“So we decided, as commissioners, that it would be best to do this.”
Kirchoff was suspended following from an incident at the courthouse on Aug. 23.
Kirchoff, in a display of opposition, removed an early Confederate-era flag from its post next to the Civil War monument, took it inside the courthouse and, according to multiple reports, stomped on it in frustration and anger.
The flag in question was not the Confederate flag largely associated with white supremacist groups but, rather, the flag used by the Confederacy for a brief time in 1861.
A set of seven flags is erected adjacent to the monument every Memorial Day by members of the Marine Corps League and left up, usually, through Labor Day.
Streeter said she first received an anonymous complaint concerning the Confederate flag in late May. She wasn't familiar with the flag or its history; still, she ordered it taken down, and for many weeks, that pole was empty.
The commissioners later, having heard no other complaints, ordered it put back up; they argue they weren't familiar with its origins nor did they fully research it.
Things took a direct turn when local attorney Michael Edwards, a Marine Corps veteran, saw the flag and notified Kirchoff, among other local elected officials.
Kirchoff returned the flag to courthouse maintenance crews and it was put back up.
Streeter, however, ordered it be taken back down, eventually replacing it with an Indiana state flag instead. She has said now that everyone is fully aware of the flag's history, it will never again be raised outside the courthouse.
Members of the Marine Corps League say they meant only to honor the Confederate dead in a peaceful way.