After a month of waiting for the Tippecanoe County attorney to review the multiple invoices he submitted to taxpayers associated with Higher Society vs Tippecanoe County Commissioners, they were finally turned over to the private citizen who had requested them via the Freedom of Information Act.
Taxpayers will be none too pleased to know that they paid over $45,000 to defend wayward commissioners against a lawsuit that should have never been filed in the first place. To be fair, Commissioner Tracy Brown was not part of the original debacle that set the wheels of justice in motion. In fact, sources tell us that he supports open forums and free speech as protected by the U.S. Constitution, so none of the criticism applies to him.
Commissioners David Byers and Tom Murtaugh took the unconstitutional position of deciding which speech would get special treatment and which speech would be denied when they turned the Higher Society away from the courthouse steps. Lawyers for the Society argued that the forum was open only to commissioner-approved groups. A lower court and the appeals court agreed it was blatant discrimination. The Supreme Court has long held that if a government opens up a forum to one group it must open it to all.
One didn’t need a law degree to figure out the commissioners would lose this battle. Unfortunately, taxpayers are left with a hefty bill.
“I doubt they would have taken this course of action if they had to use their own personal finances,” commented one taxpayer. “I think they should reimburse taxpayers for faulty judgment.”
The errant commissioners suffered a not-so-surprising loss when the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against them. What was surprising, however, was the flippant attitude expressed by Commissioners Byers and Murtaugh afterwards. They admitted the illegal policy was meant to shut out groups they didn’t like. Murtaugh practically bragged that it was good while it lasted and counted it as a victory that they got by with it as long as they did.
Citizens aren’t laughing, Mr. Murtaugh. Many of us think it was abhorrent that the illegal policy was first drafted to keep Christ off the courthouse square. Voters might be able to find a silver lining, though. Maybe it will be worth the $40,000 to highlight the fact that we need two new commissioners at election time. We’re looking for candidates now.
In the meantime, taxpayers can scrutinize the itemized bills and decide for themselves whether or not it was worth it.
Click on to enlarge: