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Monday, May 2, 2016

North Putnam sued over voter rights issue

Saturday, October 13, 2012

BAINBRIDGE --The North Putnam School Board has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for "depriving a woman" of her right to have her vote treated equally.

Brooke Cox, a voter in Floyd Township, contacted the ACLU to file the suit.

The North Putnam board is made up of seven members, one from each of the district's townships, and one at-large selection.

Voters living in a township are only eligible to vote for candidates from their own township.

The voters in Floyd Township, population 4,011, elect one member, just as the voters in Russell Township, population 823, elect one member.

The lawsuit argues that a voter in Russell therefore has around five times more power than a voter in Floyd.

Indiana law requires that when a school board chooses its members through this process, "the districts shall be reapportioned and their boundaries changed ... before the election next following the effective date of the subsequent decennial census."

Every 10 years, the school board was required to examine the population and divide it equally.

North Putnam is the only remaining local school district to use this type of voting.

South Putnam and Cloverdale use residential school board districts, which opens seats from each district to voters throughout the corporation.

Greencastle has an appointed school board.

Kelsey Kauffman, a university studies professor at DePauw, said in May that when her students researched the subject last year, they discovered that "the local district that is most maldistricted -- in the entire state of Indiana -- is North Putnam."

Kauffman sent an email to the Banner Graphic on Friday.

"North Putnam has known for months that they were required by law to redistrict," she wrote. "They missed the mandatory deadline last year, but still had time before this election to get the job done.

"South Putnam was also required to redistrict and they did so with little fuss or fanfare."

North Putnam received notice from the Indiana School Board Association in the fall of 2011, stating that "districts in Indiana by law are obligated to have their redistricting plans completed by December 31, 2011."

The school board had attorney Gene Hostetter begin researching ways to divide the district on April 25, and he returned with limited solutions on May 2.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, June 5, the board revisited discussions of redistricting.

Board attorney Hostetter said attempts to divide the voting districts more evenly could get no closer than 20 percent, which was well short of their goal of 10 percent.

With no changes being made, board vice president John Hayes said he wanted to make sure that the redistricting issue was not forgotten about.

There has been no mention of redistricting at any public meeting since and, when asked Friday if he knew of any discussion on the subject privately since then, Noel said "not to my knowledge."

The ACLU released a statement about the suit on Friday:

"The case challenges the school corporation's failure to maintain voting districts for school board positions that conform to the one-person, one-vote principles required by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the Constitution of Indiana."

The suit, Brooke Cox v. North Putnam Community School Corporation, was filed on Thursday.

"It was something that needed to be done, and this is the way to get it done," Cox said, stating that her hope is that North Putnam will begin to "follow what the law is saying and could all votes the same."

Cox said she has two children, ages 3 and 6, with the elder child attending school in the Greencastle corporation.

Four of the seven seats on the North Putnam school board are up for election next month -- Monroe Township, Russell Township, Franklin Township and the at-large seat.

Were the single-member districts divided equally by population, it is likely that Floyd Township would have at least three spots on the board, which might have been open during this election.

Cox, a librarian at DePauw, said she was made aware of the situation by Kauffman, who also put her in contact with the ACLU.

North Putnam's attorney failed to return a phone call prior to press time Friday night.

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-- Posted by infiremanemt on Sat, Oct 13, 2012, at 1:38 PM

Why do you care, if your kids go to Greencastle? And really? The ACLU? You realize you live in Putnam Co., Indiana, right? This is ridiculous. The N.P. school board has had a lot on their plate over the last year! It's not as if they're sitting around not doing anything. Dealing with high profile staffing issues, replacing a superintendent and A.D. This is a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. Just another person who wants to give bad publicity to N.P. If you're that concerned, get in there and run for a board position yourself, get involved in your schools and send your kids there. Otherwise, let it be.

-- Posted by momofboys on Sat, Oct 13, 2012, at 11:09 PM

Silly lawsuit. ACLU trying to make a big deal out of nothing.

-- Posted by purple_heat on Sun, Oct 14, 2012, at 9:13 PM

Mrs. Kaufmann needs to stay our of NP district affairs! I find it interesting she found someone who works at DePauw to file the lawsuit, even though Mrs.Cox doen't even send her child to NP schools. So just why does Mrs. Cox care if her vote counts or not, when it comes to NP school affairs? And does she NOT think that Russell Twp. should have a member on the school board?

