Stephen Clay faces suit from fellow councilors over firing of council clerk, attorney

Stephen Clay, who began serving as Indianapolis City-County Council president on Jan. 8, 2018. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis City-County Council President Stephen Clay faces a lawsuit from a group of fellow councilors.

Their goal is to reinstate a council clerk and council attorney that Clay fired after he became president last month.

Attorney Karen Celestino-Horseman, who filed the suit on behalf of 10 council members, dropped the lawsuit files off for Clay at the City-County Council office Thursday.

The councilors listed on the official filing include nine Democrats — Leroy Robinson (District 1), William Oliver (District 9), Maggie Lewis (councilor for District 10 and the former city-county council president), Vop Osili (District 11), Blake Johnson (District 12), Zachary Adamson (District 17), David Ray (District 19), Frank Mascari (District 21), Jared Evans (District 22) — and one Republican: Jeff Miller.

The lawsuit states Clay threw the council into chaos by firing its clerk, NaTrina Debow, and its attorney, Fred Biesecker.

Celestino-Horseman said Clay alone does not have the authority to fire them.

“The clerk of the council and the general counsel were chosen by the council as a whole, and that’s who they serve,” Celestino-Horseman said.

Clay fired Debow and Biesecker after the city-county council voted to start a process that could oust Clay as president. Council could vote on whether to remove him during their Feb. 19 meeting.

Celestino-Horseman said if Clay is voted out as president and the new president allows Debow and Biesecker to return, the lawsuit will be dropped.

The lawsuit states Clay called Biesecker into his office before a Jan. 29 council meeting to say Councilor Mike McQuillen asked Clay to fire Biesecker.

“I perceived this statement as an obvious warning that if I did not support McQuillen’s efforts — .on behalf of Clay — to delay or defeat removal-related motions, I would be fired,” Biesecker states in the lawsuit.

“Right now, the people who are legally appointed to do those jobs aren’t here to do them,” Celestino-Horseman said. “So if they’re not here to do them, no one else is supposed to do them.”

Councilor Jared Evans said Clay, a Democrat, made a deal to give Republicans more power on the council if they voted for him as president last month. Evans is one of several Democratic councllors to join the suit against Clay.

Council Democrats voted Wednesday to remove Clay from their Democratic caucus.

Celestino-Horseman said taxpayers will not foot the bill for her legal services.

“We are doing this right now because we believe in good government, and we believe this is a problem right now that needs to be addressed,” she said.

24-Hour News 8 reached out to Clay and McQuillen for interviews, but neither responded.

Councilor Zach Adamson, who serves as the council’s vice president, said the group of councillors suing Clay is deferring all questions to Celestino-Horseman.