On Tuesday, May 3,
Republicans Travis Gearhart, Jeff Larson, Ralph G. Levi, Howard O’Connor,
and Rich Parks will vie for their party’s nomination for the three at-large
seats on the Porter County Council.
Voters may cast
ballots in this race for up to three candidates.
Tribune invited Gearhart, Larson, Levi, O’Connor, and Parks to respond
to a questionnaire. The Tribune reserved the right to edit the
responses for length.
(1) Age, place of
Chesterton; sales engineer, Midwest sales territory, Capital Refractories.
Chesterton; teacher at Chesterton High School, owner of Larson Contracting
Jackson Township; retired Porter County Sheriff’s Police officer.
Hebron, master technician, Whirlpool Corporation.
Valparaiso; president, Hospitality White/Peterman Properties, Inc.
(2) What are your
qualifications for serving on the Porter County Council? (100 words)
have been involved in local government for several years. In addition to
advising candidates and elected officials, I was elected to the Hebron Town
Council in 2011 and served on many local boards, such as regional
development and branding committees. I was also the Hebron Police
government experience, I have a double BA in public relations and political
science and manage the sales of refractory materials and equipment for an
international company across the Midwestern United States, where I'm
actively involved in attracting new clients, making new sales, and managing
Successful business owner since 1984. Accomplished classroom leader at
Chesterton High School since 1998. As a teacher I have worked with several
municipalities and Porter County organizations at paid and volunteered
positions. Past member of local Labor and Carpenter unions. Past board
member of Porter County Park Foundation, Christmas in April, Rebuilding
Duneland, Housing Opportunities. Current board member and trustee of
Chesterton Cemetery. Current president of the Liberty Township Board.
Education includes Chesterton High School graduate, Indiana State
University, Indiana Wesleyan, and Ivy Tech. Proud lifetime Porter County
resident and part of five generations of business owners.
Levi: I was
employed by the Porter County Sheriff’s Police for 33 years and worked with
the County Council on budget matters numerous times. I am very familiar with
grant writing and presentations, which seem to be commonly applied for
throughout county offices now. I have small-business, employee-relations,
and budgetary knowledge, which should be helpful too. In addition, I served
five years on the local Alcoholic Beverage Board. I want to continue to
serve my community and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. I also have
the time necessary to be a productive and active Council member.
qualifications are I am a concerned citizen that has lived in Porter County
for over 20 years. I spent four years on the Hebron Plan Commission. State
delegate 2013. Ran for Hebron Town Council.
degree from Purdue University included many courses in strategic and fiscal
planning. I work in national real-estate development and am responsible for
planning, budgeting, and managing large complex projects. I rely on
strategic and fiscal planning to make decisions, measure results against
those plans, and believe in benchmarking our business against others. Our
business involves hundreds of millions of dollars. I make daily decisions
about maximizing revenue while controlling cost. I work with folks who don’t
always agree with me and I’m not always right, so I listen. My experience
makes me a natural fit for the seat.
(3) What in your
view are the main issues in this race? (150 words)
Specifically, I want to work unilaterally with the rest of the County
Council and the Commissioners to wisely put the uninvested portion of the
hospital money into our county infrastructure--to invest in Porter County's
future. There are a lot of different issues in this race, but I think the
top issue is the fiscal solvency of Porter County, and that means
responsible management of the hospital funds as well as responsible decision
making in all aspects of county government. I think that we need to
evaluate, as a county, where the uninvested portions can best help while
simultaneously looking at the needs of the towns and asking for input. I
think that supporting our county park system is also of the utmost
importance, as it is instrumental in maintaining a high quality of life for
Porter County residents.
Creating a safe and welcoming community environment; preventing illegal drug
use; investing in our young people through education, parks, and community
programs; expanding outreach programs to companies around the world,
inviting them to invest in our local economy/ job creation; updating
Infrastructure; and balancing budgets. Create an efficient plan for updating
all services in the county. Form community and business partnerships to
offset the cost of improvements in drainage, road, bridge, parks, sewer,
water, and access to rural communities. Eliminate duplication of services.
