City government critics repeat call for Bunch’s resignation, Jerome’s removal as council president

City officials are considering changing the way public comment is received at Columbus City Council meetings after Tuesday night’s session ended with a verbal altercation.

Tempers flared among residents and city officials after Ken Fudge, a supporter of former Mayor Kristen Brown, asked to read a letter into the record as the meeting was winding down. Fudge’s statement turned out to be critical of two city councilmen and Mayor Jim Lienhoop, generating heated exchanges.

The mayor, contacted Wednesday for his reaction to the conflict, said he would discuss the incident with city attorney Alan Whitted and council members to determine how public comment should be handled in the future, including researching how other boards in Bartholomew County receive input from constituents.

“We want to maintain decorum and focus on the business before the council,” Lienhoop said.

If any changes are implemented, they will be to make sure comments from the public are focused on agenda items and to keep conversations in public meetings civil and productive, he said.

When Fudge first asked to read the letter, Lienhoop asked what it was about and suggested that the resident instead hand it to Clerk-Treasurer Luann Welmer. When Fudge protested, Lienhoop relented and allowed him to read the letter out loud.

It called for councilman Frank Jerome to be censured and removed as council president for comments made on social media following an Aug. 8 apartment fire in the city. It also asked for councilman Dascal Bunch to resign and for Lienhoop to apologize to Fudge for how he was treated at the Aug. 16 council meeting.

Fudge said Bunch’s decision to enter into a diversion agreement on a misdemeanor public indecency charge reflects in a negative way on the council and community.

Bunch was accused in March of exposing himself to a next-door neighbor who looked out a window toward his eastside home, court documents state. In August, a pre-trial diversion agreement was approved which requires the second-term councilman to pay $333.50 in user fees and undergo a mental health assessment, which Bunch said earlier he has already completed. If terms of that agreement are fulfilled, the charge is to be dismissed Dec. 29. Bunch has said he is innocent and the charge was politically motivated as a way to remove him from the council.

Fudge also demanded Lienhoop apologize for saying Fudge was in the council chambers and hearing what was happening there Aug. 16 when Fudge alleges he was outside the chambers. Lienhoop did not respond to that demand from Fudge. Jerome also did not respond to Fudge’s demand or allegations.

As Lienhoop prepared to ask for the meeting to adjourn, Bunch, however, did address Fudge’s comments.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Bunch said, telling Fudge to “shut up” and quit posting lies about him on social media.

Lienhoop then intervened and asked the council for a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was made and approved, and the video feed broadcasting the council meeting was terminated.

Just before the video feed stopped, Lienhoop said anyone who had something to say was welcome to step forward to talk to him.

Those who attended the meeting began moving out onto the council floor to exit.

Whitted, who had gotten to his feet as the meeting was adjourned, spoke to David Jones, one of the residents who attended the meeting and who had previously served in city government as an appointed official.

Whitted told Jones and the residents standing on the council floor that Bunch had rights, that he was not convicted of any crime and, as such, is presumed innocent.

“Charges mean nothing,” Whitted told Jones, who was standing near a table where individuals make presentations to the council. Whitted told Jones he was standing up for Bunch’s rights and that no one had the right to seek the councilman’s resignation when Bunch had the presumption of innocence.

“Diversions are not offered to innocent people,” Jones told Whitted, and Whitted replied that diversion agreements are offered to innocent people in the justice system.

“There is proof” in Bunch’s case about the incident, however, Jones replied.

Lienhoop said in the aftermath, Fudge left the council chambers and did not hand the letter to Welmer — so the city does not have a copy of the document.

Tuesday night’s meeting was the second straight in which Brown supporters have asked to read a letter to the council at the end of the meeting.

Jones read a letter Aug. 16 in which he also asked that Jerome be censured and removed as council president for the social media comment regarding the apartment complex fire. Jones was appointed by Brown as a city park board member and plan commission member, before resigning earlier this year.

On the Web

To watch a recording of Tuesday’s Columbus City Council meeting, visit

columbus.in.gov/city-hall/video-streaming/

Under “Archived videos and agendas,” lick on “City Council” and then the Sept. 20 date.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.