Charlestown mayor takes stand in Pleasant Ridge lawsuit hearing

Charlestown mayor takes stand in Pleasant Ridge lawsuit hearing

SCOTTSBURG, IN (WAVE) - Allegations of collusion, and and secret meetings between the city of Charlestown and a private developer spilled into the courtroom.

The hearing was over an injunction, which would stop fines against Pleasant Ridge homeowners. The case played out in front of Scott County Judge Jason Mount.

The out of county judge heard hours of testimony including from Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall and the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association President.

The hearing stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of the neighborhood association from the non-profit legal firm, Institute for Justice. It claimed the city began aggressively inspecting homes in Pleasant Ridge in 2016, issuing large fines with the sole goal of forcing people to sell their homes and move out.

They argued this would help developer Neace Ventures buy them faster, and for less. The Institute for Justice is hopeful the judge will grant an injunction that would stop the fines and allow their clients to feel safe in their home.

"At the end of Mayor Hall's testimony and his direct examination,my colleague asked him if people keep their homes in good shape and they keep them up to code, will you promise them that they can stay there," Institute for Justice Attorney Jeffrey Redfern said. "And he said 'No I cannot promise them'. I think everything else here is just a side show. The city is telling them over and over again that you aren't going to be able to keep your house."

Mayor Bob Hall testified no one has been evicted from their homes.

Charlestown City Attorney Michael Gillenwater argued this is a health and safety issue. He said there's no question all residents are aware that properties were going to be inspected and if they weren't brought up to code, there would be fines. The city attorney believes Pleasant Ridge residents have an emotional contract with the neighborhood.

"Because they feel emotionally attached, doesn't mean they don't have to comply with the law and it doesn't mean it is good for their kids to be raised there," Gillenwater said. "If there are needles on the street and drug dealers on the corner and there are animals running lose and living in substandard housing is just not healthy."

As for collusion, Gillenwater said they have done nothing illegal or unethical.

"If these inspections were really just about health and safety, there would be no reason to be telling a developer, we are about ready to start inspections," Redfern said. "There would be no reason to forward to a developer letters about inspection. Those should be entirely separate things, but clearly they're not. It's part of a coordinated effort on the city's part to force people out of their homes."

Both sides now have three weeks to submit findings of fact to Judge Mount and he has up to 90 days to make a ruling.

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