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6 vie for 3 At-Large seats on Porter County Council

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By LILY REX

In the general election Tuesday, Nov. 3, six candidates--three Democrats and three Republicans-- will vie for three At-Large seats on the Porter County Council.

The field includes incumbent Democrats Dan Whitten and Sylvia Graham, Democrat challenger Susie Talevski, former Republican Council member Andy Bozak, and Republican challengers Craig Kenworthy and Mike Brickner.

The Chesterton Tribune invited all to participate in a candidate questionnaire. The Tribune set word limits and reserved the right to edit for length.

1) Age, place of residence, occupation.

Bozak: 37, Burns Harbor, Director of Operations at Reliable Transportation Specialists Inc.

Brickner: 59, Washington Township (Valparaiso, Ind.). Director of Operations Lake County Community Corrections.

Graham: I have lived in Valparaiso all of my adult life. I am a retired Family Nurse Practitioner, presently serving my third term on the Council.

Kenworthy: 59, Valparaiso, Ind., Union Pipefitter for Local 597.

Talevski: Valparaiso, Ind. Attorney.

Whitten: I am 54 years young (depending on the day. Sometimes its 54 years old). I reside in Porter Twp. I am an attorney with my wife Stacey at Whitten & Whitten, Attorneys at law, located in Portage, Ind.

2) For incumbents: Why are you seeking re-election to the County Council? (75 words)

Graham: I am the only woman on the Porter County Council. I feel I have been helpful in setting budgets and keeping taxes low. I am available to answer questions and address problems for constituents. I feel my work is not done, and I still have the desire to serve. With my experience, knowledge, and commitment to the county, I will be beneficial to my constituents and the next council.

Whitten: Through my time in the United States Army, years as a police officer, and time in office, I have spent nearly my entire adult life in public service. I take great pride in serving Porter County. I would like to continue the work we have accomplished and are still accomplishing for the residents of our county, and would like to think that I am helping make it a better and safer place to live.

For challengers: Why are you seeking election to the Council? (75 words)

Bozak: Having previously served on the County Council I feel thereís more work to do in order to further secure a better future for our county and to make sure everyone gets a voice. I feel itís important to give back to your community and this is one way I can do that. I am able to work with all involved to help achieve this goal of consistent improvement.

Brickner: Iím a lifelong Porter County resident, passionate about preserving the quality of life we enjoy here. I decided not to sit on the sidelines and watch our Country be destroyed by radical agendas one state, city and, county at a time. This is the most crucial election of my lifetime and most likely my childrenís. My goal is to be a voice that will make the right choices for our County and bring fresh ideas.

Kenworthy: To work to ensure quality of life that the residents of Porter County have come to know and expect.

Talevski: I believe that it is the duty of every citizen to be politically engaged. In 2017, I watched the Porter County Council deny a local battered womenís shelter money from our Porter County Hospital Foundation Fund. This money is supposed to go towards supporting our charities and communities for health, safety and wellbeing, not other expenditures. I want to ensure these important organizations have a voice in our local government.

3) For incumbents: Describe your achievements in office. (100 words)

Graham: I helped bring the county budgets through the difficult days of 2009, and I served on the commission that brought 24 hour medical/nursing care to the jail. I voted to purchase the financial Low Software system, to build the animal shelter, and to invest in county property renovations, as well as replacing the faulty South Haven storm water system. I am a founding member of the Porter County Government Nonprofit Charitable Foundation. I supported the purchase of the new voting equipment as well as the new timekeeping system. Most importantly, I have voted to keep your county tax rate low.

Whitten: I was instrumental in creating the County Foundation, and implementing its by-laws and investment policy. Its creation has brought millions in earnings to our citizens. We have one of the most, if not the most solvent counties in the state. We have built new facilities, improved on existing buildings and through such, have created jobs. During my time, we have built a new Animal Shelter, updated the Government centers in Valpo and Portage. We have updated the Expo Center and remodeled the Memorial Opera House. Honestly, the list goes on, but I am limited to 100 words here.

For challengers: What specific skill sets would you bring to the Council if elected? (100 words)

Bozak: As I mentioned above, I have served on the County Council before and maintain a lot of experience in knowing what it takes to continue to move our county forward. I know how to work well with people. I make myself available to the residents of our county by giving out my personal cell phone number. I can and have led through adversity. And in my previous experience in serving on the council, we not only invested in our infrastructure and services, but also looked after the people who are employed by the county.

