Chesterton Tribune

Schafer resigns as head of opera house and expo center

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Correction: An article appearing Thursday in the Chesterton Tribune should have said the Porter County Commissioners hired Brian Schafer as manager of the Expo Center and Fairgrounds in January 2009.

The Tribune regrets the error.

The corrected story follows:



The show will no longer go on for Brian Shafer at the end of July.

The 30-year-old Hebron native is giving up his dual role as business director of the Memorial Opera House and manager of the Porter County Expo and Fairgrounds. He would sometimes find himself working over 100 hours per week.

“He’s been burning the candle at both ends,” said County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who accepted Schafer’s letter of resignation. “It’s a sad thing. He is one of our best employees and we sure are going to miss him,”

Shafer first became involved with the Memorial Opera House in 1999 and moved up to the director spot around 2005. With just a small staff to work with, Schafer has reshaped the Opera House into a popular venue for concerts and plays with record attendance numbers. Most recently, the Opera House added showings of independent films to its list of attractions.

The Commissioners hired Schafer in January, 2009 to manage the Porter County Expo Center and he oversaw many improvements to the reception hall and the Expo East building.

Since the Internal Revenue Service ruled that county government cannot hire one person for two employment positions, the commissioners treated Schafer as an employee of the Expo Center and contracted his business, Next Level Productions, to run the Opera House.

“I am proud of the many accomplishments and growth made at these venues during my time with Porter County,” Schafer said. “Both the Memorial Opera House and now the Expo Center have flourished with renewed life and are enjoying strong, overdue community support that I hope will continue.”

Schafer said he will be taking a private sector job in Indianapolis but will be willing to assist the county as it transitions to successors, whoever those will be. Evans said the commissioners wish to keep the Opera House and Expo Center as separate facilities and will hire directors for both locations.

In his letter, Schafer said he has appreciated the unending support of the commissioners and a few county council members but named one council member who he felt brought negative press to the Opera House, 1st District Representative Jim Biggs.

Late last year Biggs, acting on an anonymous letter, questioned Schafer’s salary and if he was using the opera house to run his business after the commissioners approved roughly $225,000 in county economic development income tax (CEDIT) money for the installation of sound equipment in 2010 and 2011.

The anonymous letter implored Biggs to ask why none of those projects was put out for public bid. The commissioners said they approved recommendations made by Schafer for Unified Strategies Agency LLC and 101 Event Productions LLC because they felt he knew the business better and would save the county money in the long run. Schafer at the time said he believed there was no wrongdoing since every dollar amount was reviewed by the commissioners. The Porter County Prosecutors office agreed saying they could not find any improprieties in the contract agreements and payments.

Biggs expressed further criticism in February, voting to deny a $250,000 CEDIT project approved by the commissioners to make repairs to and purchase new boilers for the Opera House.

On Tuesday, Schafer alleged Biggs made the accusations “to build his political career” by attacking Schafer’s reputation.

“Mr. Biggs’ unprofessional behavior is counterproductive to business, uncalled for and a disservice to the people of Porter County,” Schafer’s letter said.

For his part, Biggs told the Tribune that he wishes Schafer the best but said he believes his actions in questioning the equipment purchases were his duty as a member of the County Council. He said Schafer should understand there is a system of checks and balances in the law that gives him the right to ask how money is spent.

“It was not the popular thing to do, but it was the proper thing to do,” Biggs said, expressing displeasure at Evans reading Schafer’s letter into the minutes, saying the action was politically motivated.

Even if there is a “loophole” in the law that allowed the purchases without having to take bids, Biggs said the commissioners should have properly put out a Request for Proposals as is done on purchases such as squad cars and snow plows that cost significantly less than the sound equipment.

Biggs said he respects the prosecutor’s opinion but said he feels all the pieces of information may not have been presented and said the State Board of Accounts is still investigating the matter.

Fair Days for employees

As a way of showing appreciation, employees of Porter County and their families will again be offered discounts for entry into the county fair. One-day admission passes will cost $4, a dollar off the regular price. A wristband for the carnival rides will be offered at a discounted price of $14 instead of $22, Schafer said.

A message will be sent to anyone with a county e-mail address about the discounted rates. Evans said he would like to see the offer be extended to employees in the city and town municipalities.

The Porter County Fair will start in three weeks, July 20-29.

In other news:

• The County Assessor’s Office will move forward with its Pictometry International contract for its aerial imaging software that makes measuring properties easier for office staff. A flyover was done last year of the county, Chief Deputy Assessor Daniel Timm said, and the images will signal where changes are seen. The software is expected to provide some cost savings since workers can spot the changes without having to go out into the field. The move costs roughly $50,000 which has already been appropriated out of the county auditor’s non-reverting fund. Timm said the assessor’s office is hoping a flyover can be done every three years.

• Emergency Management Authority Director Phil Griffith started his retirement last week. Evans said the EMA will be reorganized to make the county’s environmental operations department more efficient. More discussion about the modifications will take place at the commissioners’ next meeting on July 16.




Posted 7/5/2012

Revised 7/6/2012