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Majority seeks to overturn surprise Porter election

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Three Porter Town Council members want to unseat Dave Babcock as council president saying his Dec. 28 election violated town code because it didn’t occur at the “first annual meeting” of 2011.

Babcock said concern has been expressed to him that his leadership “will mess up everything because of appointments I would make and I’d prevent the town from moving forward.” He denied both contentions.

Thursday, members Michele Bollinger, Trevin Fowler and Todd Martin signed a letter requesting a special council meeting for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall. The council’s first regular meeting of 2011 will follow at 7 p.m.

Fowler said a special meeting was called because it’s “the best way to address this separately in hopes it doesn’t come to be a big problem at the 7 o’clock hour.”

“The purpose of the special meeting is to discuss the position of the Town Council President and, if requested by any Council Member in attendance, to take a vote on the selection of a member for such position,” according to the trio’s letter.

Town code provides for either the president or at least two of the five council members to call in writing for a special meeting, such request requiring certification by the clerk-treasurer and delivery by the chief of police.

December 28 vote challenged

At the last meeting of 2010 --- with Fowler absent --- member Jon Granat unexpectedly nominated Babcock for president; Babcock seconded. They voted yes and Bollinger and Martin voted no. Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy broke the tie in Babcock’s favor.

Babcock said he didn’t know Granat would make such a motion until Babcock arrived at the town hall that night. “It was a surprise to me and Carol. It wasn’t a set-up.”

Fowler released a statement in person Thursday saying it appears Granat and Babcock took advantage of his absence; Fowler had announced Dec. 14 he would not be present Dec. 28 but “had an agenda item been presented to reorganize, I would arranged my schedule to return prior to our meeting.”

Fowler said, in addition to violating town code regarding the timing of reorganization, it was a further code violation to elect Babcock because reorganization was not on the published Dec. 28 agenda and it required official action.

Giving prior notice, said Fowler, applies to council members wishing to place something on the agenda as well as to members of the public. A non-agenda item may be taken up by the council if it first votes to waive the agenda omission.

“The nomination and vote was submitted by Jon unannounced, not listed on the agenda and made during ‘closing comments,’ thus a violation of our town code,” said Fowler. “A unanimous vote to waive this requirement was not met. A re-vote is both fair and legal.”

Associate town attorney Ethan Lowe was present Dec. 28 during the vote but neither he nor Bollinger or Martin objected on procedural grounds although Bollinger did say reorganization was planned for Jan. 11.

Fowler said his District 4 represents “a growing and influential part of the Town of Porter,” and “my vote, view and voice were not heard in our Dec. 28 meeting. I feel strongly I was deprived of my right and privilege to represent my district.”

Fowler was chosen by a Republican caucus in September to replace outgoing elected councilman Mike Genger, who moved to South Korea. All Porter elected officials are Republicans.

Big plans in jeopardy?

Babcock’s disputed election comes on the heels of an attempt by some council members to have all Porter Park Department employees taken from Park Board jurisdiction and placed under direct supervision of the Town Council to streamline operations.

The Park Board voted 4-0 last month to deny that request despite a reminder that the Town Council could disband the board. A council response is pending.

Porter’s Redevelopment Commission also is the lead agency planning a $30 million Gateway to the Indiana Dunes including an iconic entrance along Indiana 49 to the state and federal parks; motels, restaurants and related tourism development are planned with spillover benefits into area downtowns.

The commission will meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. to finalize Gateway recommendations so it can apply for additional regional grant funds.

The Porter Redevelopment Commission spent $350,000 to buy 30 acres west of Porter’s downtown. Municipal uses as well as a mix of residential, neighborhood commercial and senior living units are eyed with development partners being sought.

In light of these ongoing projects, Fowler said a concern was what presidential board appointments Babcock would make Tuesday with key seats on the Redevelopment Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Park Board to be filled.

“We made significant progress as it relates to the Gateway, a good project, and the Brickyard, and after Dec. 28 I have concerns what Dave might do in his leadership,” said Fowler, who formerly served on the Redevelopment Commission.

According to Babcock, “Trevin asked me to resign. I said no.” Fowler said he posed the question hypothetically: if Babcock were to resign. “Dave feels strongly ‘what is done, is done’ and stands strongly against a re-vote. We have agreed to disagree.”

Babcock said he thought the objection was that Pomeroy broke the tie, which is provided for in state law and town code, but Fowler said nobody is challenging her decision to do so. At the 2010 reorganizational meeting Jan. 12 last year she broke a tie vote with Genger absent to place Joe Wagner on the Porter Police Commission.

Future implications for 2011

Babcock and Fowler were asked what the presidency dispute portends for council unity in the coming year. Granat served as president in 2008 and Bollinger in 2009/10.

Said Fowler, “Nobody likes division. I tried figuring out how to work this through, short of Dave being president.” Asked whether denying Babcock the presidency would fracture the council, Fowler declined comment.

As for Babcock, “We’ve got all these problems. It’s not enjoyable at all. It’s politics at its worst. It’s a shame we can’t take turns being president, do our job, and instead have to deal with this petty stuff.”

Town Council elections take place this year. Fowler said he will be a candidate after becoming more resolved the last 10 days to run. His district represents Dune Meadows, Wagner Hills and Porter Beach.



Posted 1/7/2011




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