Brickner: My experience as Valparaiso Police Chief and Director of Public Safety for Porter County provided me the opportunity to work with city and county government. I understand the budget and the importance of collaboration to get things accomplished.

Kenworthy: I am currently the president of the Porter County Park Board. I have worked with both the Council and Commissioners in developing long-term budgetary solutions along with future planning of land acquisition for the park district. Thereby ensuring open space and recreational opportunities for future generations of Porter County residents.

Talevski: I have always been a peopleís advocate. I have a unique ability to empathize and sympathize with people. Iím genuinely kind, caring, and compassionate. I truly care about people. I also listen well. I intend on listening to the needs and concerns of the people of Porter County and doing all that I can to meet those needs and concerns. I will use my advocacy skills to be the voice of the people on the county council. Iím also very curious about seeking out new ideas and developing creative solutions to solve problems.

4) For incumbents: As a sitting member of the Council, what are the two things you think the Council could have handled better in the last four years? Explain. (100 words)

Graham: I feel I have been very successful working together with council members for the citizens of Porter County. I continue to fund service organizations that give great benefits back to our county. OE, FYS, and County Aging and Community Services are examples of this. I have supported investing and making improvements to our county properties along with staying up to date on roadwork and replacing aging bridges. All of these actions added years of service to these county owned buildings, while promoting job growth and not raising taxes for Porter County residents.

Whitten: Honestly, I think we did a solid job. Weíve created jobs, improved buildings and built new facilities. All the while, keeping taxes low. Although we gave a considerable sum for non-profits, had the market not been such a roller coaster ride at times, we could have given more. But, notwithstanding, weíve provided assistance to many. Had we been given a crystal ball, we could have braced better for the pandemic. But unfortunately, we did not. It seems clear to me that weíre heading in the right direction and things are on track to continue moving forward

For challengers: As a citizen seeking election to the Council, what are two things you think the Council has done a good job of the past four years? (100 words)

Bozak: Since I sat on the council within the past four years, I can name several of our accomplishments. I was part of the team that approved a $50 million investment in Porter County. We set up the Porter County Foundation and made sure we had a balanced and fair budget for the County. Additionally, when on the council, I had pushed for better communications throughout our County, both internally and publicly. My personal cell number is 219-508-7152 if you ever need to reach me.

Brickner: The Council did a good job developing and following through with the first capital improvement plan. Funds were properly allocated to invest in needed infrastructure improvements and many of the projects are either completed or near completion.

Kenworthy: (1) Working with the commissioners to renovate county buildings. (2) They have stayed within their budgetary constraints while maintaining county services.

Talevski: Construction of the new animal shelter was certainly a positive addition to our county. Also, I supported the councilís approval of the mobile voting vehicle purchase that the Clerk of the Court requested.

5) Differentiate yourself from your opponents and indicate why in particular you believe yourself to be the better candidate. (100 words)

Bozak: Most of the other candidates in this race are really good people that Iíve worked with previously. One of the major things I pride myself in is open communication. I make sure Iím available when people need help and make sure to always hear both sides of the situation before making a decision. I not only preach open communication, but practice it as well. I work well with both parties and make sure that any solution that I provide is well thought through and researched. I freely provide my personal cell phone number to anyone that needs it (219-508-7152).

Brickner: My leadership experience and work history in administrative positions make me the better candidate. I do not believe that being an elected official should be a career profession. Some of my opponents have been in County politics for years. County councilman/councilwoman is a part-time position. I do not agree with the fact that several of the part-time elected officials are receiving full-time County employee health benefits. This is approximately a $20,000 a year benefit per part-time employee.

Graham: I have 12 years of council budgeting experience. My attendance and voting record speak for itself. I answer phone calls and meet with constituents for discussions while working with many different departments to produce solutions. I have been fiscally responsible, voting for balancing budgets that promote job growth. I do not burden taxpayers by using county insurance and never have. I have worked on the Plan Commission, NICTD board, NIRPC, PCACS, WM and Recycling and the EMA. I am liaison to multiple county departments. I am retired and have the time and the energy to do the job.

