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Jennings Sunday: Vernon to elect key offices

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VERNON — A historic event will occur March 4 in Vernon.

That’s when the town will have its elections for mayor, town marshal, clerk and Town Council.

Vernon is the only Hoosier town that is allowed to elect its mayor and town marshal, because the town was founded before Indiana became a state.

Vernon also is the only town in Indiana to hold local elections every two years instead of every four years. There are no primaries.

Registration for candidates opened the first week in February. The deadline to declare candidacy in the election for this Jennings County town is Feb. 25.

“We just do things differently here,” said Town Marshal Britt Burgmeier.

“Most candidates don’t even say which political party they favor. Most people just say they are citizen candidates.”

Burgmeier is completing his first term as the marshal and will seek re-election. He doesn’t know yet if he will have an opponent.

According to the town’s 1851 charter, the marshal of Vernon has the responsibility of “seizing and impounding wild hogs, suppressing riots and rounding up unruly chickens and ducks.”

Today, the marshal’s responsibilities are similar to any other police department.

“I patrol the streets just like the deputies. We want to keep everything safe here,” Burgmeier said.

Vernon Mayor Dan Wright has turned in his declaration of candidacy for the mayor’s job. He has been mayor for the past 10 years.

“Sometimes I have had opponents, and sometimes I haven’t. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure if I should vote for myself or the other guy,” Wright said.

Wright said he hasn’t heard if he will have any opposition in this year’s race.

“That’s one of the things we do differently here. You don’t usually know who is running until the very last minute. If someone throws their hat in, well that’s OK, too,” Wright said.

Town Council members Danny Stark, John Post and Maribeth Anderson had not declared their candidacy as of Tuesday.

Town Clerk (Marita) Jean Rockey is ready for this year’s election. She has been taking care of the elections since she was first elected in 1991.

As many as 100 people will vote if it is an election with opposing candidates, Rockey said.

Due to remodeling of the clerk’s office, voting this year will be from noon to 6 p.m. in the sewer and water office at 28 Perry St.

Voting is open to all adult residents of Vernon 18 years and older. Those wishing to declare their candidacy for office can register at the same location.

Indiana law states that any community with a population of less than 2,000 is a town and cannot elect a mayor. Towns have governing boards and a town manager. Cities can elect a mayor, but towns cannot.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Vernon has a population of only 318.

The town is legally allowed to follow the election practices because Vernon was established before Indiana became a state in 1816, Wright said.

Founded by Col. John Vawter in 1815, Vernon was carefully planned, and the rules for electing the town’s officials were established and practiced from the beginning.

In its early days, Vernon was the county seat of Jennings County. The town included churches, schools, public parks and even a tax to establish a public library. But, as other surrounding communities grew, Vernon remained small.

When Vernon established its charter in 1851, the town had a population of 170, but the town’s charter declared it would follow the same election process the town had used from the beginning of the community.

Vernon continued to follow its own election ways throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in spite of several legal challenges. In 1948, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Vernon would remain as the County Seat of Jennings County and also would continue with its election practices as defined in the town’s 1851 charter.

Today, Vernon is the smallest county seat in Indiana.

“I haven’t heard any complaints about the way things are done in Vernon,” said state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, who represents part of Jennings County. “Vernon is a beautiful little place in the world. I love to visit there. The people are so nice. I don’t believe government should interfere with a community unless it is absolutely necessary. Vernon is fine.”

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