HOBART — Hobart Township Assessor Randall Guernsey is being accused of firing his full-time staff to punish their political disloyalty.
Lloyd Mullen, a Crown Point attorney representing six of Guernsey's former employees, said last week he intends to sue Guernsey and the county for a patronage political practice that has been outlawed for several decades.
"Lake County knew what he did was wrong. The whole thing is ridiculous. This will cost the taxpayers a bunch of money for not following the well-known and understood rules," Mullen said.
The combined salaries of the six former employees exceeded $177,000 annually, according to county records.
Lake County Attorney Matthew Fech, who represents the Lake County commissioners, and Nicholas Snow, an assistant county attorney representing Guernsey, said they have investigated claims against Guernsey, but are not commenting on them it at this time.
The allegations against Guernsey, who didn't return a call seeking comment, concern his campaign last spring for re-election.
Guernsey has served several decades in public office, including 11 years as a Merrillville Town Council member and 12 years as Ross Township assessor. He ran unsuccessfully for county assessor in 2010. He was first elected Hobart Township assessor four years ago.
Allen R. Price, one of the six employees now threatening to sue him, challenged Guernsey in the May 8 Democratic primary.
Mullen argues in his written notice to county government that Guernsey used his official authority to benefit his campaign and "transformed the office into a hostile work environment."
Mullen alleges the day after Guernsey defeated Price 1,640 votes to 1,439 votes in the spring primary, Guernsey targeted Price and other employees who didn't work for Guernsey's re-election campaign: Candice Burton, Alexandria Leonard, Lorie Leonard and Brenda Swallow.
The five represent Guernsey's entire full-time staff, according to county payroll records. Mullen said Guernsey also terminated Denise Kendall, a part-time clerk, for political reasons.
Mullen said Guernsey changed disfavored employees' work hours, shortened their lunch break and forced them to do health screenings to lower their insurance premiums and continuing education training after work hours.
Mullen claims Guernsey fired the office's cleaning lady and put his defeated opponent, Price, in charge of cleaning the office. Price had been Guernsey's deputy assessor in charge of real estate assessments and the employee with the most seniority.
Mullen said all six were fired after the primary election. "(Guernsey) is claiming he didn't terminate them, but he got rid of them."