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Challenger ineligible to run because of residency rule

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GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Election Board ruled Thursday that a candidate for the Southern Hancock School Board can’t seek office because she doesn’t meet the school district’s residency requirements.

Stephanie McFarland, who had filed to run against incumbent William Niemier in District 2, has lived within school system boundaries for more than 10 years. But her candidacy ran afoul of district residency rules because she hadn’t lived in her electoral district for three years, as required by the school board’s bylaws.

When McFarland moved between electoral districts 18 months ago, it essentially doomed any chance for her to seek a school board seat in 2012, the election board unanimously agreed.

And so ended what was shaping up to be an intriguing race between newcomer McFarland, a critic of the current administration, and Niemier, one of its staunchest defenders. Both attended the hearing Thursday at the Hancock County Courthouse. The decision leaves one contested race for three school board seats.

McFarland argued state law was much less restrictive than the district’s rules. She shared a memorandum from the Indiana Department of Education during the hearing, hoping it would help her cause.

According to the document, state law establishes a one-year residency within school corporation boundaries and electoral districts as qualifications for office.

McFarland said because she has lived within corporation boundaries since December 2000 and the DOE didn’t have a problem with her residency, she should be able to run.

Election board President Robert Bogigian, however, said the DOE documentation was not enough. Material submitted by a lawyer for the school district detailed a part of the law that gives local districts latitude to establish school board rules, including residency requirements.

That’s where Bylaw 142 comes in. It says candidates must have lived in their electoral districts for three years to be eligible for office.

“I would say reading this all together she has not met the residency requirements,” Bogigian said.

New Palestine’s James Robinson brought the issue before the board when he suspected McFarland hadn’t lived in District 2 long enough. The area is bounded by county lines on the south and west; by CR 300S on the north; and CR 200W on the east.

“I want our school board to be filled with people who want to follow the laws and standards,” Robinson said after the meeting. Robinson said he heard discussion about the school board race at a restaurant and decided to report what he knew.

Niemier spoke during the hearing.

He told the election board if McFarland were given the chance to run and were elected, every vote she took part in would be subject to a lawsuit because she would be in violation of Bylaw 142.

The rule has been on the books since 1964. Election board member Tom Cone informed the board and those at the hearing he had done research and found no issue of litigation on the bylaw.

Niemier, who is now unopposed, said he plans to move forward with doing corporation business.

“My reason for being here had nothing to do with having or not having an opponent,” he said. “I wanted to make sure the corporations bylaws are complied with.”

But he added: “I’m looking forward to serving this community for four more years because I do enjoy it.”

McFarland pointed to the state law establishing residency requirements.

“The (election) board has made their decision, but the Indiana Department of Education provided a different view,” she said after the public hearing.

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