Chesterton Tribune



County Commissioners allow atheists to share courthouse lawn for Holly Days

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The Porter County Board of Commissioners approved two requests by the Northern Indiana Atheists (NIA) at its Nov. 5 meeting.

The approvals follow a heated October meeting where Commissioner President Jeff Good, R-Center, told the South Bend-based group to go back where they came from and Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, got out of his seat and confronted the group’s leader.

NIA President Troy Moss requested NIA be allowed to display signs and have an information table on the Courthouse lawn on Dec. 6, the same day Valparaiso Events will have the Courthouse lawn for their annual Holly Days celebration. The Board was adamant that they wouldn’t double-book the Courthouse lawn for that date at last month’s meeting, though Moss argued that NIA’s request to have the grounds that day came in earlier than Valparaiso Events’ request to have the space for Holly Days and that one group doesn’t need the entire space.

NIA also requested blanket approval to have volunteers from their group present at the south entrance of the Courthouse on weekdays to talk to interested people about NIA. They modeled this request after a religious group that offers prayer to people leaving the Courthouse was given the same approval at the October meeting.

The Commissioners approved both Nov. 5 NIA requests without discussion, even allowing Moss to pick a preferred quadrant of the Courthouse lawn. He picked the southeast corner.

In an email to the Chesterton Tribune, NIA said they had sent a ‘demand letter’ to the Commissioners through their legal counsel on Nov. 4, in which the American Atheists Legal Center offered to assist NIA in potential litigation for alleged violations of the Indiana Open Door Law and constitutional rights to free speech and equal treatment related to the October denials.

Hybrid Squad Cars

In other business, the Porter County Sheriff’s Police may be getting as many as nine new hybrid squad cars, since the Commissioners approved spending up to $400,000 on the new vehicles. $350,000 would be funded by the Commissioners, and $50,000 would come from the Sheriff’s budget.

Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said each hybrid car would represent an annual savings of $2,000 on fuel without compromising performance. If his whole fleet was hybrid vehicles, he said that would save $93,000 per year.

“We’ve done our due diligence. There’s no question about performance,” Reynolds said. “Almost every Sheriff’s office is looking at doing this, and as far as we know, we would be the first,” he continued.

Reynolds said the battery in each vehicle is good for 150,000 miles, and the County usually rotates their squad cars out of service at 120,000 miles anyway. County Attorney Scott McClure also pointed out that hybrid squad cars are made specifically for police applications-- different from a standard hybrid.

Each hybrid squad car costs $37,643, about $3,000 more than a standard squad car. Reynolds said if the County can save that much on fuel without sacrificing performance, he doesn’t see any downside.

Public Comment

Diane Bates, a resident of Jackson Township, took an opportunity at the end of the meeting to question why more striping hasn’t been done on county roads. Bates said bright yellow center lines are a matter of safety, especially on dark curvy roads like the ones near her home.

Biggs said heavily traveled roads get priority, and there’s only so much money to go around each year. Highway Superintendent Rich Sexton added that striping costs $3,000 a mile. Biggs said the Highway Department is working to chip and seal county roads using its own equipment, and the roads that are sealed in spring will be striped after sealing.



Posted 11/15/2019




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