Voters in the May 8 Democrat primary will have the opportunity to vote for
up to three out of four candidates for at-large County Council. Incumbents
Dan Whitten and Sylvia Graham, former council member Robert “Bob” Poparad
and newcomer Ned Kovachevich are competing for spots on the general election
ballot in November.
Kovachevich declined an invitation to submit a photo for this story.
The top three vote-getters in this race will be included on the general
At-large council races are voted on throughout the county. Early voting
began April 9.
The Chesterton Tribune invited all candidates to take part in a
questionnaire. The Tribune set word limits for each question and reserved
the right to edit for length.
(1) Age, place of residence, occupation
Graham: Prefer not to answer, Valparaiso, Porter County Council at large
Kovachevich: 57, Valparaiso, Executive Director for the Lake County
Planning & Building Department
Poparad: 54, Burns Harbor, small business owner for 25 years
Whitten: 45, Porter Twp., attorney at Whitten & Whitten Attorneys at law
(2) To Graham and Whitten: Describe your accomplishments in office. (75
Graham: My accomplishments include four years of balanced budgets with
no new taxes, job growth, contracts at the new Porter Hospital, procurement
of a state-certified tax program, job security for sheriff officers injured
in the line of duty, a county warning siren maintenance contract under EMA
supervision, the Respite House, support for the arts, and five new building
ordinances which include better drainage and giving parents the option of
selling land to their children.
Whitten: I have remained steadfast against implementing new taxes. While
continuing my anti-tax and spend approach, we have still managed to maintain
and improve services. The drainage study has been completed and funding for
drainage improvements have been put in place. I have funded agencies such as
the Health Department, Family Youth Services, and Porter County Aging to
ensure that needed services were not cut. I have made sure that this county
remains fiscally sound.
To Kovachevich and Poparad: What are your qualifications for this office?
Kovachevich: Porter County has been home to my family and me for over 27
years. I am a registered voter, and have 33 years of experience working for
county government. The last 25 years have been spent in a supervisory
capacity working directly with the county council and commissioners. This
experience has given me a first-hand opportunity to participate in the
fiscal and budgetary process. If elected, I would require little training
and can begin immediately.
Poparad: My qualifications include serving three terms on the Burns
Harbor town council and two terms on Porter County Council. This experience
has given me a vast pool of knowledge of government and the budget process.
(3) To Graham and Whitten: Why are you seeking reelection? (75 words)
Graham: Big decisions are looming. I serve on the plan commission,
Council on Aging and Community Services, EMA, and the Jail Building
Corporation Board. I am also liaison to 11 county departments. I have made
tough financial decisions and feel the county is in good shape. Challenges
do lie ahead and I want to be a part of the solution. I am asking for four
more years of the voters’ confidence.
Whitten: I want to see capital projects in the County to conclusion.
Projects such as 911 funding, the Porter County Animal Shelter and drainage
need to be completed. While finishing these projects, we need to look into
investing discretionary funds, such as the hospital interest money back into
the county through development of technology and infrastructure to create
new jobs. I want to continue to provide leadership to get these
To Kovachevich and Poparad: Why have you decided to run for this seat?
Kovachevich: Every citizen should attempt to participate in government,
at least by voting. I am disappointed to see the same names on the ballot
every election. My children are grown, giving me an opportunity to declare
my candidacy. My career working directly with county commissioners and
councilmen has given me extraordinary insight into the fiscal and budgetary
process. Based on my experience, I can offer a fresh perspective to the
citizens and taxpayers of Porter County.
Poparad: I have decided to run for this seat because of my many years of
knowledge, experience, and relationships in county government. I have the
ability to get along with all parties even if we disagree. Our ultimate goal
should be for the betterment of the county not politics.
(4) Why should the voters choose you over the other candidates in this race?
Graham: I am a longtime Porter County resident. I’ve worked as a family
nurse practitioner at Porter Hospital and for NICP. I was a county 4-H
leader for eight years. My active participation in the community and my
county council experience make me the most qualified and committed
Kovachevich: I will not make a career out of elected office; other
individuals must take their turn. I decided to refuse campaign donations, as
I believe they come with an expectation of obligation. This job serves ALL
the people of Porter County, and if elected I will always uphold their
Poparad: Voters should choose me because of the amount of experience I
have in local government and I bring a common sense approach.
Whitten: As a former police officer and Army Veteran, I am committed to
government service and improving residents’ lives in Porter County. My
knowledge of government budgets has been an asset. Considering my occupation
as a bankruptcy attorney, I strive for all families in the county to have
their voices heard.
(5) What do you feel are the key issues in this race? (75 words)
Graham: No new taxes, E-911 funding, drainage funding, opening of the
third jail pod, infrastructure, new Sunset Hill Park facility, new animal
shelter, and continued balanced budgets.
Kovachevich: Funding is the key issue. The Council has the sole
responsibility to fund offices essential to the public need while attempting
to maintain elective offices to the greatest extent possible. There are ways
the Council can use its influence to promote change throughout government,
but it should not encroach on the duties and responsibilities of other
offices. We must work together on behalf of the people to facilitate good
Poparad: Keys issues are funding 911 and hospital interest money.
Whitten: Creation of jobs and reduced taxes. Candidates need to be
looked at to see their tax and spend philosophy. Reduced taxes and creation
of jobs is the key to the future of our county. I have a proven track record
of standing against tax increases, while continuing the funding in order to
maintain and improve services in Porter County.
