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Hours before court hearing, Fairfield Township Trustee resigns, leaving confusion

 Fairfield Township Trustee Taletha Coles has resigned from her position, leaving behind confusion about who will take over (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)
Fairfield Township Trustee Taletha Coles has resigned from her position, leaving behind confusion about who will take over (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Fairfield Township Trustee Taletha Coles sent a letter to the Tippecanoe County Circuit Court announcing her resignation early Wednesday, just hours before she was scheduled to appear in court.

The Fairfield Township Board, using a new state law, had started a removal process for Coles that was set to be heard by a judge later in the day.

Doug Masson is the Tippecanoe County Attorney. He said the removal process they were pursuing is now technically concluded.

“We were asking for a declaration of removal,” he said. “The resignation removes her from trustee – it can’t be taken back, it can’t be rescinded, I don’t think there’s anything further for the court to do.”

Coles has left behind some confusion about who will immediately succeed her. In her letter, Coles wrote that she had appointed her “chief deputy” Cheryl Watkins to fill the position in the interim. Masson said it is an issue of “some ambiguity” whether Watkins – a township employee – was officially a deputy and could fill the position.

“There is a statute that said a chief deputy, if there is one, would take over for the trustee between the time of the resignation and when the caucus could meet to replace the person who was going to resign,” Masson said.

Monica Casanova is a Fairfield Township Board member and current Democratic candidate for the trustee position. She said she was dumbfounded by Coles’ designation of Watkins as interim trustee.

“I don’t know when she was given the title of deputy trustee or deputy director – that was never run through the board,” she said. “Taletha would just give these titles to employees.”

But, Casanova said, she expects the assignment to the interim position will be challenged.

April O'Brien, Republican candidate for Fairfield Township Trustee, said she wished Coles had stepped down a long time ago.

“It’s a surprise but not a shock at this point,” O’Brien said. “Everything that is done by Coles I feel like is just bleeding out taxpayer dollars.”

Fairfield Township Board President Perry Schnarr said he was initially happy with Coles’ resignation - but now he’s not so sure.

“There must be a hidden agenda with her appointing her chief deputy,” he said. “As usual, she tells us nothing. It’s executive business what she tells us, and she’s the boss and it's none of our business. I don’t know. I don’t have a clue.”

Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush said she’s reached out to the Indiana State Board of Accounts to help sort the issue out. Roush said there are a number of issues with Watkins - including that she only recently changed her address so it fell within the township, and doesn’t appear to have ever been sworn in for the chief deputy role.

“I don’t know who has given her the oath, let alone who gave her the oath when she became chief deputy,” she said. “Those are supposed to be given to me.”

Regardless, the Tippecanoe County Democratic Party will hold a caucus to fill the trustee position sometime soon.

In her resignation letter, Coles wrote that it was a difficult decision, but that working for the township had been “a very negative experience” for her since taking office “due to other politicians, my board and the hostile work environment from staff that has been created due to my board and other politicians.”

Coles did not respond to our request for comment.