Recently, there has been a rekindling of the debate over the City’s annexation of Aboite Township. It all began again when Rep. Bob Alderman added a late amendment to a piece of legislation pending before the Indiana House of Representatives. The amendment proposed a very simple action with very large ramifications: to void any annexation that had been enacted prior to January 1, 2000 if the annexation had not yet taken place. There is only one annexation that fits that specific description: Fort Wayne’s annexation of Aboite. In essence, if this law passed, the City’s annexation of Aboite Township would be, quite suddenly, stopped in its tracks.
The Aboite annexation was passed by the Fort Wayne City Council in 1995. Citizens of Aboite Township rallied against the annexation, and successfully remonstrated, sending the whole issue to the courts. A protracted legal battle ensued which took a roller coaster ride over several years, until the matter wound up before the Indiana Supreme Court. The opponents of the annexation had won at the Trial Court level. The City appealed, and the opponents had won with a unanimous opinion from the Indiana Court of Appeals. The City then appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, in a surprising, unanimous decision, reversed the Court of Appeals and said that the City could annex Aboite Township. According to the laws of our state, that was that. The annexation battle was over, and the City had won.
While the court battle had been raging, I had worked with other legislators from around the State, including Rep. Alderman, to craft a new annexation law that was more balanced and fair to property owners. At the end of the 1999 Legislative Session, we successfully found a formula that won support from both Indiana’s cities, as well as, the large number of private citizen groups that were working to reform Indiana’s harsh annexation laws.
However, this new law could not apply to the Aboite annexation for two important reasons: first, our constitution does not allow ex post facto laws (laws used to undo something already decided in the courts). Though this section of the constitution is normally reserved for criminal laws, it can apply to civil law as well. Any law attempting to implement an ex post facto result would almost certainly be challenged in the courts as unconstitutional.
Second, the long-standing rule of the Indiana Senate is that we do not allow bills that would attempt this to be introduced or heard. Therefore, any such bill coming over from the House would be dead on arrival. Many House members feel they can vote for an ex post facto bill knowing that the Senate will ultimately kill it. This may well have occurred with Rep. Alderman’s amendment that would have “de-annexed” Aboite Township.
The unfortunate result of the Alderman amendment is that it made many Aboite Township residents who oppose the annexation feel that there was some last minute chance to win against the City. As you can see from the previous explanation about ex post facto laws, that was never going to happen. Though I am no fan of involuntary annexation, and opposed the Aboite annexation, the fact that the amendment had no chance to pass caused me to disagree with Rep. Alderman’s decision to bring the amendment in the first place. However, I also want to make it clear that Rep. Alderman’s purposes were genuinely intended to provide his constituents with “one last shot” at beating the annexation. He opposes involuntary annexation, and has consistently fought for Aboite’s residents ever since the City’s intentions to annex Aboite first became known. One of Rep. Alderman’s greatest strengths is that he is a fighter, and he hates to give up. However, this is a fight that has come to an end, and even Rep. Alderman is now acknowledging this.
At the time of this writing (February 27, 2005), Rep. Alderman has announced that he intends to withdraw his amendment, which would essentially end the issue. He explained that he has been told by his leadership that they have concerns about its constitutionality, as well as the fact that many of the House members who voted for the amendment did not understand that they would be attempting to undo a Supreme Court decision.
The City’s annexation of Aboite Township will continue to be a simmering issue with Aboite residents for many years to come. They will see their property taxes increase significantly without a corresponding increase in government services. Let’s be clear: annexation is the most expensive way for a government to grow. It is one of the reasons why I have begun championing a full review of the way Allen County’s urban and suburban areas are governed, in the hope that we could somehow find a more efficient, less expensive, more responsive way to run our local government operation. The discussion about consolidating local government will continue this year, though it is by no means certain what the final outcome will be. I do believe that we can do things better than our current system of local government. But that’s another discussion for another time.
As for the annexation itself, let’s just say that it’s a shame that any of this last minute “hope-dashing” had to happen at all. Like it or not, Aboite was officially annexed that day in 2002 when the Indiana Supreme Court made its ruling. Compare it to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the 2000 presidential election when they made their ruling essentially declaring President Bush’s the winner in Florida, and thus the next President. There were those who were very happy with the decision, and those who were not. Yet the country accepted the decision as the final word because the decision was rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation. There were no attempts to undo the final result in Congress by attempting to pass a law “after the fact”. Such attempts would have been unconstitutional anyway.
Similarly, once the Indiana Supreme Court made it’s ruling that the City could annex Aboite, the issue was settled. It was a finding by the highest court in our state, and was the final word on the matter. No wishful thinking is going to change that, nor any last ditch efforts in the State Legislature.
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