An Elkhart City Council special meeting Saturday, called in part to discuss forming a city police force or marshal's position, was interrupted when the Anderson County Sheriff's Office had to be called to break up a disturbance.
This was the second time in five months ACSO deputies have been called to an Elkhart City Council meeting.
On Saturday, Elkhart Mayor Jennifer McCoy called a recess after the Pledge of Allegiance, when former mayor Mike Gordon, and former city councilmen Billy Jack Wright and Chris Sheridan refused to clear the chamber walkway and sit in the gallery.
According to the state Fire Marshals' Office, the path to both exits must be kept clear at all times.
After refusing McCoy's requests to take available seats in the gallery, she called the sheriff's office.
“The ex mayor and two ex-councilmen refuse to recognize my authority,” McCoy told the Herald-Press Monday. “Follow the rules or leave. It is as simple as that.”
ACSO Deputy Amanda Materanek resolved the standoff.
“Deputy Materanek commanded authority,” City Administrator Judith Cantrell told the Herald-Press on Monday. “She told the three of them their choices were to either take a seat in the gallery or leave.”
Sheridan, husband of recently-fired city secretary Carla Sheridan, chose to sit in the gallery; Wright, who said he didn't want to be “crammed in like sardines,” left the building with Gordon.
In February, deputies were called to break up an altercation between Sheridan and Mayor Pro Tem Raymond Dunlap. No charges were filed.
State Fire Marshal Todd Parsons told the Herald-Press city officials acted according to the law and public safety.
“They [city officials] did exactly as they should have done,” Parsons told the Herald-Press. “The pathways to those exits must remain clear.”
Having local law enforcement available, such as a city police officer or marshal, was on the meeting's agenda, following a June 18 altercation with Sheridan.
“He [Sheridan] was very loud and aggressive,” Cantrell said. “He had submitted information requests the Friday before, and was angry that he hadn't yet received a reply.”
Code enforcement officer Biff Knight, a licensed peace officer, attempted to intervene, but Sheridan continued. He left before deputies arrived.
Sheridan is just one reason council is considering city-based law enforcement, McCoy said.
“There are certain individuals that photograph my employees leaving, and photograph their vehicles,” she said. “My employees, my council and the residents of Elkhart will not be intimidated or bullied – we will move Elkhart forward.”
Due to the actions of Gordon, Wright, and Sheridan, Cantrell said, the agenda item had to be tabled until the July 1 council meeting.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said, until Elkhart finds a permanent solution, or establishes a city law-enforcement agency, he will assign a deputy to preserve order during council meetings.
Interim City Secretary Ami Ashworth said she supports having local law enforcement available to preserve order.
Attempts by the Herald-Press to contact Gordon, Wright, and Sheridan were unsuccessful.