A road sign along Ind. 25S lets drivers they need to turn left to get to the town of Burket. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union
A road sign along Ind. 25S lets drivers they need to turn left to get to the town of Burket. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union
For approximately 40 years, the town of Burket hasn’t had an election.

Going forward, Kosciusko County Republican Chairman Mike Ragan would like to see the three council members and clerk-treasurer file for the election, even if they are unopposed, but Burket Council President William Rayburn doesn’t see the need as the town can’t afford to have an election and apparently aren’t required to by law if no one else files for the positions.

Ragan said there won’t be any challengers if no one knows there’s supposed to be an election.

Filing for the general elections for Burket, Claypool, Etna Green, Leesburg, Mentone, North Webster, Pierceton, Sidney and Silver Lake ends at noon Aug. 1 for Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians.

If there is a contested race within a party, the party will hold a convention to make a selection from those candidates. If there is a contested race between the parties, the town will have an election in November. Some towns won’t have an election at all because there is only one candidate for each open seat, according to information provided by County Clerk Ann Torpy.

An Email Alert

In January 2020, the town of Sidney saw its clerk-treasurer and a board member resign after it was learned they weren’t elected onto the board. After those two resigned, another board member resigned due to health reasons. The Republican and Democrat parties held caucuses to replace the board members and clerk-treasurer. The third Sidney board member was the only real “legal” member on the board and was a “holdover” because no one ran or filed against him.

The last time Sidney had a formal election process before that was in 2011.

In an interview Tuesday, Ragan said he received an email Jan. 14, 2020. The email states, in part, “I read the article about the town of Sydney. I hate to add to your plate, but the town of Burket has been doing the same thing for years. I tried to bring it to their attention ... but they said they couldn’t afford an election. I’m fairly certain that none of the sitting members have been elected properly.”

Ragan said when he received that email, he tried to find out if the town was incorporated or not because if the town wasn’t incorporated – like Packerton or Atwood – no election would be necessary. Ragan finally learned Burket was incorporated in 1930.

“What happened was, the town board president came to see me … and said their town clerk was resigning and wanted me to have a caucus to replace her,” Ragan said, which reminded him of the email from 2020. “I’m not mad at any of them. I’m not trying to create problems for them, but I think the citizens of Burket have a right to choose their town board members, including their clerk-treasurer. And know when they’re meeting. That’s my issue and I think (Kosciusko County Democratic Party Chair) Vicki Morton would agree with that.”

Ragan thinks they’re all Republicans, but wasn’t sure.

Clerk-Treasurer Timeline

According to a Burket clerk-treasurer timeline provided by Ragan, the lack of elections dates back to Aug. 26, 1983. Republicans held a town convention to nominate candidates for the town board, but didn’t nominate a candidate for clerk-treasurer. Democrats didn’t hold a convention. A handwritten note in the county clerk’s file declares Borem was a Democrat, but it’s unclear whether she filed to run as a Democrat for re-election or was a holdover by virtue of being unopposed.

More recently, Joseph Ball resigned as clerk-treasurer July 13, 2018. Mary Marshall, the previously retired clerk-treasurer who served before Ball, was voted in by the town board to replace Ball. Marshall resigned July 15, 2020, and Janet Rayburn – wife of council President William Rayburn – was appointed by the town board to replace Marshall on July 16, 2020. But Janet Rayburn resigned Aug. 13, 2020, and effective Aug. 15, Glenn Bundy was appointed by the town board to replace her. Bundy became ill and the town board asked Janet Rayburn to return to her duties Oct. 28, 2021, and unanimously voted to reappoint her. Bundy died Nov. 3, 2021. Janet Rayburn indicated in January 2023 that she intends to resign from her office as soon as possible.

Public Information

Ragan said if the town board is required to announce their meetings, they’re not doing it to his knowledge and they should be doing that.

William Rayburn said they post all their meeting minutes and other information on Gateway – an application used by government agencies to post financial reports for access by the state - and let the county clerk’s office know of any resignations.

