Franklin residents who are interested in becoming a city council member are being asked an additional question when they seek the job — whether there is any part of their background that the Republican Party and the public needs to know about.
The inquiry has become necessary after the last person appointed to the job was asked to resign within days of his appointment after city leaders and the public learned that he was facing a criminal charge for domestic battery.
The District 1 seat on the Franklin City Council has been open since January, when longtime member Joe Ault resigned due to public concern about a derogatory post he shared on Facebook. A caucus was conducted to replace him, and Stephen R. Brown was selected among five candidates. Brown’s 2016 arrest and criminal charge for domestic battery was not widely known until after he was appointed, and the president of the city council and a precinct committee member called for his resignation.
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Another caucus is planned for next week, and the Republican Party wants this to bring the ordeal to a conclusion. The Johnson County Republican Party’s leadership committee has discussed what happened and ways to prevent a similar situation in the future, such as by getting to know the interested candidates better, said Beth Boyce, the county Republican Party chairperson. She’s also talked to the state party leadership about how they vet candidates in a caucus.
“We want what’s best for the city of Franklin, and we want what’s best for the Republican Party,” Boyce said.
The caucus is set for Thursday; the deadline to apply is Monday. The candidates so far are retired Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputy Danny Blankenship and Josh Prine, a network administrator. Both were candidates in the last caucus, but Prine was not eligible because a change to his voter registration information hadn’t been processed in time.
Boyce’s job in organizing the caucus is to confirm that candidates meet the legal requirements to serve, such as living in the city and the district for long enough and checking their Republican voting record. It’s up to the voters, in this case the precinct committee members who live in the neighborhoods being represented, to engage with the candidates and learn about them, she said.
But from now on, the party will do more to vet the candidates to make sure no one is surprised by any part of a candidate’s background, she said.
The party will not begin running background checks on candidates, just as candidates for the upcoming election did not undergo background checks when they filed at the Johnson County Courthouse, Boyce said. Some candidates have been active in the party and are well known to Boyce and the other party leaders. Other times, the candidates are not as well known.
“The committee agrees that this was a learning experience for us,” Boyce said. “We just were not aware.”
From now on, when she talks with candidates, she will work to get to know them better and ask some specific questions, she said.
“Is there anything we need to know?,” Boyce said. “I think that’s an important lesson for us. Then it becomes really the job of the voters to determine,” (if it matters) she said.
“The voters in these caucuses, it is their job to determine the qualifications and if they think a person would earn their vote.”
Six precinct committee members will select the new city council member, who will serve on the city council through the end of 2019 and finish Ault’s term.
The new city council member will represent the residents of District 1, which includes a portion of downtown Franklin, approximately bordered by Graham and Younce streets on the east, U.S. 31 on the west, Washington Street and Parkview Court on the north and Youngs Creek on the south. A portion of the district also runs east, south of King Street, to just beyond Forsythe Street.
Whoever is selected will join the seven-member board tasked with setting the city’s budget or growing any services or staff, such as adding police officers or firefighters or setting aside more money for street projects. Council members are paid $7,374.35 this year.
This will be the fourth caucus to replace a Franklin official in about a year. Last year, then-mayor Joe McGuinness resigned in the middle of his term to become commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation, and city council member Steve Barnett was selected as the new mayor. Bob Heuchan was selected to replace Barnett on the city council in a second caucus.
Republican Party Caucus
Franklin’s Republican Party precinct committee members for District 1 will conduct a caucus to select a new member of the city council
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Franklin City Hall, 70 E. Monroe St.
The event is open to the public.
Candidates so far: Danny Blankenship and Josh Prine
Who picks: Six precinct committee members who will cast secret ballots to pick the next council member are Pam Ault, Eric Fredbeck, John White, Kirby Cochran, Dan Richards and Jim Martin.
Residents who want to join the city council and live in District 1 must apply in writing by 7 p.m. Monday to Johnson County Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Boyce at 845 Richart Lane, Greenwood, IN 46142.