Kenworthy: I am not a politician; I have completely self-funded my campaign and therefore am not beholden to any special interest group of citizens. I am a Union Pipefitter with 35 years of experience, so I understand the working-class citizens in this county. I know their struggles. I know their challenges. I come from a family of educators; I know the daily challenges of those who have devoted their lives to educating our children. I grew up around my grandparentís farm in Porter Township, therefore I know how important farmers are to this County.

Talevski: In agriculture we learn the importance of rotating the crops, just like in farming itís time to rotate out career politicians and bring in new people with fresh ideas. Iíve never served in elected office, and Iím not a career politician. As a new council member, I will bring new ideas, energy, and vision to the Council. In society, you need to have change in order to have renewal, rejuvenation, and revitalization. Also, Iím the most progressive out of the six people running. And frankly, this Council could use a progressive voice.

Whitten: As I state below, we all have our areas of strength. I have the experience of running County government. Additionally, I have extensive knowledge of municipal law. My wife and I have represented several municipalities over the years. That experience has given me the insight into the numerous legal issues that confront the Council. My years as a bankruptcy attorney have given me the opportunity to help many Porter County families through difficult times. This understanding of issues that families in our County face, has given me a special understanding of the issues facing the whole County.

6) What are the key issues in this race? (75 words)

Bozak: One of the largest challenges we face is our expected lower tax revenues due to the COVID-19 health crisis. The Council and all departments must take steps to help offset some of these financial losses, and yet still manage to provide the services our citizens have come to expect. This all has to happen while still maintaining one of the lowest county tax structures in all of Indiana. I do not support increasing taxes.

Brickner: County leadership should develop a second capital improvement plan on how to wisely appropriate and allocate funds from the Porter County Non-Profit Charitable Foundation. There must be collaboration and synergy between Council members and Commissioners to accomplish big picture goals and initiatives. County leadership must review and update all County ordinances. County leadership needs to be vigilant in properly managing growth so as to not compromise the agricultural landscape which makes Porter County aesthetically appealing.

Graham: Itís going to take experience to budget amid COVID-19. The County is in solid financial shape. However, we must remain vigilant. I will remain fiscally responsible, keeping taxes low. I want to continue investing in county projects that will promote job growth. Public safety, with drug prevention and rehab programs being a must. Our roads must be maintained with water testing to protect our ecosystem.

Kenworthy: The key issues of this race are maintaining our quality of life for residents while staying within the budget. Funding our law enforcement departments so they can be provided the tools they need to maintain law and order within this County. Along with finding funding to increase and develop park land.

Talevski: Jobs, infrastructure development, affordable housing, the health and safety of the residents, economic losses due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has become a top priority. County leaders need to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the county. Iím particularly concerned about our elderly population, especially those in nursing homes. The county should invest in acquiring protective masks so that everyone can have access to masks irrespective of ability to pay.

Whitten: Weíre on the right track, improving quality of life for residents. I have the experience and knowledge of municipal budgets to continue that growth and keep our county tax rate low. The issues come down to this: Do people like the direction our county is going? Weíve funded safe schools projects, done extensive drainage system upgrades, paved many miles of highway, given public safety the tools they need, and used Foundation earnings for social services.

7) What are your priorities for the use of the funds in the Porter County Non-profit Charitable foundation? (75 words)

Bozak: We must ensure the Foundation funds are still there for future generations. We should never spend the principle but invest only the interest generated within Porter County. If the Council decides to establish a charitable arm of this foundation in the future, we must ensure that it is properly established with the appropriate checks and balances. Plus, we need to guarantee that the monies allocated from this fund are invested responsibly in our Countyís future.

Brickner: My priorities are investing in our County roads with an initial substantial investment to catch up for a manageable road improvement plan. We must allocate funds for the MAAC foundation. The quality of life in Porter County we all enjoy is dependent on our citizens being and feeling safe. During this time when one party advocates for defunding law enforcement, I will be committed to increasing funding for training for all public safety.

Graham: We should have the ability to continue meeting our obligations for funding our County service organizations, however, I will monitor the situation closely. Examples of expected state money losses include road funds due to losses in gas taxes. I expect losses in casino revenue funds that support our drug task force team, as well as employee longevity pay. Both are important line items that will be maintained. If adjustments are needed, Iíll vote for them.

