Chesterton Tribune

 

 

North Commissioner Jim Biggs faces challenge from Jeff Larson

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By LILY REX

In the primary election Tuesday, June 2, Republican voters will have a choice between incumbent North District County Commissioner Jim Biggs and Challenger Jeff Larson, a current at-large member of the County Council.

The Chesterton Tribune invited Biggs and Larson to participate in a candidate questionnaire. The Tribune set word limits and reserved the right to edit for length.

1) Age, place of residence, occupation.

Biggs: I was born in July of 1957. My home is in Chesterton. I serve as Porter County Commissioner, North District. I also serve as a Security Analyst and the Business Development Director of a local laboratory.

Larson: 59, Lifelong Chesterton, Ind. resident, Councilman, Contractor, Former almost 20-year teacher at Chesterton High School.

2) For Biggs: Why are you seeking re-election to the County Board of Commissioners? (75 words)

B: Iím a seventh generation resident of Porter County. My family considers it an obligation of citizenship to serve the citizens of Porter County. I am following in that tradition and honoring our obligation.

For Larson: Why are you seeking election to the County Board of Commissioners? (75 words)

L: To continue my role of service to the community. To help others that donít have a voice in local government. To control spending and make local government more accessible to all by responsive leadership.

3) For Biggs: Describe your achievements in office. (100 words)

B: a. Health Insurance Cost Reduction. b. Renovation of our North County Court Annex. c. Renovation of our Expo Center. d. Renovation of our County Courthouse. e. Reorganization of Voters Registration. f. Reorganization of the Porter County Stormwater Department.

For Larson: You have entered the Commissioners race after serving one term on the County Council. Describe your achievements in office. (100 words)

L: I have improved communication with citizens, collaboration between council members and commissioners, invested the hospital proceeds and generated 38 million dollars in three years, reduced spending, voted to move the drug unit reducing drug use, streamlined government and permitting processes, improved roadways, created a storm water board, hired in-house engineers, brought the 911 center together, gave county employees three years of modest raises, bonded $50 million to improve neglected County facilities with no cost to tax payers, opened a second Veterans affairs office and started a program honoring them at each council meeting, reduced operational inefficiencies.

4) For Biggs: As a sitting Commissioner, what are two things you think the Board could have handled better in the past four years? Explain. (125 words)

B: I would have liked to accelerate the completion of the projects we embraced over the last four years. I would have liked to expedite the completion of the Willowcreek Road extension. I would have liked to explore the creation of a Level 1 trauma unit here in Porter County, given the closest such facility is in Illinois.

For Larson: As a citizen seeking election to the Board, what are two things you think the Board of Commissioners has done a good job of the past four years? Explain. (125 words)

L: The Board has worked to control costs. The president of the commissioners has taken a personal responsibility/role in reviewing all contracts associated with County business. He, along with the County attorney, has found many areas lacking oversight. His ability to work with others was improved by the cross-party cooperation of Laura Blaney. Many of the previous commissionersí agreements were streamlined or eliminated for new contracts with one-year caps and no auto renewal features. Secondly, they showed insight and leadership by improving facilities and investing in local infrastructure. The bond approval with the Councilís oversight was a monumental correction in the lack of attention to County facilities. Also, the infrastructure projects were long overdue and are producing positive results for the citizens affected.

5) Differentiate yourself from your opponent and indicate why in particular you believe yourself to be the better candidate. (100 words)

Biggs: I have served as both a County Council person and as County Commissioner totaling 16 years serving the citizens of Porter County. Iíll let my record speak for itself.

Larson: Key differences are my responsiveness to all citizens and the ability to work alongside or for them, a lifetime volunteer with thousands of projects in the community, love of the area, consistent attendance at all meetings, collaborative leadership style, successful classroom and business management, fiscal conservatism, knowledge of the community/position, and exemplary work ethic. I believe my devotion to others, my attentiveness, work ethics, collaboration, desire to serve others, and the fact Iím not a career politician makes me the correct choice.

6) What are the key issues in this race? (125 words)

Biggs: Our greatest, most immediate challenge is sustaining our level of success in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Porter County is going to need trusted, tested, and experienced leadership in the days ahead. Our present Board of Commissioners is a proven team and is uniquely qualified to undertake the challenge of returning our County government to fully operational status. I hope to remain part of that team.

Larson: Helping citizens navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Implementing strategies that help all citizens feel confident in their return to normalcy. Providing pathways to assist those most in need of employment, housing, food assistance and health needs. Assuring the people of this great County that the leadership is capable of leading. Give citizens a recognized voice in the activities of County government. Providing safety to all citizens with increased drug interdiction, support for policing agencies and expanded fire protection. Expand mental health options. Creating a strategic County-wide plan, including expanded pandemic resources. Implement key corridor plans with enhanced design elements. Complete the long and drawn out process of the 911 center. Rework the UDO, hospital funds and conserve tax dollars.

7) What are your priorities for use of the funds in the Porter County Non-profit Charitable Foundation? (75 words)

Biggs: This decision may be largely driven by the Countyís financial condition resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are most certainly going to confront profound financial challenges in the weeks and months ahead. We may very well be forced to consider every source of revenue at the disposal of our County, including our investment fund. This may be the very situation we have been preparing for and saving for these past years without knowing it.

