Chesterton Tribune



New law revises County Park Board appointments

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A bill signed into law by Governor Eric Holcomb on April 24 could change the way park boards are appointed in Porter County.

HEA 1018, authored by State Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) makes changes to Indiana Code surrounding the appointment of county park board members, effective July 1.

Currently county park boards in Indiana are comprised of six members--five appointed and one ex officio member representing either the local extension office or soil and water conservancy district. Two of the appointed members are appointed by the local county council, two are appointed by the local circuit court judge, and one is appointed by the board of commissioners. All are voting members.

HEA 1018 does away with local circuit court judges’ appointing authority. It gives the county board of commissioners two appointments instead of one, and provides that another elected county official, who does not sit on the board of commissioners or the county council, can be named as an appointing authority for the last seat. Since the law gives a local board of commissioners two appointments to its respective park board, the commissioners are bound by the same rule county councils and judges have historically beenÑthe two appointments may not be of the same political party.

The law also allows counties to continue with the same appointing procedures they’ve been using, if they don’t want to make the switch. In counties that do make the switch, the county council has until the end of 2019 to enact changes, after which the commissioners may make the choice.

Porter County may adopt the new appointing procedures, according to Porter County Council President Dan Whitten (D-At-large). He anticipates the Council will discuss the matter at its June 25 meeting.

Whitten said the Council didn’t have a dog in the fight for the passage of the legislation. “We weren’t really intimately involved in the process. This wasn’t born of something the Council requested. We still have two appointments.”

“It makes sense for the Commissioners to have two appointments,” Whitten added, saying he wasn’t against the legislation.

Whitten had no insight yet about who the Council might choose as the new appointing authority. “No one has come before us at any meetings and said, ‘Oh my gosh I want to have that fifth appointment.’”

Authority could go to any number of officials, including the County Auditor, Recorder, Sheriff, or another judge, but Whitten said he’d like to see it go to the office or official who has the most to do with the Parks Department.

Meanwhile, the Porter County Park Board has shrunk to four members, exactly the number of members needed for a quorum, since the Board of Commissioners has left its sole appointment vacant for over a year.

The Commissioners appointed Chris Richardson to succeed Tom Schnabel in February 2018. Richardson attended the February meeting and never came back.

After long-time Board member and Chesterton Tribune publisher David Canright, an appointee of Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper, stepped down in January, his replacement also soon resigned, bringing the Board down to four. Having a four-member board makes conducting business difficult because all members must be present, and agree, for the board to take any action.

President of the Porter County Board of Commissioners, Jeff Good (R-Center) told the Chesterton Tribune the Commissioners haven’t yet started thinking about who their new appointment might be because he hasn’t spoken to Commissioners Laura Blaney (D-South) and Jim Biggs (R-North) about the possibility of having two appointments yet. “We were just waiting for the legislation to go through,” he said.

As for the vacant seat, Good said he wasn’t aware that Richardson had resigned and that, as far as he knows, the Board never received Richardson’s resignation. Blaney did not return a request for comment.

Biggs similarly said he wasn’t aware Richardson resigned until just a few weeks ago, and he couldn’t recall getting a letter, email, or phone call regarding the resignation. “I know that he was having problems with making the meetings because of his work, but as far as actually knowing when he resigned, I can’t tell you a date,” Biggs said.

“Finding someone to sit on these boards isn’t easy,” Biggs added.

Good said the Commissioners would have gone through their usual process of taking applications and evaluating candidates to fill the position if they had known. “We usually do our appointments at the beginning of the year, so that’s when it’s at the top of our minds,” Good said.

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos, for his part, said Richardson last communicated with him in August 2018. Lenckos said Richardson told him via text message that he had contacted the Commissioners, and Park Board President Craig Kenworthy, earlier in 2018 to tell them he was resigning.

Richardson could not be reached for comment.



Posted 6/5/2019




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