Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners say goodbye to county attorney and hello to animal shelter director

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

“We are about to say good-bye to a legend,” Porter County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, stated at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, the last for county attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger.

Evans closed Tuesday’s meeting leading a farewell to Rinkenberger, who became the county’s first full time county attorney starting in May 1995, and wished her the best in her new role as Porter County Juvenile Magistrate.

“I hope you don’t hate me for taking her,” said County Circuit Court Judge Mary R. Harper who appointed Rinkenberger as Magistrate on Feb. 22.

Rinkenberger was one of 16 applicants for the magistrate job, Harper said.

A small reception was held after the meeting attended by several other county judges and members of the county prosecutor’s office.

Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, said she knows Rinkenberger wanted the juvenile magistrate job for a long time and was always there to give good legal advice during Knoblock’s eight years as a county commissioner.

“Good luck on your journey. We’re going to miss you,” Knoblock told Rinkenberger.

The newest county commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, echoed those sentiments saying she learned a lot from the short time she got to work with Rinkenberger.

“I appreciate all the help she gave me,” Adams said.

Evans further joked he and Rinkenberger disagreed on many things but more often than not she was right. He said she was well-researched and defended the county successfully on a number of lawsuits.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said she appreciates Rinkenberger’s “extremely helpful” effort to sort out troubles during the time when the county was late on getting out the tax bills when Graham first came onto the county council in 2009.

During her tenure, Rinkenberger, a Valparaiso University Law School graduate, worked with a total of ten different commissioners.

March 15 will be her first day as county juvenile magistrate.

“I love my job. I’m going to miss it. But I’m still going to be with county government so I can pop in and give you some good advice,” she told the three commissioners.

Interim Attorney Appointed

Replacing Rinkenberger on a temporary basis is Elizabeth “Betty” Knight who has the experience of working closely with Rinkenberger during her time as county attorney on civil litigation matters involving Porter County.

Knight, who has provided legal representation for government for 33 years in Indiana and Illinois, joined in the raves for Rinkenberger by naming her “the most proactive governmental defender” in all the governmental entities she has worked with.

“The contribution is most unique,” said Knight. “She has watched out for every single person (in county government) for the last 16 years.”

Knight is an attorney at Knight, Hoppe, Kurnik & Knight, Ltd. which has an office in Schererville and another in Rosemont, Ill. She has served as litigator for numerous federal and state courts in Indiana.

County Sheriff David Lain backed the commissioners’ decision to appoint Knight as the interim county attorney saying he knows her to be a “competent and competitive” attorney after having worked with her.

Thomas Named Official Director

While bidding adieu to Rinkenberger, the commissioners on Tuesday officially welcomed Jon Thomas as the new permanent director of the Porter County Animal Shelter. Thomas has worked as the shelter’s interim director since November, shortly after former director Kristina Montgomery resigned after three months on the job.

A Valparaiso native, Thomas lived in Dallas, Texas, for 25 years where he worked in insurance before moving back to Northwest Indiana.

Under Thomas’ direction, the shelter has changed its hours to make it easier for residents to adopt animals.

Evans last week expressed his contentment with Thomas’ ability to turn around the shelter and increase adoptions dramatically. Further accomplishments include a rise in volunteerism and donations.

Thomas also led efforts to socialize and make adoptable dogs that were seized by animal control officers in January from a hoarding situation in Westchester Twp.

 

Posted 3/7/2012