Evaluate every department and its efficiency or lack of. Qualify realistic
budgets and operate within them. Label immediate community-wide needs and
address them promptly. Use funds available to the county, i.e. grants,
previous taxes, and proceeds.
planning to avoid departments’ returning to the Council for additional
funding, some as soon as February and March of the fiscal year. County
buildings must be repaired and we must work with the Commissioners to get
would like to see health care for the county go out for bids. Need to
continue working on drainage issues. I would like to bring both sides
together and work as one for the people of Porter County. Need to get a
Uncertainty. I have had the opportunity to make presentations in many
counties and cities across the country. The ones that seemed to be the best
managed and able to make the most informed decisions were those that had
both a short term and longer term strategic and fiscal master plans. I
believe there are more opportunities for our community if we were more
proactive rather than reactive in these uncertain times. It’s hard and takes
effort and time. I am willing to dedicate the time to lead and be held
(4) The County
Council has agreed with the Commissioners to invest proceeds from the sale
of Porter Memorial Hospital in a foundation endowment fund. Proposed uses of
the proceeds from the fund include the new animal shelter, a Sunset Hill
Park activity center, and other capital projects. What are your priorities
for this fund? (125 words)
start, I would like to ensure that every community in Porter County is
involved in the decision via an advisory committee made up of
representatives of each section of Porter County. Ultimately, the people
that live within the communities know their particular towns better than
anyone and I think it would take some real hubris to assume otherwise.
Investing in infrastructure needs, along with other capital improvements and
projects, would help not only those that live in those areas but the region
as a whole as these projects create work in a dismal economy. People from
all over the county were patrons of that hospital (both of my own children
were born there) and those proceeds should be put to work for the people.
off, I think the forming of the foundation was long overdue. The money
belongs to the residents and should be used with the greatest impact to
specifically benefit them. That said, the money invested has been used as a
rainy day fund. I believe the foundation has a responsibility to vet each
investment opportunity. It should not be used for budgetary makeup. The
foundation should rate each opportunity on a scale of community benefit.
Large-scale projects should seek voter approval. Porter County residents
have waited too long to reap the benefits of these funds.
priority for this fund is to fix all the county-owned buildings in need of
repair. Eight out of 12 reportedly need fixes. Other projects are important
but if the county employees cannot function because of a building problem,
that repair should be first on the list. We must be careful with this fund.
I would like to see mandatory employee immunizations and more funding to the
Health Department for programs there. Both will save us money later on. I do
not wish to touch the principal and we should only tap a percentage of
interest each year so this fund grows.
would like to see some of the money go to Union and Boone townships to help
with developments. Hebron could use it to replace the aging infrastructure,
which then they could start to work on bringing in development on their west
and north sides of town.
believe we need to invest in infrastructure where the return on every dollar
spent is much greater than one for one. The county has many infrastructure
needs. Many of these infrastructure needs will lead to business creation.
Some of the best economic engines Indiana has are a conscientious and
dedicated workforce, a surplus budget, and Illinois tax rates. Porter County
needs to improve its position to support growth and prosperity taking
advantage of the opportunities that will continue to come our way. The
second place is in public safety. We need to make sure that our first
responder systems are adequately funded and equipped when compared to like
communities. We should be looking for ways to drive efficiencies in this
(5) Should the
Council continue the practice of freezing budgets at the previous year’s
levels, thereby forcing department heads to submit additional appropriation
requests during the budget year as shortages develop? What can be done to
improve the budget planning process? (125 words)
Departments should present and seek approval for a realistic and accurate
budget that reflects the specific funding needs, keeping in mind that the
expectation should be that the department is doing all it can to minimize
expenses while maintaining a high quality of workmanship. The Council’s
responsibility is to scrutinize and approve budget proposal requests and
make a determination on what funding individual departments will be
allocated, based on projected revenue for the county. If expenses exceed
revenue, it is the Council’s responsibility to determine how to move forward
from there. To improve this process, appropriate time, effort, and financial
stewardship must go into the budgeting process to strive for the fewest
requests for account transfers and additional funds as possible.
freeze ties the hands of department heads and forces them to ask for
additional appropriations typically before mid-year. The Council should
mandate a review of every department and require a full disclosure of
services provided by each. Each department should work unilaterally with
other departments to combine resources and material requests, thus avoiding
duplication errors. Department heads will review staffing requirements and
alternative employee scheduling. Departments should disclose sources of
additional funding and all such funding should be included in the common
budget. Data-driven department surveys combined with community input will
provide final appropriations. With these practices the Council will be able
to work from a balanced budget.