(6) What items in the county budgets do you feel could use increased funding
and where would you argue cuts be made? (75 words)
Graham: E-911 and drainage funds will have to be addressed with the next
budget. Both of these issues deal with safety and I hope state legislators
come to our aid for E-911. CEDIT funds may need to be used for some of this.
No department will readily admit they do not need money. It may come down to
all departments making sacrifices across the board.
Kovachevich: Essential services include police, fire, emergency
services, roads and highways all need funding. Other offices including
assessor, auditor, the treasurer require funding to complete the assessment
process necessary for the continued existence of local government. Criminal
Justice, including the clerk, prosecutor, and courts is vital to help insure
the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Porter County. Elective
offices provide important services too. Many of them have their own source
Poparad: 911 needs to be fully funded by the county as this is a state
mandate. It is our role to the citizens to make 911 work. The state on the
other hand did not do their job with the cell phone 911 fees versus the land
line fees. The county will have to fill the gap.
Whitten: That is a moving target. As the county council approaches each
budget session, we must prioritize. As council president, each year I have
begun with first looking at available funds through the growth factor. After
which, we look at what state mandated and inflationary increases have
occurred to the budgets. We then look at what projects are most pressing and
allocate available funds to the most pressing projects.
(7) Some members of the current council have recently made the argument that
part-time elected officials such as County Council members and Commissioners
should not be eligible to receive health insurance as a benefit. Would you
agree? Why or why not? (50 words)
Graham: The commissioners and county council members are considered
part-time elected officials. I think it would show leadership to have these
members not receive health insurance through county government. I did not
run for office to get health insurance.
Kovachevich: The Porter County Board of Commissioners, our legislative
body having ordinance authority, is responsible for answering this question.
Personally, I feel everyone employed by the county should be treated equally
according to written policy. I do not believe that part-time employees or
consultants should be eligible for health insurance benefits.
Poparad: Health insurance is not the area of the county council. It is
the commissioners’ decision, not the county council. The county council role
is funding, not personnel.
Whitten: The county council does not determine eligibility for
insurance. We need less grandstanding and more accomplishing at the council
meetings. Stripping the Commissioners or Council of insurance would have
very little impact of the cost, perhaps even no impact since the county is
(8) With the sale of Porter Hospital, the county has approximately $9
million in interest to use at its discretion. Would you recommend the county
spend this money? If so, how should the council appropriate the funds?
Should the $161 million principal of the sale be spent once it becomes
available? (75 words)
Graham: I believe the hospital interest money should be carefully spent.
We have some big-ticket items that need to be funded. The hospital principal
money is the future of Porter County and should be preserved for
reinvestment. A good portion of it is being made available to towns and
cities in Porter County as loans at an interest rate lower than what the
borrowers would have to pay from a bank.
Kovachevich: Assuming the $161 million principal and $9 million in
interest are all taxpayer dollars, the money should be returned to the
taxpayers of Porter County. A referendum posing this question could be
offered during the primary or general election to determine what the
citizens should be done with their money. I do not believe county government
is intended to run at a surplus; that’s giving elected officials too much
power without adequate transparency.
Poparad: From the sale of the Porter County Hospital the interest money
should only be earmarked for economic development that will create jobs. It
is not a steady stream of revenue that can be counted on regularly for
operating capital. Economic development implies capital projects,
infrastructure, joint ventures with cities and town to better the county.
The main focus is long term job creation.
Whitten: It is imperative the sale principal not be utilized. We should
continue to prioritize the projects in the county to maintain that we live
within our means. We should not use the interest for “operating expenses”
because once you allocate it to that, then we encourage various departments
to live beyond their budgets, and the money is gone. Instead we should use
the interest for capital improvements throughout the county like drainage
(9) How would you suggest the Council play a role in the overall growth of
the county’s economy? Would you favor the use of Tax Increment Finance (TIF)
districts? (75 words)
Graham: The county must have safe and responsible growth which is what
our unified development ordinance is for. The county will expand, especially
in the areas near the new Porter hospital. This is an unincorporated area of
the county, and I wish to see it stay that way. I see why TIF districts are
formed to recapture tax funds for infrastructure but I want to make sure
schools, fire and police protection do not suffer.
Kovachevich: The Council must collaborate with all governmental
entities, business, industries and private citizens to encourage a positive
growth that would attract new people, businesses and industry to our area.
TIF districts are established by redevelopment commissions who are
themselves established by legislative bodies of their respective city, town
or county. As a Porter County Council member, we would not have much input
into the creation of a TIF district.
Poparad: The county’s role in economic development should assume the
leadership role for the entire county and direct the interested parties to
the municipal town, city or unincorporated county that fits their needs. I’m
not in favor of TIF districts as they deprive all the other tax entities in
growth and revenue (i.e. the schools).
Whitten: There is no doubt the council should play a role in the
county’s growth. We should have ongoing input into the investment into our
county’s future. Projects such as the 49 corridor and Route 6 development
should remain part of our agenda. As the keepers of the purse, it would be
nonsensical to expect the council not remain at the table in developing and
improving the county. Elected officials need to work together on this.
(10) Do you regularly attend Porter County Council or County Commissioner
meetings? Why or why not? (25 words)
Graham: I attend all Porter County Council meetings. It would be a great
disservice if I didn’t. I attend County Commissioner meetings on several
Kovachevich: I review Porter County Council and Commissioner meeting
minutes online, but do not regularly attend meetings.
Poparad: I regularly attend county meetings. Even though I’m not
currently on the council, I’m still an active member of the community.
Whitten: I prefer to meet regularly with the Commissioners personally.
As Council President, I have held joint Commissioner-Council meetings to
accomplish and discuss issues.