Outgoing president Michele Bollinger said the Porter Town Council will
address the Park Board controversy when town attorney Patrick Lyp can advise
Lyp was absent and associate town attorney Ethan Lowe attended Tuesday’s
meeting. The next scheduled council meeting is Jan. 11.
Bollinger told the audience that with Lyp’s input the council will have a
statement about the park matter. She later told the Chesterton Tribune,
“We’ll address what we’re going to do and what’s going on.”
Member Todd Martin said after the meeting that the council is hesitant to
discuss the park situation without legal advice because former council
member Bill Sexton has filed a complaint with a state agency challenging the
legality of the council’s Dec. 14 closed executive session with the Park
Tuesday, that board voted 4-0 not to approve the Town Council’s request that
it transfer effective Jan. 3 jurisdiction for all park employees to the
council, and the park appropriation for their salaries with them.
Last night resident R.C. LaHayne, one of 17 people in the audience,
supported the council’s request. “I think in my estimation the Park Board
should go under the jurisdiction of the Town Council; you people are the
ultimate authority and they are not.”
LaHayne blamed the Park Board for the demise of the former Taste of Porter
summer festival. “For 12 years we had the Taste of Porter and the Park
Department shot it down --- they don’t like this, they don’t like that,” he
Park Board members Rondi Wightman and Jessie Campaniello were present but
did not comment.
Resident Judy Chemma, who said she also worked on the Taste of Porter,
disagreed with LaHayne. She said the Park Board works to promote events like
the Chesterton Art Fair in Porter’s Hawthorne Park.
Chemma urged the council not to disband the Park Board in retaliation for
its rejection of the employee transfer, saying it would be a “very, very
wrong move on your part (and) they should be a separate entity. There’s a
check and balance there.”
LaHayne’s and Chemma’s remarks came during the audience participation
portion of the agenda. She asked the council how they could have instructed
the Park Board at the Dec. 14 closed meeting to vote on the employee
transfer when it never has been discussed publicly before.
"I’d like some answers so we can stop rumors. If not a hidden agenda, why
are we not talking about it?” asked Chemma.
Bollinger said the council will discuss the park situation when it appears
on their agenda. Lowe said any final action will occur at a public meeting
as required by law.
After the meeting Martin said no secrecy was intended but the request wasn’t
supposed to be made public as a courtesy to the Park Board so it didn’t
catch its members off guard. The Park Board itself revealed the matter when
it placed the transfer request on its Dec. 15 meeting agenda for discussion.
According to Martin, “The Park Board does not understand what we want and
it’s unfortunate. I think we’re pretty up front what we want to do. They are
choosing not to work with us.”
He explained the council is seeking more continuity by having all department
heads under its jurisdiction.
Tuesday, Park Board members said it’s they who haven’t been fully informed
about the council’s short-term and long-range plans for the Park Department
---- especially if it has no employees.
Park Board president Patty Raffin said in a prepared statement that the
first knowledge of the council’s plan was presented at a meeting in late
November between two council and two Park Board members. At that time the
council’s interest in transferring the park superintendent only was
communicated, according to Raffin.
But at the joint Dec. 14 meeting where all Park Board members were present,
said Raffin, it was revealed to them the council intended to transfer all
full-time, part-time and seasonal park employees and their salaries
effective Jan. 3.
Park Board members have sought outside legal counsel regarding the matter
saying the town attorney does not represent their board in that Lyp informed
the council they could consider taking action to disband the Park Board if
its members don’t accept the transfer request.
Councilman Jon Granat, liaison to the Park Department, has characterized the
statement as a possibility, not a threat, although all Park Board members
said Tuesday they clearly interpreted it that way.