Levi: I do not
mind freezing budgets to have a controlled starting point. Returning for
more funding within a month or two of the start of any fiscal year shows
poor planning by departments. I do understand a few of them, such as
Coroner, Sheriff, and Highway, do have unexpected expenses and some are
mandated, but overall better planning is needed before the Council is
approached. Do they include in new budgets the additionals they needed last
year? More discussion is needed and perhaps the word “no” needs to be used.
believe all parties need to sit down and cut out what waste there is to have
a balanced budget. Sometimes you have to do without.
the budgets is kicking the can down the road. The citizens of Porter County
deserve a government which is well thought out and visionary. I have been at
the meetings where appropriations are discussed and it is always reactionary
and quite often dramatic. There are emergencies and they do need to be dealt
with but each department should be challenged to operate in a strategic and
fiscally responsible manner. We are not the only county of 170,000 plus
citizens and benchmarking against like counties seems appropriate.
(6) What is your
philosophy regarding funding for the County Park system? Do you favor the
proposed Sunset Hill Park activity center, the proposed youth sports park
near Kouts (Aukiki Park), and/or development of the proposed youth sports
park in Liberty Township (Brookdale Park)? (100 words)
philosophy regarding funding for the county park system is simple: it must
be funded appropriately. I think that all of the proposed development plans
have a good argument why they should be built/improved upon. The question is
does the funding coincide? I favor all of the aforementioned projects
personally, and if there is a way to make it work I am certain that with
some creative thinking and concessions from all involved we can come up with
an amicable solution.
Larson: I was a
member of the Park Foundation for several years. That said, the park
receives many donations from various resources. We need full accountability
of those funds and a realistic approach to expanding our park system, which
will generate further revenues. I feel the communities without developed
park facilities should be top priority. We have funds available and they
should be developed immediately. The remaining parks should be developed on
a greatest impact/benefit basis. We have incredible park properties and with
solid leadership, business, grant, and local investment, we can meet all of
the Porter County citizen’s needs.
Levi: I favor
all of the current projects going on, or currently under review for our
parks. I do not, however, believe every dream can come true. Did anyone
question why we are spending $13,000 on a dock for a pond in one of our
parks? Grant or not, are we expecting the Queen Mary to berth there? No
grant is free, there is a cost to us someplace.
O’Connor: I am
glad to see the County Park System is investing in parks for our youth. We
have some of the most beautiful parks in Porter County. Glad to see a park
down south near Kouts.
planned funding should be allowed keeping in balance social needs and fiscal
responsibilities. Looking at the specifics in the question. There is a next
question, which is fiscal sustainability. Youth parks are very important and
program usage provides a means of fiscal sustainability. It is important
that with each planned expenditure there is a way to make as much of the
upkeep financially neutral.
(7) The Council
approves the budget of and makes one appointment to the Porter Convention,
Recreation, and Visitors Commission (PCCRVC)--commonly referred to as the
Tourism Board--which in turn spends the proceeds from the innkeeper’s tax.
Do you share the PCCRVC’s priorities, including its support of Pavilion
Partners’ proposed banquet center at Indiana Dunes State Park? What changes,
if any, should be made in how the innkeeper’s tax is spent? (125 words)
think that that the Tourism Board has done a good job over the years of
bringing people to Porter County and putting a friendly, inviting face on
our community. Overall they’ve spent the innkeeper’s tax effectively. In
regards to the Pavilion, I am happy to see that there will be some badly
needed renovations on an aging structure; whether or not the banquet center
should be part of the solution to this problem is difficult, as the
lakeshore is not within the County Council’s scope or ability to do anything
other than posture. I won’t play politics with something that I will have
absolutely no control over, but I'll say that I hope that the natural beauty
of our lakeshore is maintained.
Larson: I spent
almost every summer day at the State Park and Porter Beach as a child. Some
of my fondest memories were going to Johnson’s Inn and getting a drink and a
hot dog. Later in life I had many friends employed as lifeguards at the
State Park. I fully support the Pavilion’s re-creation and the addition of
the beautiful restroom facilities. As a local resident I have a different
feeling about the banquet center. The tax, like any other, should be
reviewed yearly with an emphasis on local community benefit. Data should be
provided to the Council on how the moneys were spent and whom they benefited
the most. I’d like to see more of the tax revenues specifically benefit
Levi: I do not
share the Tourism Board’s support of Pavilion Partners. I was a member of
the ABC which held hearings on the permit application. At our last hearing,
for reasons I gave at the time, I voted to deny the alcohol permit. The
Tourism Board’s support troubled me and still does. Suffice it to say my
name will not be listed on any paperwork that allowed such a unique place to
be altered and I will object if the County Council is approached for any
funding for this project, its advertisement, or emergency response because
of problems that might occur and were not addressed. As far as other
innkeeper’s tax expenditures, I am happy they promote our county but every
budget needs a review.
believe having a banquet center at the Dunes can be a good thing to bring in
tourism dollars and people that have never seen the beautiful area of the
Dunes. Since there is alcohol sales they need to provide proper security.