Kenworthy: To fund capital projects that have been identified by county government. To help nonprofit agencies throughout the County in their mission to serve our Countyís at risk residents.

Talevski: The Porter County Non-Profit Foundation money belongs to the people. When elected to the Porter County Council, Iíll ensure that we create a grant making process to begin distributing the interest generated from our investments. From small cities like Burns Harbor and Hebron, to local non-profits across the County, we can use this money for community needs. The principal will always remain invested and the fund sustainable, but the profits need to be fairly dispersed.

Whitten: We need to continue using its earnings for the betterment of the county. We used some of the earnings for social services, but also used the foundation to promote growth for the county. It has been a mechanism to keep the County tax rate down, to ensure that we don't "tax families out of the county.Ē Managing a watchful eye on the investments is paramount in the shifting sands of the investment world these days

8) National issues often dominate political conversations, and some would say tensions are running especially high due to the upcoming presidential election. Explain why local government is where youíve chosen to serve and why itís important to you? (100 words)

Bozak: While federal policies dominate the headlines, policies and taxes on the local level have more direct influence on your everyday life. Itís important to serve where you feel you will have the most positive impact on your community. My previous experience will help the Council move in a positive direction. Being a local official would allow me to work directly with the people whose lives we are impacting, and help make our community a better place to live. After all, I have a vested interest in making Porter County a great place to live - my family resides here!

Brickner: Local government is the most effective form of government. Most accomplishments are seen at the local level. At the local level, there is opportunity for the residents to connect with their elected officials and be more engaged in the decision-making process.

Graham: I have been a person helping others most of my life. I am a previous 4-H leader, and a retired RN, FNP. Carole Knoblock, a previous County Commissioner, was my friend, and I helped her with her campaigns. One day she asked me if I would run for office, and I said yes. I have been a County elected official for the past 12 years, and it has been enjoyable. I am getting satisfaction in helping my County, and I find it very satisfying to give back to the County that has been so good to me.

Kenworthy: I feel the average resident of this County deserves to have their views heard. Sometimes with all the other noise that goes on, peopleís voices get lost. I want to be the person who listens to those people and bring their issues and thoughts to County government.

Talevski: First, local government has the most direct impact over your day to day life. From maintaining our local infrastructure to protecting our lakeshore to creating job growth, the County is the first responder to the needs of our residents. Also, during this time it is important for women to step up into positions of leadership. There is only one other woman on the Council, and itís time we have more representation in local government.

Whitten: Yes, this national election is starting to feel like ďMr. Toadís Wild Ride.Ē Itís hard to predict how it will affect local government and local races. I have chosen to serve as a County Councilman because budgets and funding challenges are in my wheelhouse. Local government often can have the most impact on the day to day lives of the families in our County. I take great pride and consider it a privilege to be able to take part making our County a better place to live, work and raise a family.

9) Describe an experience you have had outside of serving in/campaigning for local government office that elevated your understanding of how local government affects everyday people. (125 words)

Bozak: Years ago, my son had a seizure and had to be taken to the hospital. We called an ambulance, and it was then we found out that the town of Burns Harbor had no ambulance service of its own. An outside service had to be called in, which added valuable, life-threatening minutes. Burns Harbor ended up getting a service years later, but I remember thinking this is a reason to run for office. After I got on the BH council, I made sure we always had funds to run that service.

Brickner: Our County residents do not and should not rely on local government to interfere with how they conduct their everyday lives. Government at all levels should be non- invasive and most citizens want their government basically to leave them alone to live their lives. What I have experienced is that our residents want to go to work, pay their bills and enjoy what free time they have. What our residents should expect from their government officials is professional properly-funded public safety, well maintained roads, sewer and drainage solutions, a properly managed park system, good schools and elected officials who recognize we represent and work for them.

Graham: While having a garage sale, a dog appeared on our property looking very frightened. A family member caught him and secured him on a leash, as we called the animal shelter and alerted them of the situation. They told me it was Saturday, and they would be by on Monday. I told him that was not an acceptable answer. Within an hour, an animal officer appeared and took the dog -- two hours later, a nearby homeowner appeared and thanked me for assisting in helping return his animal safely to him. All worked well, as it should have. This incident helped me realize the importance of County-funded areas being able to assist citizens when needed, and in a timely manner.

