Chesterton Tribune

Democrats win in Town of Porter

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A new bi-partisan administration was ushered in by voters Tuesday for the Town of Porter with Democrats wresting three Town Council seats from Republican control.

In the night’s most lopsided council contests, incumbent president Trevin Fowler, appointed last year by a GOP caucus to represent Ward 4, lost to Democrat Elka Nelson 533 to 228. Ward 5 incumbent Republican Michele Bollinger, who was seeking a second term, was defeated by Democrat Greg Stinson 537 to 230. He was the night’s top vote-getter.

In a closer Town Council contest in Ward 1, Democrat William Cantrell captured 56.02 percent of the 748 ballots cast in his race with Republican challenger Kenneth Timm. Cantrell lost his bid for a council seat in 2007.

Incumbent Ward 1 Republican Councilman Todd Martin lost to Timm in the primary.

Three unopposed Porter candidates coasted to victory. Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy, a Republican, netted 506 votes and will begin her third term.

Ward 2 Republican Jeanine Virtue received 431votes and will replace GOP Councilman Jon Granat, who did not seek re-election. Neither did Republican Dave Babcock in Ward 3 where GOP candidate Rob Pomeroy will replace him; 429 voters cast their ballots for Pomeroy, who is Carol Pomeroy’s nephew by marriage.

The winning candidates ran as an unofficial slate sharing goals of more openness in town government as well as more transparency as to how and why decisions are made.

Fowler and Bollinger, who ususally voted in a block with Martin, carried baggage into the election over past decisions that proved to be unpopular: replacing Babcock with Fowler as 2011 council president, attempting to take jurisdiction over Porter Park Department employees, and naming Martin to the town zoning board in violation of state law.

Although not a council decision, controversial in the campaign was the 2009 Porter Redevelopment Commission’s $350,000 purchase of 32 acres for redevelopment known as the Brickyard, a former brickmaking operation on Beam Street that’s left a legacy of environmental contamination, the extent of which is yet to be determined.

Cantrell said the voters sent a message Tuesday “they want openness and communication with the public instead of a private agenda behind closed doors.” He said he hopes to implement a question-and-answer session at the conclusion of council meetings so the public feels more a part of what’s going on to restore trust.

Referring to Timm, “My opponent was a very good man but we had very different ideas,” said Cantrell. He also invited residents to step forward to apply for upcoming appointments to Porter boards and commissions.

Virtue, who recently returned from competing in the New York City marathon, said even though she was unopposed in the election, “I don’t know that I did any less work. Even if you get in you want to get good people in with you. I think we can do a lot of good this term if we get the right people.”

A short time later all four Porter precincts were posted on the vote tally at the Porter County administration center in Valparaiso and the winning Porter candidates broke into cheers.

Virtue said her campaigning showed “a lot of people want a say in their government. They want Porter back.” Among her priorities after taking office Jan. 1 will be to get a clear idea what the town can and should do with the Brickyard property.

Rob Pomeroy thanked voters for choosing a new council that will make Porter’s future better and respect their wishes. He said he hopes to see more residents attend town meetings.

One of the first things the new council needs to do is get better information about the Brickyard property, agreed Pomeroy. When it comes to Porter’s planned Gateway tourism/economic development project, he pledged not to act in haste, getting the facts first and asking what truly benefits the town.

At 8:26 p.m. Fowler texted Nelson, “Congratulations. Good luck.” She said the voters’ message Tuesday made it clear they’d like a hand in what’s going on in town and want to be treated with respect.

Nelson recommended hiring an environmental consultant for advice what to do about the Brickyard. Regarding the ambitious Gateway plan for Indiana 49 at U.S. 20, for which the current council secured a $19 million regional grant, Nelson said additional studies are needed and she doubts the grant would be threatened if a change in plans shows it’s as good or better feasibility and less risk.

As for her campaign, “I made a lot of new friends I would have never known but for this experience,” added Nelson.

The Town Council wins for both Nelson and Stinson mean they will have to give up their current seats on the Porter Board of Zoning Appeals. When Stinson’s victory was confirmed, he posted the good news to family in Pennsylvania via Facebook.

He said of Porter town government, “It’s too early to say specifically but I think changes are inevitable in certain ways. After January we can examine consultants, contracts, whether the people we have are being used properly and the departments aligned the right way to be efficient and effective.”

Stinson proposes moving quickly to conduct department reviews and develop a strategic town plan with various benchmarks to meet the demand for increasing services with dwindling revenues. “It would be an action plan, not an academic plan you don’t do anything with.”

Overall, the new Ward 5 councilman said he’s humbled by the support that was shown him Tuesday, and that he will live up to the voters’ trust in him.

Carol Pomeroy, the only holdover in town government, said she looks forward to working with the new council. “I really hope the politics won’t enter into it and everybody will do what’s best for the town."



Posted 11/9/2011