Randy Dallke, in his first act as new Marion County Commission chairman, resurrected an old issue involving a current commissioner.
Before outgoing chairman Dan Holub could make a motion to nominate Lori Lalouette, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, for vice-chair, Dallke interrupted him.
“Can we have a person on the board who cannot sign the budget?” Dallke asked. “It is a question that needs to be answered.”
Dallke was referring to the Aug. 31 meeting where commissioner Lori Lalouette recused herself from voting on the 2016 budget.
The 8th District Court receives county funds, and Lalouette said then that as an attorney for cases heard by Judge Michael Powers, it would create a situation where Powers would have to step away to avoid conflict of interest.
“I’ve had some citizens concerned that if we can’t sign the budget,” Dallke added, “how can you be a commissioner.”
Holub will act as interim vice-chair until Dallke’s question is answered.
However, when contacted Tuesday by email, Lalouette had answers.
“The issue was never about not being able to sign the budget or vote on the budget overall,” she wrote. “The initial advisory opinion came out the week prior to the budget being finalized, and I attempted to address it the best I could given the short notice and lack of information.”
Lalouette said she voted on other parts of the budget, only recusing herself from voting on the judicial portion. She voted on the overall budget, but did not sign it to avoid the possibility that doing so would override her earlier recusal.
“Signing the budget is a technical act and it does not erase my input or votes,” she wrote.
An advisory note issued in October by the Commission of Judicial Qualifications, two months after commissioners approved the budget, appears to offer a definitive answer in Lalouette’s favor:
“Solely because an attorney appearing in court is a county commissioner for that county does not create a reasonable doubt concerning the judge’s impartiality.”
Lalouette asserted in her response that “the issue is moot” and that she believes “there is no potential conflict” when voting on or signing judicial budgets.