Kenworthy: I am currently the president of the Porter County Park Board. The most recent task that I have accomplished as president of the Park Board was to work with the Commissioners and the Council in conveying the Zona Wildlife sanctuary from the Commissioners to the Park Board. This was done over an extended period of time but through cooperation of all involved the task was completed. I have also worked the past nine years on the Park Board in developing budgets and planning for the County Park Department. I served on the board of the Porter County youth league and developed a knowledge of the need for recreational opportunities for the families of this County.

Talevski: As a two-time Democratic National Convention Delegate for the great state of Indiana, I realized the importance of electoral politics. Thousands of people coming together to create meaningful change across our nation. When we use our voice on a local level, we can elevate our County to higher standards and create a more inclusive, just, and equitable society. It all starts at the local level!

Whitten: With my wife Stacey, I have represented numerous government agencies throughout the region. As such, I gained experience and knowledge of municipal law. That includes an understanding of what government should and should not do. And more importantly, how its actions can impact its citizenry. Further, as a bankruptcy attorney, I have met with thousands of Porter County families. I see firsthand the struggles that many of our families are and will be facing. I have made it my lifeís work to help struggling families through difficult times. As I have stated above, through military service on the United States Army, police service and serving on various volunteer boards, I have made public service a priority in my life.

10) The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis the likes of which our nation hasnít seen in over a century – since the 1918 influenza pandemic. What are your specific plans for leading Porter County through this crisis? (125 words)

Bozak: As we go through this unprecedented time, I feel itís very important that the Council works with all department heads, plus the Commissioners, to make sure that funds are available for what is needed to protect County employees and the general public. The Council is the financial arm of the government, and itís important that communication flows freely so everyone involved can make sure that the tools are provided to protect people as best we can. This is a pandemic that we are still learning about, and we are processing new information weekly. We need to make sure we stay on top of the newest recommendations from the CDC and our own Porter County Health Department.

Brickner: As leaders we must use wisdom when challenged with any crises. As we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, we must understand that the virus is real and has and will continue to affect many of our residents. We have been inundated with so much information, we donít exactly know what is fact or fiction. We need to take precautions around our most vulnerable citizens, which includes our own family members. We must also open up our Country. Our kids need to be in school and our businesses need to open. People want and need to get back to their jobs.

Graham: Since the COVID-19 onset, Iíve participated in weekly zoom meetings with the commissioners, sheriff, health department, and Porter Hospital lead by the Emergency Management department. Each area reports concerns and questions. A County site was opened at Northshore in Portage for testing along with Porter, HealthLinc, and Kouts. The county health department says, through grants, Porter County will have two new test sites where people may go and be tested for free. A new test site in Portage opened at 6040 Lute Road, monitored by Porter Regional Hospital. As a councilperson, I pledge to continue to keep people informed and strongly suggest all follow the CDC guidelines of safe distancing, hand washing/sanitizing, and wearing a mask. Iíll keep citizens informed as I learn of changes.

Kenworthy: The County Council oversees the budget for governmental budgets in Porter County. The best way I know to get through the COVID-19 crisis economically is to provide the financial support that each department needs to continue to function during this crisis.

Talevski: First, it is essential that all of our elected officials heed the advice of our nationís top public health experts. We should lead with science, not partisanship. I believe that Indiana acted late in establishing a state-wide mask mandate, which cost lives. If I was on the County Council, I wouldíve worked to ensure a Countywide mask mandate at the same time Marion county established it. Going forward, I would like to make sure that everyone has access to personal protective equipment. After months of isolation, I would also like to guarantee that our mental health services are fully-funded and accessible to everyone.

Whitten: I was in office during the last major recession. Iím no stranger to governing during a financial crisis. That having been said, COVID-19 has created a crisis of new proportions. Primarily my concern is the public health. We have ensured that the public has access and information to weather this storm. But beyond that, government has to be mindful that many small businesses will be trying to recover. As a small business owner, I understand this daunting task that lies ahead. We should be open minded, and invite all stakeholders in brainstorming the road ahead. Conventional thinking may no longer apply. We are in new ďnorm.Ē We have to be willing to step up and provide the resources necessary to navigate through the recovery.

 

Posted 10/15/2020

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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