Woman claims she was fired for wanting to run for Hammond City Council
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org March 11, 2013 1:30PM
Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott
Updated: April 13, 2013 6:18AM
The former executive director of a Hammond charity claims she was fired after she angered Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. by running in 2011 against one of his supporters, City Councilman Anthony Higgs.
Carlotta Blake-King also names her former employer, United Neighborhoods Inc. and other people connected with both the city of Hammond and UNI as defendants in her lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond.
McDermott, who had not yet seen the suit when contacted, said Monday that Blake-King was fired for cause.
Blake-King, who worked as executive director of UNI starting in 2005, announced in October 2010 she wanted to run for Hammond City Council in the Democratic primary against Higgs.
The announcement angered McDermott, according to the lawsuit, because he supported Higgs and said Blake-King wouldn’t be able to work on his campaign if she ran against Higgs. The lawsuit maintains he talked about the issue at a meeting with his campaign captains and department heads in February 2011.
“Defendant McDermott proclaimed that he was upset and that he did not care who knew it,” the lawsuit says.
Higgs made a motion at a City Council meeting that same month to send a letter to UNI questioning whether it was legal for the head of a nonprofit that receives money from the city to run for elected city office.
The lawsuit claims the ties between UNI and the city are many and strong, including that UNI receives more than $100,000 each year from the city’s Planning and Development Department and casino tax revenue. The lawsuit says that UNI Board of Directors president Phillip Taillon is also executive director of Hammond’s Planning and Development Department. Also, McDermott recommended Blake-King for her position, as he does other employees and board members for UNI, and often talks about how he created the group, the suit says.
McDermott said he did help to rename the group when he took over as mayor and the city does pay a portion of UNI’s budget, although he did not know what percentage. The city recently gave the nonprofit agency a grant of $400,000 to build new homes.
Those connections led the board and Taillon to worry the group might lose its funding if Blake-King went through with her run for office. In February 2011, Taillon and other board members told her it was a “conflict of interest” for her to run for office in Hammond, and a month later, the board held a meeting closed to the public in which the members voted to fire Blake-King.
Indiana Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack ruled two months later that the board violated state open-door policy by closing the meeting to the public.
“The defendants conspired to terminate (Blake-King) because she made her political affiliation publicly known, thereby violating her civil rights ... ” the lawsuit says.
McDermott said the group is a separate entity from the city, although he supported the board’s decision to fire Blake-King.
“Obviously, the facts are much more different than are being portrayed in her complaint,” the mayor said.
Blake-King is asking for back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages.