Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Erik Wagner and Levi Mele vie for Ward 1 Porter Town Council seat

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Editor's Note click below or scroll down for an interview with Erik Wagner:

Erik Wagner

 

Levi Mele

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.

Emphasis on drainage

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 residents.

“I think (drainage) could be more of a priority for the town. Residents pay quite a bit to have those services,” Mele said.

School activities

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 Northwestern University.

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.”

Town governments 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.

Technology

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 lot.

Mele suggests 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.”

For any developments in the future, Mele said, “I think we should find a nice balance of businesses we can agree on.”

Employee raises

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

Improving the 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.

 

 

Erik Wagner

By JEFF SCHULTZ

Democrat Erik 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 representative.

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 ago.

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.

Wagner currently 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 town flavor

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.

Family events

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.

 

Posted 10/23/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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