Chesterton Tribune



Porter County elected officials hear plea for open process in allocating government foundation funds

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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.

Valparaiso resident 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.”

“The Foundation 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.

Council President 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 to view.

“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.

“Hopefully through 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 can happen.

“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 investment policy.”

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.”

Council member 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.

Council member 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.


Posted 6/30/2017





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