-- Posted by interested party on Mon, Oct 15, 2012, at 7:25 AM

WOW....that is a joke. Kauffman, who does not have children in NP schools, sought out Cox who works with her at DePauw who lives in NP community and does not have kids that even attend NP and encouraged them to file a law suit against NP. Seriously? Someone needs to get a LIFE....

While I do believe that everyone in the district should be able to vote for all candidates, I would totally NOT sue the board over this. Really? This is what is wrong with the country....too many people want their way and therefore, decide the only way to get it is to sue someone. Ridiculous!!!!

I appreciate all that the board does....do I agree with every decision they make? No, but I am definitely not going to sue them for it!!! WOW....serious, serious problems in this country.

-- Posted by John3:16 on Mon, Oct 15, 2012, at 10:49 AM

Kauffman"a husband, Bruce Stinebricker, was on the Greencastle school board. I think she should attack Greencastle and their appointed school board. Are the voters being represented with an appointed board by elected officials? I don't think that is direct representation

-- Posted by albert on Mon, Oct 15, 2012, at 11:23 AM

I think that some of the commenters are missing the issue that this is required by LAW and is not a suggestion from the state and the fact is that NP is not in compliance with this law. That said, I think that perhaps Ms. Kauffman's goal would have been better served if she had worked with and helped the NP school district resolve this issue rather than sue them. If she had done that then the school corporation would not have wasted time and money on responding to a lawsuit and most likely the issue would have been resolved much more quickly and amicably.

-- Posted by hometownboy on Mon, Oct 15, 2012, at 1:01 PM

While I don't disagree about suing the board;

I do agree that after more than ample amount of time the Board of North Putnam can't get it together as required - that is an issue. My hope is that this "exposure" puts a bit of pressure on them to act.

-- Posted by cougarparent on Mon, Oct 15, 2012, at 1:03 PM

This is not something that snuck up on the board and they need to remember that working within the law is part of their job. They had ample time to make this decision and waited too long to even look into it.

Has anyone thought that maybe it is time for a new lawyer if he can't help them with the solutions?

Maybe she would send her kids to school here if academics and working within the law were the boards focus rather than sports. Maybe that is why she wants her vote to count.

-- Posted by NPNO on Tue, Oct 16, 2012, at 8:56 AM

Thank god kelsey kauffman came in and saved all the students who attend North Putnam from this absolute travesty of justice. And getting the ACLU involved... that was clearly a thoughtful, selfless, and necessary step in the process because with out the them, who knows what would have happened.

-- Posted by conffool on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 1:22 AM

I have the ultimate respect for those people among us who, because they care about our community, stand up for fairness, particularly in the election process. This issue is all about fairness and that is why re-districting, in this case, is clearly needed. Why should one person's vote count for more than another's vote? That is why the Indiana law is sensible and should be enforced. Three cheers for Kauffman and Cox for standing up for what is right. Based on the comments above, they sure aren't doing it to be popular with those who would just sweep the problem under the rug. Could the ideology of those "safe" seats on the current NP board have anything to do with the hysteria in the comments above and the desire to leave things the way they are? What ever happened to the rule of law and the ethos of fairness? Get it together NP.

-- Posted by thinkpositive on Thu, Oct 18, 2012, at 2:08 PM

I think the comment by momofboys addresses a predominate (residential) mindset within Putnam County. That living in Putnam County has its own set of rules/laws. Maintain the status quo. As well as painting the ACLU assistance in the matter as unnecessary/frivolous.

Kudos for Kaufman speaking out over this issue. Re-districting in this case was the law...and NP had plenty of time to rectify the situation.

-- Posted by Carla Hurst-Chandler on Sat, Oct 20, 2012, at 8:31 AM

Actually, my mindset is that we do live in an area where you can still have an actual conversation with someone and discuss your concerns rather than call in the ACLU to do it for you. I do believe it is unnecessary to bring in any kind of organization, who in their own right will only paint a negative picture of our community. There are other avenues to try first. We do not live in a large city, we live in a community where most people know one another. A conversation is still a good thing to have once in a while. I know every board member personally. Why? Because I am involved in my community, my children go to the school in the district I live in, and I make a point to know them. I can say with a great amount of certainty that each of the men and women would be very open to discussing this situation and rectifying it.

-- Posted by momofboys on Sun, Oct 21, 2012, at 6:58 PM

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