By JEFF SCHULTZ
Porter’s Ward 1
race for Town Council belongs to the younger crowd as 28 year-old Levi Louis
Mele is the Republican running against Democrat Eric Wagner, who is 25.
Mele is relatively
new in town as he’s lived here for about two and a half years in one of the
homes just north of Seven Peaks Water Park. Mele works as a district manager
for Aldi Inc. in Valparaiso.
The water park is
how Mele became familiar with Porter town government as he has worked with
staff and officials toward improving drainage issues for the neighbors. He
hopes to see more storm drainage ditches put along U.S. 20 to help the
“I think (drainage)
could be more of a priority for the town. Residents pay quite a bit to have
those services,” Mele said.
But Mele has had a
keen interest in public service and leadership since he was a high school
student in Utah and acted as class president. While in school, he won a
state championship and continued wrestling all four years of college at
Mele studied Social
Policy and Education at Northwestern University and was an intern for U.S.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in 2012. While involved at Boys State of Utah in
2005, he was elected as its Lt. Governor and actively took leadership in
starting new programs designed to invite new participants.
Today, Mele helps
youth in the Scouts and in wrestling programs as “a “way of giving back.”
“I always involve
myself with many activities,” Mele said in an interview with the
Chesterton Tribune. “I’ve always wanted to be a good citizen and get
involved in the community.”
typically get overshadowed by national politics, Mele finds, and his wish is
for more people to get involved in their own hometowns where the decisions
by town officials impact their every day lives.
If elected, Mele
said he would like to make services more convenient for residents. For those
who are tech-savvy, he suggests the Town implement an online or mobile
payment option for the sewer bills, but still keep the current methods, such
as paying by check or cash, for those who prefer having that option.
Porter Beach passes
He is also curious
about what can be done better with the parking passes for Porter Beach. The
town sold out of the 600 available passes in a matter of days, but whenever
he goes to the beach, there is rarely a time that he sees many cars in the
offering premium passes to those who want to secure a spot for the beach and
events like the 4th of July firework shows but offer have standard passes
that people can use when they go to the beach on regular days so they can
have access to the lot.
As far as Porter
Beach goes, Mele said he’s okay with having dogs on the beach as long as the
owner is responsible.
Growth for Porter
Mele said he wants
to find ways the Town Council can encourage business growth along U.S. 20
and in the downtown area. He thinks Chesterton has had more of the spotlight
with development and tourism while Porter has “taken the back seat.”
The town should
focus on supporting the types of businesses and organizations that are here
now in the downtown area as opposed to having a giant retail store, he said.
“I want to maintain
that small town feel. It’s why I decided to live here with my family.”
developments in the future, Mele said, “I think we should find a nice
balance of businesses we can agree on.”
Mele said he cannot
say whether he agrees with the Town Council on their intention to give
employees a 3 percent salary raise in 2016 until he sees what the budget
numbers are. As a manager for five Aldi stores overseeing 80 employees, Mele
said raises should be given “if it makes sense to do so, not because it
sounds good.” With that said, Mele said he is a believer in taking care of
your employees while being fiscally conservative.
Quality of life
quality of life is Mele’s next priority. Mentioning the intersection of U.S.
20 and Waverly Rd. which is in proximity to businesses, residences and the
waterpark, Mele said he would like to see more done for storm drainage as
residents have experienced standing water in their yards.
Having more bike
trails is another aspiration Mele holds for the town.
Mele said he is
passionate about community involvement and would like to work with employees
to come up with service projects that would drive residents’ interest in
becoming active in the community.
“We have a lot of
good people and a lot of good things. I hope we can bring that all
together,” he said. “I like the quality of life here and being able to get
to know your neighbors. Porter is a really great place.”
The winner of the
Ward 1 race on Election Day, Nov. 3, will succeed current seat holder David
Wodrich who chose not to seek reelection.