Larson: Finalize the community grant program. Obtain a knowledgeable group to seek out, administer and qualify groups, organizations, and individuals in the awarding of grants. Continue to monitor the growth and activity of the fund. Review yearly the benefits received by the groups/individuals and expand or downsize accordingly. Look for healthy community investment options. Limit supporting the County general funds with proceeds. Maintain the three-year rainy day fund.

8) What important Duneland-specific experience or insight do you bring to the Board of Commissioners? (75 words)

Biggs: Being a seventh generation Duneland resident, Iíve been involved in our schools, our local businesses, and our civic organizations. As a county official, Iíve always made myself available to Duneland residents and been willing to work with all units of local government. My recent interest and concern has centered on preserving our Lake Michigan shoreline, protecting the Pavilion, and ridding communities of abandoned houses that are hazardous to public health and property values.

Larson: Iíve worked with thousands of Duneland volunteers on hundreds of projects. Teaching and coaching provided thousands of opportunities to hear about the Duneland community. When building in and around Duneland, I meet citizens where they live, work, and eat. Serving on various boards in Duneland, including being a Chesterton Cemetery Trustee for 17 years, has improved my service. Being a multi-generational product of this area has given me foresight on evolving needs and answers.

9) In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local government meetings, like many services, have suddenly gone virtual. This presents both an opportunity for local government to reach more of its citizens with the convenience of live-streaming and the potential for elected officials to suppress public input on and press coverage of local government actions. Explain what government transparency means to you and how you plan to ensure continued or improved transparency in our current time of uncertainty. (150 words)

Biggs: Transparency in County government is most certainly going to center upon the use of technology. Digital media, video conferencing, use of electronic mail, and social media will play important parts in assuring our citizens are informed while protecting their right to voice their concerns and actively participate in the governing process. That notwithstanding, it is important that we ensure that those citizens who are not ďconnectedĒ remain informed and are welcome to participate. Print media, telephone, and postal mail must remain viable components of our County communications. So too, we must reopen our government facilities as safely and swiftly as possible to satisfy the needs of those who choose to handle their County business in person. This is an absolute need of our courts and criminal justice system where personal contact is imperative.

Larson: Open meetings and the opportunity for public input at meetings have always been at the forefront of where I stand. The current conditions do not afford individuals with no legitimate internet access the ability to communicate effectively. I feel that most of the time these are the people most affected by the decisions made in their absence. I would like to see satellite access areas set up during these unusual times or crisis. I would like to see more media publicizing the meetings with an emphasis on reaching those who often donít have the ability to connect. Work closely with the schools and libraries to do additional informational and interactive sites. Find ways to stream to phone-only users with interactive software. Maybe provide resources to equipment and additional free internet. Donít hold any meetings without complete access.

10) For Biggs: Valparaiso-based Great Lakes Labs, a company you have a financial interest in as their director of business development, is processing the COVID-19 tests mandated for all County employees. Explain why your company was chosen to process the tests, the extent of your involvement in that process, and why you havenít publicly disclosed your interest in the company since the testing started. (150 words)

B: Great Lakes Labs has been serving Porter County government for nearly four decades. I have no financial interest of any kind in the company with the exception of serving as an employee. A condition of my employment is that I cannot have anything to do with businesses transactions involving Porter County Government. As Commissioner, I have purposely and intentionally refrained from participating in any discussion or casting any vote for anything having to do with Great Lakes Labs. The public record will clearly support this fact.

For Larson: You are a businessman in addition to an elected official. Explain the steps that you take, have taken, or will take to ensure that your business interests in the Porter County community donít interfere with your elected position. (150 words)

L: I personally wonít and have never conducted business with the County or any entity that I serve. My thoughts are that elected officials are held to a higher ethical standard and should avoid employing family, promoting family or any other individuals that could possibly be linked to them financially. They should avoid conducting business with the entity they serve. The opportunities for corruption and impropriety exponentially grow when politicians and government officials combine their personal, business, and outside interests into their government controlled revenue producing responsibilities. Even if there is no other immediate option, elected officials and their businesses should avoid working for the entity they serve. It is not illegal for them to do so, as long as they declare a non-conflict clause, but it still looks unethical. Too often it becomes an illegal venture. You are not in political office to profit; you are there to serve.

11) Explain to what extent you believe that a candidateís behavior in his or her personal life is a reflection of the quality of work he or she will do as an elected official. Would trouble in a candidateís personal life affect your level of trust in that candidate, for example? Why or why not? (150 words)

Biggs: The voting citizens of Porter County decide the measure of a personís character. This includes both personal and professional behavior. Trust is something which is earned. I believe I have demonstrated in my 16 years of public service to the citizens of Porter County that I am worthy of their trust, and I have conducted myself in a moral, respectful, forthright manner, both publicly and privately. I have been happily married to my wife Carol for 32 years. We have raised our son Hayden in our home in Chesterton where weíve been good friends, good neighbors, and good citizens of Porter County.

Larson: Individualís integrity is based on the ethical standards they hold themselves to. Personal life should never be brought to any form of work or political life. Many people function at all levels of employment without personal interference. All of us will experience personal strife in our lives. Death of a loved one, loss of a friend, divorce, financial ruin, infidelity, children with varying degrees of complications, etc. Most donít allow that to affect their occupations. Careers and personal life should rarely cross. If the individual had committed a crime or was involved in an unethical issue, that will affect their candidacy. Morals and ethics are similar but not the same. Someoneís morals are a personal issue. Their ethics are a public one.

 

 

Posted 5/28/2020

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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