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Contentious St. Joseph among township races

October 21, 2018 GMT

Campaigns for township trustee are typically low-key affairs. But that’s not been the case this year in Allen County.

There are five contested township trustee races in the county.

In St. Joseph Township, Democrat Carol Griffin is challenging incumbent Republican Sarah Gnagy for her seat. The campaign has been filled with allegations of mismanagement and secrecy at the trustee’s office.

A retired music teacher, Griffin said she wants to rein in spending and find more money to help residents.

“What else can you do except run for office?” she asked. “I felt like I had to get into politics and do something.”

Griffin, 79, also claims the township’s fire chief, David Ringer : who in May ran unsuccessfully against Gnagy for the Republican nomination for the trustee position : is unfit for office. Ringer sued Griffin for defamation before the primary, alleging she sent letters calling him “very dangerous” to officials in Ashley, where he is a volunteer reserve police officer.

Griffin fired back in July, calling the charges “frivolous, unreasonable or groundless” in a counterclaim filed in Allen Circuit Court.

“Over the years, there’s (sometimes) a township race that gets a little exciting,” said Andy Downs, an assistant professor of political science at Purdue University Fort Wayne and director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. “St. Joe Township is certainly that township this time.”

Meantime, Gnagy, 56, said she just wants to get back to work. The office she has run for four years operates efficiently and helps about 2,000 township residents each year, she said.

She rebuts the claims of mismanagement and secrecy : Griffin filed a complaint in September with the state over documents she requested : and points to budget documents that are approved by the township’s board and uploaded to a state government database, where anyone can look over the municipality’s spending plan.

“There’s multiple levels of transparency,” Gnagy said. “Taxpayers can see what’s happening.”

The complaint was thrown out by Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt.

In Perry Township, Eric Tippmann defeated incumbent trustee James McIntosh II in the Republican primary. He faces Democrat Melissa Rinehart, 48, in the general election.

An assistant professor of chemistry at Purdue University Fort Wayne, Tippmann, 46, also is a member of the Allen County Council. He told The Journal Gazette in a May interview he supports eliminating township government as a way to streamline government.

Many services provided by townships can be done through county government, he said at the time.

In an email Thursday, Tippmann said he recently purchased a home on Lake Avenue : outside the township : and is renting out his Willowind Trail home to people expected to close on a house in January. The Lake Avenue house is closer to downtown, where his daughter is studying dance, he said.

“Thus, to solve this short-term problem, and permit her to continue her lessons and dream of pursuing a career in dance, we bought a 2nd house just minutes from downtown,” Tippmann said in the email. “Thus we moved temporarily, and solely for educational purposes.”

He said he’ll move back to Perry Township early next year, when his term as trustee would begin.

Allen County Elections Director Beth Dlug said the deadline to challenge a candidate’s residency passed in February. No one has contacted her office to contest Tippmann’s residency, she said.

mleblanc@jg.net