By JEFF SCHULTZ
Wagner has called Porter home for all 25 years of his life and he wants to
give back by joining the Town Council next year as the 1st Ward
If he is the victor
in his race against Republican Levi Mele, it won’t be Wagner’s first brush
with town government. Wagner was appointed to the Town’s Advisory Plan
Commission about three years ago and the Redevelopment Commission two years
Wagner threw his
hat in the race for Council in 2011, but withdrew to work as campaign
manager for Elka Nelson. They ran a campaign advocating more transparency
and accountability by the Council.
But the interest in
politics started for Wagner in high school when he interviewed town
officials and candidates on the air at WDSO and continued at Purdue North
Central where he helped redraw the population districts in town for a class
project once the data from the 2010 census was released.
works in town as general manager of Wagner’s Ribs, which his family has
owned for nearly 30 years.
Carrying the torch
In an interview
with the Chesterton Tribune, Wagner said he is also a regular
volunteer at park events and looks forward to helping out at each Family
Fourth Fest. “I do what I can,” he said.
Wagner said he is
much in favor of the current Council’s leadership and, comparing it to the
previous one four years ago, thinks there have been many improvements. He
hopes the same spirit will carry forward the next four years.
“I think they’ve
done a really good job. With the last Council, everything was bad. Just bad.
I’m happy that they are leaving me with a good show,” he said.
Wagner said his
goals if elected would include “making sure we are staying positive” by
following the example of the current Council. Another is to keep up to date
on the economy and how it is expected to grow so the Council can plan
accordingly on how to attract businesses growth in town.
The best way to
stay positive would be to expand on communication with the Council, staff
and residents, he said. For example, the town could improve drainage
problems without adding costs by collaborating on a workable solution. The
same goes for building new roads. Wagner feels there are too many roads in
“really bad” condition and he would also like to see those areas cleaned up.
“We see bottles
just tossed to the side of the road. It’s just horrible,” he said
Keeping the small
A major focus four
years ago was on the Gateway to the Dunes that laid out a plan to mobilize
economic development around the Ind. 49 and U.S. 20 area. Wagner said he was
“not a big fan” of all that was laid out since a lot of the jobs created
would be temporary jobs.
What he’d rather
see are businesses that can bring permanent jobs, local shops in particular.
Instead of relying on the Gateway Plan, Wagner would like to steer more
focus toward what can be done with the unique assets the town has already
and collaborating more with the Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore.
Porter is a place
where people can get closer to nature thanks to the variety of trails that
have been designed and built over the last 15 years, Wagner said, such as
the Brickyard Trail, the Orchard Pedestrian Trail and more recently the
first stage of the Dunes-Kankakee Trail. Additionally with Porter Beach,
Wagner said he likes seeing “a lot of things to do here while maintaining a
small town feel.”
Roads and safety
Wagner said he
would also like to uphold public safety as a councilman and has looked with
a safety perspective during his votes on the plan commission. Such as the
time when the Commission was recommending a site plan for Dollar General at
the U.S. 20/Waverly Rd. intersection, Wagner voted no on the basis that he
felt the business needed a right in/right out cut onto U.S. 20, which he
thought would be safer than a full exit.
He said more steps
can be taken at Porter Beach to better warn visitors about dangerous
conditions in the water such as more signs to educate when you shouldn’t go
into Lake Michigan.
Wagner feels the
$2,600 line launcher and life saving device purchased for police and fire to
have at Porter Beach was worth the cost and the Council should be open to
making such purchases if they are a benefit to public safety.
“If they truly need
something, (the Council) needs to make it happen, because you are talking
about saving someone’s life,” Wagner said.
Wagner said he’s
fine with the Council’s decision to amend the ban on pets at Porter Beach by
allowing people to bring their dogs west of State St., but he personally
like to see the decision be “all or nothing” as it’s likely to cause
confusion, especially for out-of-town beachgoers.
Lastly, Wagner said
he hopes there can be more events in town and in the parks like the Family
Fourth Fest where both adults and children can enjoy the activities offered.