Chesterton Tribune



Burns Harbor Democrats oust incumbents McGee and Weibl

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Democrats in Burns Harbor Sunday selected five names for their slate of candidates in this year’s race for Town Council: Craig Barnes, Eric Hull, Raymond Poparad, Marcus Rogala, Sr., and Nathan Tumblin.

Not on the slate are two incumbents -- Gene Weibl and current Council president Jim McGee. Two other challengers, James Constantine and Brad Enslen, were also unsuccessful.

On a dog day afternoon, 105 voters packed the garage at the Burns Harbor Fire Station for the Democrat Town Convention. The task at hand was to select five out of nine nominees for the November municipal election ballot for the Town Council at-large seats and also to decide a candidate in a contested race for Clerk-Treasurer.

In the first round of voting, Rogala took the most votes with 72, followed by Poparad with 67 votes, Hull with 62 votes and Barnes with 60 votes, each securing a spot on the ballot.

Clerk-Treasurer incumbent Jane Jordan easily defeated her opponent, winning 75 votes to Marianne Juscik-Minier’s 28 votes.

But in the first round, no other candidate captured a majority to earn a place as the party’s fifth candidate for Council. The closest was Tumblin with 49 votes, followed by Weibl with 42 votes, McGee with 37, Enslen with 33 and Constantine with 21.

According to convention rules set by the Indiana Democrat Party, a second ballot was held. This time, voters could only vote for one candidate. Eliminating Constantine since he had the least votes the first round, the outcome for the second vote was Tumblin - 48, Weibl - 35, McGee - 11, and Enslen - 9.

With no candidate winning a majority, a third ballot was needed, this time with Enslen knocked out. Tumblin earned the majority with 52 votes. Weibl took 41 votes and McGee took 7.

Before the vote, each candidate was allowed five minutes to speak. All spoke except for Constantine who was a no-show.

Incumbents speak

The future of Burns Harbor seemed to be a key issue for the candidates with references to growth and the revitalization plan currently being undertaken by the Town’s Redevelopment Commission with master developer advisor and consultant LiveWorkLearnPlay.

The RDC offered the contract to LWLP earlier this year for $350,000 paid from revenues captured in the town’s tax increment finance areas. An outline of the plan was given last month discussing the concept of bringing year-round events and new industries to the town.

After hearing of his defeat, Weibl, an RDC member who has advocated the strategies proposed by LWLP, told the Chesterton Tribune he “understands people being afraid of change” but believes they would have shared in the vision had they “really been able to see what was trying to be accomplished.”

“And truly, it’s our fault that we did not communicate that,” Weibl said.

Weibl in his address to the audience touted the fact that the RDC has received a $1.65 million NIRPC grant and has granted TIF funds to the Duneland School Corporation.

Meanwhile, McGee told convention members of his 14 years as a Council member and his continued support for each department. He said he was unsure of what the future holds for Burns Harbor but he would continue seek input from other town officials in big decisions.

McGee’s, in comments to the Tribune afterward, said it was apparent to him that voters “wanted a change.”

“I think they were happy about the outcome (of the vote). It’s what they wanted,” he said. McGee added he was proud to see “everyone being very professional” and treating each other respectfully throughout the convention.

Of those on the ballot, four have a connection to public service in Burns Harbor. Rogala is currently the Town Park Board President, Barnes had been the town marshal for a brief span in 2012, Poparad is a former Council member and fire chief and Hull has served on the Plan Commission and recently replaced Greg Miller on the Town Council.

Tumblin works as an operating engineer in the private sector.

The Convention

Chairing the convention for a third time was Amy Zehner. Nick Loving served as recording secretary and Gordon McCormick as sergeant-at-arms.

Signing voters in were Democrat Party Chair Jeff Chidester and Porter County Voters Registration Democrat Director Kathy Kozuszek.

Registration ran from 2 to 3 p.m. The first order of business was Zehner’s challenge of fourteen participants’ eligibility to vote. By a show of hands, each of the fourteen were declared by the audience as eligible to vote.

Kozuszek told the Tribune there are 291 registered Democrats in Burns Harbor, indicating a strong turnout with 105 participants. But there are also 509 non-partisan voters and 161 Republican voters registered in the town who could have participated in the convention if allowed by the participants.

The convention went longer than in 2007 and 2011 since the Council has moved to all at-large seats, finishing at about 5:30 p.m.

There was audible vexation each time a new ballot had to be conducted as no one could leave the convention until all the candidates were decided. As participants lodged complaints, Kozuszek said state lawmakers recently have given small towns with populations under 3,500 the ability to choose to participate in a primary elections, so conventions can be forgone in future election years.

November ballot takes shape

The five successful candidates for Town Council will face four on the Republican side in November -- Toni Biancardi, Andy Bozak, Phyllis Constantine and Jeff Freeze.


Posted 8/17/2015




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