Someone who has
worked hard for years to get candidates elected is on the ballot himself in
this November’s general election. Portage Twp. resident Jeff Chidester faces
current County Council member Republican Jim Biggs.
Democrat, said he pledges to become a full-time commissioner after he
retires next year as the financial secretary and treasurer for Ironworkers
“I want to give
back to the community and do something in public service,” Chidester said in
an interview with the Chesterton Tribune.
Although he has not
held elected office, Chidester, 63, is known in Porter County as the
chairperson of the Democratic Central Committee. He has worked on many
campaigns but this is the first of his own.
Chidester grew up
in Lake County and served on the Lake County Plan Commission and the City of
Hobart’s Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals years ago. He made the
move to Porter County about 13 years ago and has been a resident since.
represented the County for a short time on the Northwest Indiana Regional
Bus Authority, appointed by fellow Democrats and former County Commissioners
Bob Harper and Carole Knoblock.
While there are
other elected offices that he could pursue, Chidester said he feels he is
best suited for Commissioner because of his 20 years of financially managing
the Ironworkers Union budget which consists of $672 million, 4,500 pensions
and health plans across three states. He has been a member of the Union for
He is interested in
improving the County’s employee health plan which makes up a significant
portion of the General Fund, costing as much as $9 million annually. While
he is pleased to see a savings being earned with reference-based pricing in
the plan, Chidester said it has limitations on where employees can go get
the treatment they want.
He hopes the
Commissioners can merge the current plan with another that would give more
options while remaining cost-efficient.
“If we can’t offer
our employees the highest salaries, we should at least give them a decent
health care and pension plan,” said Chidester.
The plan should
also work to educate employees about their health as a way to encourage them
to take part in the wellness program and minimize the number of claims. The
plan should include incentives such as lower co-pays for wellness
participants, Chidester said.
Another goal for
Chidester, if elected, would be to get started right away on remediating all
major drainage problems in the county. The Stormwater Drainage Board began
this year with fixing ditch problems using the revenues collected from the
new stormwater fee, more than $3 million. Chidester said he would prefer to
bond for projects, making more funds available, and then give local
contractors a chance to bid on the work.
The more quickly
drainage projects can get done, the better opportunities Porter County will
have for economic development, Chidester said. Farmers will have more
tillable land and yield higher profits on crops and businesses will have
better infrastructure. “At the end of the day, it creates jobs,” said
The bonds can be
paid off with what the County brings in from its stormwater fee, he said.
Chidester said he
would like to move further with the study on County facilities and wishes to
build on to the Administration Building in the courtyard area accessible
from the lower level near the Health Department and Voters Registration
office. There could be a permanent room for early voting so it would no
longer have to be “in a broom closet,” and voting equipment could be stored
there too instead of where it is now in an area sitting off of the parking
something Chidester said he takes seriously and as a Commissioner, he would
propose a committee made up County Election Board members, directors of the
Voters Registration office, a Commissioner and a County Council member, to
work together on what’s the most agreeable for voting equipment and the
election process. Chidester has been an opponent of the Election Board’s
decision to purchase e-poll books which other Democrats blamed for
difficulties in the 2015 municipal election.
have rallied around consolidating voting centers as a way to make voting
more efficient. Chidester said he’d rather keep the system with precinct
locations and argues the way elections are held should not be based on
“dollars and cents.”
“There is no price
you can put on democracy, in my opinion,” Chidester said.
If he becomes a
Commissioner, Chidester would be on the trustee board for the Porter County
Government Nonprofit Charitable Foundation along with the other two
Commissioners and seven County Council members. The Foundation is an
endowment fund holding the proceeds from the sale of Porter Memorial
Hospital and is expected to generate about $4 million in interest a year.
The trustees will determine how the interest is spent.
Chidester said he
thinks the interest would be best used to bridge funding gaps in the
County’s operating budget, particularly those for public safety and to
support the Sheriff’s Police pension fund.
“Let’s get that
taken care of and fix these things first,” he said.
If there is money
left over, Chidester said he would want the money to be used to make Porter
County more attractive to new businesses, capitalizing on the county’s
proximity to Chicago and having the Indiana Dunes as a tourism anchor.
View on TIFs
One way governments
can encourage redevelopment is by creating tax increment financing districts
that can pay for infrastructure improvements, by capturing tax revenues from
new commercial development. Chidester said he sees TIF districts as one
“tool” for development and doesn’t “rule them out” but feels they should not
divert funds away from schools or push assessed valuations closer to state
Chidester said he
is in favor of opening a gun range for the Sheriff’s Police and other police
departments in the county. The agencies would need to decide a location. The
County could pay for the materials and the labor could be donated, Chidester
Chidester said he
would like to see more people involved in government and would like to see
the Commissioner meetings be held in the evening rather than the afternoon.
That would continue the County’s efforts to being more transparent,
something he feels should be a priority. All contracts beyond a minimal
level should be put out to bid, he said, including the ambulance contract
the County currently has with Porter Regional Hospital. “We should bid
everything out, any project that has assorted contracts. The more
transparent you make government, the more faith you have from residents,”
Chidester said he
will be an impartial commissioner, although he has no intention of giving up
his post as chief of the county’s Democrat party. He is also the first
district chairman for the Indiana Democratic Party. Holding those positions
has been an advantage for him, he said, having the experience of working
with many other officials.
“I will be fair and
bipartisan, or else we would never get anything done,” Chidester said. “I
will work with both of the other commissioners (Democrat Laura Blaney and
Republican Jeff Good), and at the end of the day, I hope we get something
done for the people of Porter County.”
Chidester has been
endorsed by the Northwest Indiana Building Trades and Construction Trades
Council, the Portage Firefighters Union and the Northern Indiana Area Labor