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Carthage Councilman Resigns
April 23, 2008 - Carthage Town Marshal Mike Onkst has resigned his position on the Carthage Town Council just three-and-a-half months into his four-year term in office.
Onkst notified his fellow council members, the town's clerk-treasurer, the county clerk and chairman of the Rush County Republican Party in writing on April 15 of his decision to step down. He said his resignation was to take effect immediately.
"I no longer wish to work for a town board that prides itself on creating a hostile work environment for its employees and an atmosphere of political madness for the citizens of Carthage," Onkst said in his notice of resignation.
Onkst told The Banner late last week that he had been excited when his term on the council began in January and had looked forward to serving town residents in a capacity other than just that of town marshal. However, he said the way other council members have chosen to address issues involving the police department prompted him to resign.
"It's just a circus," Onkst said. "The overall amount of time and effort spent over the past month in reference to the Carthage Police Department has been asinine, it really has. "There's been no reason for it. ... As much time as they spent, we could have gotten something else way more important done."
During a special meeting on March 20, the Carthage Town Council heard complaints and concerns about the CPD from several citizens on a variety of issues. Since then, the council has held two special meetings to deal with police-related matters, and a third was scheduled for last night.
The council passed three resolutions affecting the CPD during its April 14 special meeting, a meeting Onkst did not attend. Council members Bill Armstrong, Vice President Wanda Henderson and Doris Wyatt voted in favor of the resolutions, while Council President Rick Bush, a former deputy and current reserve officer for the CPD, abstained.
The first resolution establishes set hours for the town marshal, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and requires patrolling of the area near the elementary school at prescribed times. It also requires the marshal's cell phone to be on all the time with the number made available to the public, and mandates that the marshal attend all public council meetings and any others, as directed by the council. Finally, the resolution prohibits the marshal and other CPD members from taking calls outside the town's limits, while still permitting them to respond to emergencies outside Carthage.
The second resolution eliminated the CPD's two paid deputy positions, and it set the CPD's number of unpaid reserve officer positions at a maximum of five, all of whom must be approved by the council. The third resolution passed April 14 required the town marshal to do a "comprehensive inventory of all items" in the CPD and turn the list into the clerk-treasurer and each council member by April 19.
While the resignation he tendered last week was only for his position on the town council, Onkst told The Banner his days as Carthage Town Marshal are likely numbered as well. He said he didn't think the rift between the council and the CPD could be mended with the council's current membership and said he was seeking employment elsewhere.
"My officers and I agree that we want to leave while we still have good names," Onkst said. The CPD's two former paid deputies, Richard Stern and Allan Rice, both elected to leave the CPD rather than stay on as unpaid reserve officers, an option the council had given them.
"I've spent the last four years trying to make Carthage a nice town, and we've got a strong reputation where criminals are afraid to come to Carthage," Onkst said. "I've built this police department up from ground zero, and it's pretty much all for naught now."
Onkst said he thought the council's mishandling of issues involving the CPD has been bad for the town's citizens. "Probably, in about 90 days, there will no longer be a Carthage Police Department," he said. "The citizens can ask why, and eventually, someone will go, 'You know ... we deserve better.'"
According to state law, the responsibility for filling the vacancy on the town council left by Onkst's resignation belongs to John McCane, chairman of the Rush County Republican Party, who has until May 15 to select Onkst's replacement. Should McCane not act by that date, the remaining town council members would be responsible for choosing someone to fill the vacancy.
McCane told The Banner Tuesday morning that persons interested in filling this seat on the Carthage Town Council will need to file a declaration of candidacy form with the county clerk and submit a letter of interest to him at Republican Party headquarters, 247 N. Main St., Rushville, IN 46173.
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