Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Rivas sounds ethics wakeup call

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A few hours after he was officially ousted from his district by a unanimous vote of the County Commissioners Tuesday, Porter County Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, complained to his colleagues at the start of a short Council meeting that he was “thrown out” of his district by the Commissioners “in a purely political move.”

“I’m continually attacked for doing my job by representing my constituents and asking questions,” asserted Rivas.

Rivas assumes that the voting precinct where he lives in Portage was purposely “flip-flopped” with another precinct in District 4, even though it would not cause a disruption in population numbers. He also said he’d heard that County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, reportedly bragged to another pubic figure that he could get “that snide ass Rivas” off the Council.

At the Commissioners meeting earlier Evans, along with Commissioners Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South and Nancy Adams, R-North, all agreed on the new district maps, saying that they were as close to equal as possible in terms of population representation. (See Related Story on this page.)

The variance between the largest and smallest districts is 3.19 percent, which complies Indiana’s law that states the variation difference needs to be under 10 percent.

Evans said in a statement that the new districts are compact, subject to natural boundary lines and were not “gerrymandered.”

At the Council meeting, Rivas rallied his colleagues to put a stop to political games and join the Shared Ethics Advisory Commit-tee.

At the meeting were members Jim Biggs, R-1st, Karen Conover, R-3rd, and President Bob Poparad, D-At Large. Absent were members Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, Dan Whitten, D-At Large, and Jim Polarek, R-4th.

Rivas also noted that the FBI has reportedly been investigating Porter County government, which he feels, given the controversy over the redistricting, is a clear reason for County officials to join the ethics committee.

“What the hell is going on in Porter County? There is something seriously wrong here,” he said.

Conover responded she had no idea about what the FBI is looking at other than what has been mentioned in the local newspapers.

Biggs commented that as a Republican he would agree that Rivas is one of the hardest working and most well-intentioned officials in County government. He also said he did not have an explanation regarding the Commissioners’ vote but found the “timing of all this at the very least questionable.”

He encouraged Rivas not to give up and run again.

Poparad remained quiet, letting Rivas say his piece.

Conover further commented she feels all Council members represent all taxpayers in some fashion whether they are elected at-large or by district. “I think we have the best interest of Porter County in our hearts and we have met our challenges,” she said.

Evans responds

Evans told the Chesterton Tribune after the Council meeting that Rivas’ allegations that the district remapping was politically motivated, or that he made comments to another official regarding a scheme to get rid of Rivas, were “absolutely untrue.”

The Commissioners were required by law to redistrict, said Evans, and the Commissioners chose to structure the map to keep communities of interest together, leaving the rural precincts out of the cities. Since Rivas’ precinct sits outside the Portage city limits, it was joined with District 4.

“The biggest population growth was seen in Portage and Valparaiso and so to make the districts equal, you have to go to the population centers,” Evans said.

Evans said that he can understand why Rivas is upset but if the Commissioners had made sure that Rivas’ precinct stayed where it was, it would then have certainly been political. “That to me would be gerrymandering,” he said.

Depending on if there is consensus from the Commissioners or Council, Evans said he would be in favor of being included in the Ethics Advisory Commission.

The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission was formed in 2005 to bring ethics awareness and training to communities in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties.

According to the Commission’s website, the current members are the Cities of Crown Point, East Chicago, Hobart and Whiting. Town members are Dyer, Highland, Lowell, Munster, and Schererville. Also listed was LaPorte County government.

No government entity for Porter County is listed.

Transfer

During the business portion of the Council meeting, the Council approved 4-0 a request from the County Animal Shelter to transfer $9,000 from salaries to hourly pay to cover part-time wages.

The request was incorrectly reported by the Council’s office on the agenda for its Nov. 26 meeting which is why a special meeting was called.

 

Posted 12/18/2013