Indiana Firefighters Sue Mayor and Fire Chief

Four Terre Haute firefighters have filed suit against Mayor Kevin Burke and Fire Chief Jay Utz for what they allege is a demotion in violation of Indiana law.

The four firefighters, all captains -- Elisha Hamblen, Robert Sivertson, Robert Kiefner and Mitchell Hunt -- all occupied appointed positions in the administration of former Mayor Judy Anderson, and were returned to the rank of captain in January when Burke's administration took over.

"They demoted them more than the law allows," said their attorney, Eric Frey, which is alleged in court papers filed July 20. No merit or disciplinary action preceded their demotion.

Hamblen was demoted from assistant chief of operations to his current rank, Sivertson from battalion chief, Hunt from chief mechanic and Kiefner from safety officer.

The suit was preceded by a tort claim notice sent to the city in June.

Utz said changes in administrative posts were based on past practices, but this is the first time anybody has challenged the practice, he said.

Brad Bough, representing the city in the matter, asked for a change of venue last week. Judge Phillip Adler presented the two sides three names, judges P. J. Pierson and Thomas Johnson from Sullivan County and Judge Blaine Akers from Clay County, as choices. Each side has the opportunity to strike one name. The remaining judge has the option to take the case or apply to remove himself from the case.

Bough had no comment on the case, nor did City Attorney Kendall Boyd.

None of the four firefighters could be reached for comment.

Frey said it could be six to 12 months before any kind of hearing, and two to three years before a jury trial date. The firefighters are asking for lost wages, benefits and compensation and attorney fees.

Frey also represents four former city employees, three from the building inspection department that was eliminated when Burke took over, and the police chief's former secretary, who are suing the city because they claim their termination is political retribution.

That case has been transferred to U.S. District Court.