The Crusader Newspaper Group

Councilman may take his oath of office in jail

Robert Battle

Robert Battle, a councilman for East Chicago starts the new year in federal custody, awaiting trial this summer on drug and homicide charges.

But he can still retain his public title and pay as 3rd District city councilman if someone can administer the oath of office to him in jail before the end of this month.

Michelle Fajman, Lake County elections director, said Tuesday a woman acting on Battle’s behalf, recently inquired about how to arrange a swearing-in for him. Fajman said she refused to take part, but said anyone who is a notary public or a local Porter County official, could administer the oath.

That’s because Battle is housed in Porter County Jail, according to Pam Mozdzierz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Mozdzierz said the marshals service has no rules restricting Battle’s swearing-in.

The Lake County Clerk and elections board members said Tuesday they haven’t received any paperwork indicating Battle already has been sworn in, but he has until the end of the month.

Battle ran unopposed in the November election. He received 308 votes.

Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds said Tuesday no one has asked his department to accommodate a swearing-in. He said he doesn’t endorse a swearing-in, but has no authority to stop it, either. He said it could possibly take place during inmate visitation hours.

Fajman said state law requires elected officials to take the oath of office no later than 30 days after the beginning of their new term, which began Jan. 1 for Battle, or vacate the office. She said she cannot recall any elected official failing to take the oath.

State law requires the city’s newly elected officials to affirm they will support the constitutions of the United State and the State of Indiana and faithfully discharge the public duties.

Seven of the nine City Council members did so Sunday at a customary swearing-in ceremony.

Juda Parks, who was re-elected as at-large councilman, didn’t attend. He faces termination from his job as a East Chicago police officer under a state law that takes effect this month, which forbids elected officials from holding a second job within their government unit. He is challenging that law in court.

Battle, 42, didn’t attend, either. He has been in federal detention since his arrest Nov. 17. He is pleading not guilty to a five-count indictment alleging he possessed cocaine and marijuana and killed a street gang member as part of a drug-dealing conspiracy. He is scheduled to stand trial the week of Aug. 8, 2016.

Battle and his fellow East Chicago’s City Council members receive an annual salary of $42,356 a year. A recent Times survey found they make the most of any municipal council members in the state.

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