Except for a simple vote at the end of a long meeting, the departure of a longtime fixture in local government might have gone unnoticed.
Ray Richardson, who counseled the county commissioners and other agencies of government for 50 years as county attorney, was quietly let go during an otherwise routine commissioners meeting on Jan. 29. As the Daily Reporter’s Ben Middelkamp reported, the commissioners made no pronouncement and offered no official recognition of Richardson’s half-century of service. Instead, they announced they were hiring someone else to be their attorney.
And just like that, a career of remarkable longevity came to a close. When the commissioners next met for a regular meeting, the attorney who had offered guidance on everything from construction bonds to consultant contracts was not present.
Because Richardson, 81, was technically a county employee, the commissioners who voted to replace him, John Jessup and Marc Huber, were able to use the cloak of “personnel matters” to avoid full discussion of their decision. It reflected a desire — in the ubiquitous expression heard by everyone who’s been rejected for a job — “to move in a different direction.” Fair enough.
What they weren’t able to avoid is speculation about the dismissal. Jessup did hasten to add that their decision didn’t involve any alleged wrongdoing, which certainly helped clear the air.
But the unceremonious way in which Richardson was, in essence, kicked to curb was unfortunate.
Without a doubt, his approach could be acerbic. And his advice was not always well-received. Bill Bolander, president of the Hancock County Council, told Middelkamp that conflicts had developed between Richardson and some county officials. That would not be news to people who remember at least one other previous effort to oust him. So, perhaps he finally wore out his welcome. Only a handful of people know the real reasons for his departure.
Richardson became county attorney in 1969, not long after being elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. He would serve 24 years in the House and win respect as a thoughtful lawmaker. Bolander pointed out that a number of laws the county deals with every day were authored by Richardson.
He also served on the Indiana University Board of Trustees from 1991-2002.
The new county attorney, Scott Benkie, has strong credentials and no doubt will be an asset in helping guide the commissioners through some tricky days ahead as they prepare to launch the jail project. We wish him — and the commissioners — luck in moving forward.
But let’s also remember the contributions of a public servant who has devoted most of his long life to trying to make local government a little better.
Send comments to [email protected].