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
“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
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 to manage the Porter County Expo
Center and he oversaw many improvements to the reception hall and the Expo
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
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
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
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
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.