Chesterton Tribune

County Council votes to appoint Jeff Good to RDA

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

In an unexpected move at the end of Tuesday night’s Porter County Council meeting, council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, said to her peers the county needs to have representation on the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority’s board of directors.

After the suggestion, Blaney immediately nominated local hotel service operator Jeff Good to the county’s seat on the RDA development board.

“He’s going to look out for Porter County. He’s got our backs,” said Blaney, who called Good a “leader” in the business community.

Since the council voted in April to appeal a Jasper County Court judge’s decision that the county is legally bound to stay a member of the RDA, council members have shown reluctance in bringing someone back the RDA board, believing the move could somehow nullify the appeal.

Other community leaders have made the plea that the county should be represented since the judge also ordered the county to continue paying its $3.5 million in annual RDA dues. The money is given to the RDA through a 0.25 county economic development income tax.

A Need-to-Know Basis

A consistent opponent of the RDA, Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he has put a lot of thought into what effect the appointment would have on the appeal. Whitten said he still feels Porter County has not seen enough benefit from the RDA, but the ultimate reason for the appeal is to fight against state legislation that mandates the county pay its portion of the $17 million the RDA collects from local governments.

After Council attorney Scott McClure assured him there would be no effect on the appeal, Whitten then believed having a board representative would give the county more insight on the inner workings of the RDA. He said the RDA board has met frequently in executive sessions which he says discuss funding issues. “We have to have someone who can report to us what their plans are,” said Whitten.

Whitten spoke of other possible RDA dealings that he would like the county to monitor. He said he would like to find out plans for funding the Regional Bus Authority and if the city of Gary has paid its dues to the RDA.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, echoed Whitten’s stance that the county needs to know the details of the RDA and she also thinks the council should strive to find out about other public organizations working within the county.

“There are things going on in our county that we are not aware of,” she said. “We need transparency.”

Appointment Not on Agenda

Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd, who is one of the council’s pro-RDA members, said she did not know until Monday that the council would be considering appointing someone during Tuesday’s meeting and asked for the council to follow a regular appointment process by advertising the spot and taking applications.

The appointment to the RDA board had not been listed on Tuesday’s agenda.

Appointment Process Urged

Sitting in on the meeting, Northern County Commissioner John Evans said he would agree with all that had been said but reminded the council that this would be a mutual appointment between the council and the commissioners.

Given the seriousness of the RDA seat, Evans too felt the need to thoroughly consider other candidates by taking applications.

“We are not being fair to the people, he said.

One other application did come in right before the meeting from outgoing County Clerk Pamela Mishler Fish who cited her past experience in business.

Evans said he was not completely sure an appointment could be made presently, believing that the commissioners never did officially rescind the previous RDA board appointment, Gus Olympidis.

Whitten said he spoke with Olympidis who had no interest in returning to the post. He then asked the three incoming council members sitting in the audience for their opinions.

County Council member-elect Jim Biggs, a Republican who will be taking the council’s first district seat in January, said he would support whatever the council decides but felt it would be best if the council made its decision so they can focus on other things starting next year.

“There are about 999 other things we should be concentrating on,” said Biggs.

Incoming member Republican James Polarek, who will be representing the Fourth District, said the county’s RDA seat has been vacant for too long.

Incoming District Two county council member Democrat Jeremy Rivas felt the matter should be deferred until January.

The council then voted 4-3 in favor of making an appointment that night. Voting in favor was Whitten, Blaney, Graham, and Rita Stevenson, D-2nd. Those against were Conover, Robert Poparad, D-1st, and Marylyn Johns, D-4th.

A second vote was taken under a motion to appoint Good with similar results. The naysayers of the previous roll call all voted to abstain. The motion passed with four votes.

While saying he had no problem with Good’s qualifications, Poparad broke his silence after the vote saying the public should have been notified that the council was going to make a selection and questioned why council members who were against the RDA were “warm and fuzzy” about the appointment.

Whitten and Graham both commented that their feelings about the RDA and the appeal have not changed but felt an appointee should be determined as quickly as possible.

“This is no indication that we are changing the course,” said Whitten.

Oral arguments for the council’s appeal have been scheduled for Jan. 20 in the state’s appellate court.

In order for the appointment to be ratified, the county commissioners would need to vote their approval.

Outgoing Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper, D-Center, said this morning he will put the vote for the appointment on the agenda for the upcoming commissioners meeting on Dec. 7.

Harper, a strong opponent of the RDA, personally felt the appointment should be made immediately and said it was “astonishing” that a few council members would even think of postponing the matter when the RDA is meeting in executive sessions likely on funding issues.

RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna told the Chesterton Tribune this morning the organization does not give comments on appointments until they are official.

Good’s Fact Finding Mission

According to the Indiana law that created the RDA, a member of the development board must have five years experience in one of the following fields: rail or air transportation, regional economic development, or business/finance.

Good has been in the hotel business for almost 20 years and has managed Good Hospitality Services for 17 years, a company that contracts services with 20 hotels.

Good said he wishes to fulfill the council’s wishes of bringing greater transparency and will report to them on a regular basis.

If officially appointed, his first objective would be to get acquainted with the operations of the RDA and be in contact with city and county officials.

“At least for the next three months, I’ve got a lot of fact finding to do,” said Good. “I’ve got to spend a lot of time getting everyone comfortable.”

Although a Republican and a self-proclaimed proponent of the RDA, Good said he does not see anything political about his appointment.

“I want to work with everybody here.”

As the current president of the Porter County Convention, Recrea-tion and Visitors Commission, Good has looked at working with the Town of Porter on the Gateway to the Dunes Project which received $1.8 million from the RDA.

 

 

Posted 12/1/2010