Chesterton Tribune

Photo: New Porter Council removes curbs on public comment

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New Porter council convenes: Porter town officials were sworn in and met in an organizational meeting Jan. 1 at the Hawthorne Park community building. Sharing a lighter moment were (left to right) Town Council members Paul Childress, Sandy Boothe, President Jennifer Granat, vice-president Bill Sexton, and Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy. Absent and sworn in previously was council member Sandra Snyder, who was on a family vacation. The community building was decorated for the festivities, which included a buffet luncheon, and about 100 people attended. (Tribune photo by Paulene Poparad)

 

By PAULENE POPARAD

Keenly aware of the desire for positive change town voters indicated they want, the new Porter Town Council kicked off its administration Thursday by making it easier for residents to have meaningful input on town business, and by unanimously ordering town departments to refrain from all non-essential spending until further notice.

Council President Jennifer Granat, the only member to serve previously, said public workshops will be scheduled soon to review town finances, which Granat described as “incredibly tight.”

New Clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy said the town’s $667,000 partial property tax draw has been received with another $190,000 due possibly in February. Deputy clerk-treasurer Karen Spanier said the town has an approximately $764,000 operating balance.

Councilman Paul Childress asked, “Is there a problem here or not?” He said $300,000 of the money on hand is an inter-fund loan made last month by the outgoing council that will have to be repaid. Another $100,000 also was borrowed from a separate town fund in 2001 and never repaid.

Councilman William Sexton said the workshops are needed to determine how much spendable money will be available, and whether it will be sufficient to meet the demands of the town, which requires about $100,000 a month to pay the bills. The next tax draw usually would be received in June.

In a related matter, the all-Republican council unanimously rescinded the former council majority’s December decision to pay former town building commissioner Doc Whisler $65 an hour for work related to an ongoing appeal of a permit he issued for reconstruction of a Porter Beach home. Although authorized, Spanier said to-date no additional money had been paid Whisler, who the former council said should be compensated as an expert witness.

Sexton said defending a permit the building commissioner issued should be part of the description without additional compensation.

Adopted Thursday under unanimous suspension of the rules was the New Year’s first ordinance revising the council meeting agenda to move audience participation from the end to nearer the beginning of the agenda, and adding a slot for comments from the council prior to adjournment.

Public comment was moved up, said Sexton, because under the previous agenda business was already conducted before the public could provide input. Childress also said someone who wants to ask a specific question can do so early now and not have to sit through the rest of the meeting.

Regarding the new council comments portion of the agenda, under the previous Democratic administration, soundly rejected by voters Nov. 4, the agenda was closely controlled and council members wishing to speak on other matters weren’t always recognized.

During public comment Thursday resident Jennifer Klug asked the council to require like other municipalities do that people must obtain a Porter County septic permit, where applicable, before being issued a town building permit. “In the long run it will protect people building houses and the town, too,” noted Klug. Granat said the council has a list of things to be reviewed, and the septic permit is a priority.

Klug also asked that the council reconsider the past practice of issuing badges to the building commissioner and public works director that might be confused with a police officer’s badge. “Nobody should have badges unless they’re actually police or the Police Commission,” said Klug. Said Public Works Director Scott Guy, “I never put myself out there as a police officer.”

On behalf of the Porter American Legion Post, Commander Claude Martinez asked if the group would be allowed continued use of the Hawthorne community building. He was told they would.

Guy said residents who don’t have a way to discard their Christmas trees may call his office to arrange pick-up, and Police Chief John Lane said surplus items will be auctioned off including a backhoe and truck Jan. 10 at the town auction. A list of items is available at the town hall.

Town residents elected the new Porter council in a landslide, and the fact so many invested their hopes for the town’s future in its members isn’t lost on them.

Said Childress, “The pressure is very high. I’m expecting everything we do will be scrutinized to the limit, and that’s a good thing. It’s almost impossible for us to screw up because 500 people will tell us we did.”

Boothe, too, said she feels the pressures of a new office. “It’s a lot of work. My eyes are opening up to a lot of problems we do have. It’ll be scary.” She said her priorities will be extending municipal water and sewers, and how to finance it.

Sexton said his council is up to the challenges ahead. “It’s a good group. We have our disagreements but we don’t have fights. We have a civil discussion.”

After four years on the previous council, often questioning and voting against the majority’s decisions, Granat said it’s exciting to finally serve as council president. “It’ll take a while to get used to it, but I’ve got people here helping me.”

 

Seen and Heard

HEARD—Burns Harbor Town Council member Bernie Poparad attended the new Porter Town Council’s first public meeting Thursday and offered its members Burns Harbor’s cooperation and assistance. “Got any money?” asked Porter Councilman Paul Childress, prompting laughter. Replied Poparad, “You know our situation. You can’t get much out of us.” Burns Harbor only now is rebounding after losing 85 percent of its tax revenue when the former Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001.

 

Posted 1/2/2004