08-15 elk coun-01

Elkhart City Administrator Judith Cantrell (left), Mayor Jennifer McCoy (center), and City Secretary Ami Ashworth (right) discuss city ordinances, and the need for transparency and change.

Concerned about city ordinances lacking accountability, or placing authority in the wrong hands, Elkhart's mayor, city administrator, and city council have taken the unusual step of nullifying all city ordinances until further review.

That means city ordinances, governing how the municipality operates, are no longer in effect.

Such ordinances cover, for example, how city employees submit purchasing and work orders. Another example: An ordinance forbidding city employees from carrying firearms while they're on the job, without the permission of the city secretary.

Putting city ordinances on hold does not mean Elkhart, a community of roughly 1,200, is turning into the Wild West. State statutes remain in effect.

City officials said the review should be completed by the end of the year.

“We're starting from the very beginning,” City Administrator Judith Cantrell told the Herald-Press. “We've sent all the ordinances to Franklin Legal Publishing, where they will undergo a review for their legality, and to find instances where we can do better by our residents.”

Cantrell, who became city administrator in June, and newly elected Mayor Jennifer McCoy said any suggestions Franklin Legal Publishing makes will go before city council members for their approval.

“We are a team,” Cantrell said. “The council should be part of all city business, regardless of how minute.

“If we at City Hall notice a problem, we're going to come up with options on how to fix it. Past councils, I think, weren't used to having options.”

One glaring problem, Cantrell said, was work orders.

“There was no formal policy on work orders, just a process the city has gotten used to using,” she said. “No work could start until an order was received – even in an emergency. That doesn't work.”

Purchase orders, she said, also posed problems. City ordinance stated purchases of at least $50 needed an order.

Typically, however, city workers called the office for an official order number when buying items from vendors. Purchase order forms would then be back-filled – after the purchase was complete.

“There was no accountability,” Cantrell said. “Until we get this straightened out, no city employee may make an official purchase without the purchase order coming through me and the mayor.”

City council members must approve purchases of $500 or more.

Working her way through stacks of paperwork placed in cabinets, on tables, and even on the floors of city offices, Cantrell said leaders have had to clean up a literal mess of city business before moving forward.

“It's been difficult trying to move forward in this wreck, particularly with budget season,” she said. “There's no real rhyme or reason to this filing system and, therefore, very little accountability.”

To rid the offices of clutter, establish a coherent filing system, and protect city documents from loss, Cantrell converted all files to digital and put them on the city's cloud-server.

Critics have alleged Cantrell and McCoy used members of the public, who did not work at City Hall, to assist in the massive task. No way, Cantrell said.

“All files were sorted and uploaded by City Hall employees,” she said. “I am all about transparency, and you can't have transparency if you don't have order. This administration and council take the rule of law very seriously.”