Public officials on
the Porter County Government Foundation board assert they are conducting
business transparently, in response to criticism about a committee meeting
held this spring.
Candace Shaw spoke out at the end of the Foundation’s meeting on Tuesday,
requesting that revenues go to nonprofit groups and not as a way to bond for
extensive repairs of several County facilities, as was suggested by the
Commissioners on Monday.
“To use the money
to pay that bond obligation is very concerning for me,” Shaw said. “Your
pretty much talking about all the money going back into political projects.”
Shaw was one of
about half a dozen people in the audience who she said came to “shed some
light on the activities, mission and future direction” of the Foundation.
Shaw said the
transparency issue arose when The Caring Place in Valparaiso came to the
County Council in May to request $1.6 million in funds for its campaign to
build a new facility and citizens heard about a committee meeting of
Foundation members which she contends was “out of public sight with no
measures of transparency.”
meetings need to be fair for the people in Porter County. All meetings
should be open to the public going forward. All meetings should have public
participation to seek the input of people on important issues,” Shaw said,
suggesting that citizens be invited to participate on committees.
“The hospital was
founded back in 1939 and the money for it has always gone to help the health
and well-being of the people,” she said. “I believe that’s what should
happen to the funds in this Foundation.” Porter Memorial Hospital was a
publicly owned hospital, the sale of which generated the Foundation funds.
Mike Jessen, R-4th, who chairs the Foundation which includes all members of
the Council and the County Board of Commissioners, said nothing was intended
to be secretive about that committee meeting and he has talked about it
openly at recent meetings. The committee, he said, was tasked with exploring
what options the Foundation could consider and bring those up for discussion
at the quarterly Foundation meeting.
“There is a lot of
work to be done in between our meetings as the Foundation,” Jessen said.
Jessen said the
committee consisted of himself, Council Vice-President Dan Whitten, D-at
large, Commissioner President Jeff Good, R-Center, and Council member Jeff
Larson, R-at large, along with County Attorney Scott McClure and Council
Attorney Harold Harper.
Because there was
not a quorum of Commissioners or County Council present, the meeting would
not have required public notice, Jessen told the Chesterton Tribune.
No action can be taken by the officials unless it is during a public meeting
and it is common practice for government officials to discuss matters
outside of meetings on an individual basis so they can address their
thoughts with all of their colleagues at public meetings, he said.
Jessen said the
Capital Cities report on the investment’s performance would be uploaded to
the Porter County Government’s website and is also available in the Council
office for any citizen to look at. He said that the public can be present at
the upcoming committee meeting for selecting an independent auditor for the
Foundation investment and proposals, which are also available for the public
“We have worked
toward transparency in each and every thing we have done,” Jessen said.
Good, for his part,
said there has been much “angst” and “confusion” caused by misinformation
spread by members of the public about the committee meeting.
this process we can heal some of those things that happened over a month
ago,” he said.
Both Jessen and
Good echoed comments made at last month’s County Council meeting that there
is no mechanism in place that would legally allow the Foundation to make
grants to outside groups, and that there is more work to be done before that
“It would be
breaking an auditing law. We couldn’t even (give grants) now if we wanted
to,” Good said. “We would first have to make the grant process part of our
Council member Jeff
Larson, R-at large, said there has been “a lot of frustration” based on the
Foundation’s money that he saw even before he joined the Council in January.
He joined his colleagues in asking the public to be patient as the
Foundation board gets everything in place.
“The reality is the
organization is new. What happens is when you are moving a process forward
people get frustrated with the fact that you are running too quickly, or not
quickly enough,” Larson said. “We are tasked with the responsibility of
operating this government efficiently and provide all the services that we
possibly can to move forward.”
Karen Conover, R-3rd, said since the request from The Caring Place was
heard, she has consulted with several professionals about a grant process.
“I don’t have the
answers and I don’t think anyone up here does either. We need help from
people who understand the ins and the outs of the not-for-profit grant
process,” she said.
She asked that
representatives of the Porter County Community Foundation be invited to the
Foundation’s next meeting to explain the guidelines of a nonprofit grant
process. The Council agreed with her suggestion.
Conover gave a
small statement to her colleagues saying she believes the nonprofit grant
process should “have a level-playing field and be a process that is fair and
free from politics.”
In the effort to
keep matters advancing, Council member Andy Bozak, R-1st, suggested the
Foundation meet more than every three months. Jessen agreed and said that
having more meetings will allow the public more opportunity to hear the
discussions by the Foundation.
The Foundation will
meet next on Aug. 15 to interview and select its independent auditor, and
potentially speak with the Porter County Community Foundation. It will also
meet at the end of September to hear the next quarterly investment report
from Capital Cities.
Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said that the Foundation has come a long way
since it was started early in 2016.
“I’m happy to be a
part of it. I think it’s being done the right way. People can be assured we
are trying to be transparent with everything and we are here to answer
questions. Rather than listen to any rumors, please come to us and get your
answers,” Graham said.
Absent from the
meeting were Whitten, Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Commissioner
Jim Biggs, R-North.