County Clerk Ann Torpy said the last time she heard from Burket was on Nov. 4, 2021. The board provided her with a copy of the board minutes regarding the open clerk-treasurer position.

A search of Gateway found that Burket’s end cash and investment balance as of Dec. 31, 2021, totaled $310,003.76. There are other financial reports for the town on the website, but no meeting minutes or announcements were found.

File To Run

Ragan said, “This is a municipal election year. They have until Aug. 1 to file. All municipalities under 3,500 people have until Aug. 1, 2023, to file for the fall election.”

William Rayburn said it was his understanding that the council members can continue to serve until the end of their term and until they resign, unless they’re challenged in an election year. If there’s no opposition, the council members just hold over for another term.

For the clerk-treasurer, if no one seeks that office then the council can appoint someone to serve, he said, adding that their term also would hold over from one term to the next if they’re not challenged. Rayburn said in a letter from C. Austin Rovenstine, Kosciusko GOP secretary, to the Burket council members, Rovenstine encouraged them to pursue elections but they were not required.

A copy of the letter regarding Janet’s resignation states, in part, “After examining the town’s records and the relevant statutes, and consulting with the Election Division of the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office, we have concluded that it is the responsibility of the town council, not the Republican Party, to fill this vacancy.”

Rovenstine wrote the last duly elected Republican clerk-treasurer appears to have been Suzanne Kuhn, who was appointed in a Republican caucus to fill a vacancy in 1979 and went on to win re-election later that year.

“When she resigned in 1982, the Republican Party was entitled and required to fill that position. For reasons unknown, that did not occur, and the town board improperly selected her replacement instead. It appears based upon my review of the record that the town has been appointing rather than electing clerk-treasurers consistently in the four decades since,” the letter continues.

Because Janet Rayburn was appointed by the town council and not “elected or selected as a candidate of a major political party,” Rovenstine’s letter states the requirement of a political caucus does not apply and the vacancy should be filled by the town council.

“Please note that the only reason that this unusual circumstance exists is because no one is filing to run for town offices. Your entire government at this point appears to be appointed rather than elected, and ‘held-over’ ... rather than re-elected,” the letter continues. “While there’s nothing unlawful about this arrangement, the Republican Party believes that the best and most responsive government is that which is regularly held accountable to the people. As such, we encourage those of you who intend to remain in your positions on the town council to file declarations of candidacy at the Kosciusko County Clerk’s Office before the Aug. 1 deadline for small town elections.”

The population of Burket, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, is about 125 people, down from 190 in 2010. Rayburn said with a town that small, they don’t have time to wait four years to have elections.

“We’re a small town with limited income,” Rayburn said.

Board members make $1,400 per year each, with the president earning $1,600 per year. Ragan said he believed the town’s budget was $300,000 to $400,000.

Rayburn said he’s trying to be as transparent as possible with everything the town does.

Brad King, Republican co-director of the Indiana Election Division, said under the Indiana Constitution, when someone is elected to a specific term, that person serves out the term until a qualified candidate receives more votes and replaces them.

If no candidates file to run for an elected local office, the person holding the office at the time the term of office ends will “holdover.” Indiana’s Constitution specifies that an officeholder remains in office until a qualified successor is elected.

According to the Indiana Election Administration website, when there are no nominees for an office where only one candidate may be elected – such as the town clerk-treasurer – the person currently serving in the position remains in office automatically for another term,

King said Indiana code provides that it’s up to the county election board to determine if an election will be held in a city or town in the general election if there’s no contested election there. If the election board votes not to have a general election for a city or town, then the incumbent serves another term.

“It is possible for a town to go many years without an election,” King said.

“It may seem unusual (to not have an election), but it’s not uncommon,” King said. The U.S. Constitution anticipated that there may be times when there are not enough people interested in serving and running for election, and there’s an interest in not having a vacancy in an elected position.