Parks: I use
the Indiana Dunes State Park and consider it a treasure within our
community. In the past there was a lodge in the park as well as an active
Pavilion. The State of Indiana has been attempting to activate additional
uses for years in many of the State parks. I had thought that the use of
alcohol in the Pavilion was settled locally in an appropriate manner. I do
support activating state parks for appropriate uses. PCCRVC should plan and
budget based on community input related to the innkeeper’s tax.
(8) What can the
Council do to promote economic development in Porter County? (100 words)
continued support of our parks programs, investing time/money into
infrastructure, and the support and funding of our local police forces are
just three very important strategies that all work together to help ensure
that Porter County remains a community moving forward. Businesses want to
come to an area where there are people, and people want to come and, more
importantly, stay, in a county where there is a high quality of life. By
focusing on this, while simultaneously creating a business friendly
atmosphere, we can promote a strong economic climate in Porter County.
Council can work with the Commissioners to create a comprehensive
development plan that meets community needs. They can review and process
requests for TIF districts faster. They can invest in infrastructure
providing local jobs and promote shovel-ready projects. The council can look
to local suppliers and contractors for products and services. They can
present fiscal responsibility by balancing budgets and promote our excellent
schools and the tremendous workforce they provide. The council can work on
eliminating drug use in our community, through targeted programs, some
already in place, some needed, and promote a drug free work force.
check, and double-check budgets and speak to those that prepare them. I
favor TIF districts if, as in Liberty Township, the school funding was not
changed. Efficiency, discussion, and review can create a great atmosphere to
attract businesses and home owners.
believe the Council can promote economic development by helping the
communities that need funds to upgrade infrastructure, to be able to bring
in new building projects that will in turn help them with their tax base in
Parks: In a
pure sense, not much as the Council does not administrate. In a macro sense,
the Council can build a relationship with the Commissioners allowing for the
continued shakeup of the status quo. The Council can foster team work with
the departments, not as an administrator but rather as a financial supporter
of their strategic and fiscal planning efforts. All of this leads to
effective efficient government and complements the effort to attract new
businesses and jobs to our phenomenal workforce.
(9) How would you
promote cooperation between the Council, the County Commissioners, appointed
boards, department heads, and employees? If named as a liaison to an
appointed county board, would you commit to regularly attend meetings of
that board? (100 words)
think the biggest problem is that people from opposing parties aren't able
to sit down and work towards real solutions to the immediate problems
confronting them anymore. When I was on Hebron Town Council, I was the only
elected Republican. Despite that, we were able to do so many things for the
town. I want to work with everyone to make the best county even better.
Actually listening to those voicing concerns with a sympathetic ear goes a
long way. I would absolutely commit to regular board meetings; being present
to hear the problems first hand is essential.
Cooperation’s main component is respect. When you listen to others’ ideas
and act on them people come together and work. When others see you as a
servant to the community and not a self-promoter they will become part of
what you are doing. Open lines of communication, respect, and honesty are
always the best ways to promote unity. If named as a liaison the people and
I expect nothing less than a solid commitment to attend meetings. The board
and the community depend on the participation of the appointee.
Discussion and not confrontation would work. I have no agenda and therefore
no reason to attack other elected officials. We all need to be heard and
listen much better than we have in the past. I would attend every meeting of
any county board I would happen to be the appointed liaison to. That would
help us all function better.
believe the Council, Commissioners, and boards need to be on the same page.
We need to drop the D & R, work as one body. This is why they were elected,
to work for the people. If I am a liaison to a board I would attend as many
meetings as possible depending on my regular work schedule.
Parks: It is
hard to manage people. People need to be led by good leaders. It takes good
transparent processes to manage people. With this transparent concept in
mind it is easier to build trust and with trust comes cooperation. The word
communication is under-used when it comes to building a cooperative team.
Porter County has much opportunity to build better functioning government
and I believe it is happening now. I would attend associated meetings and
keep my elected responsibility.