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.
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
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.
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.
appointed Chris Richardson to succeed Tom Schnabel in February 2018.
Richardson attended the February meeting and never came back.
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.
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.
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.
not be reached for comment.