Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Porter waiting for attorney opinion before acting on parks takeover

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Outgoing president Michele Bollinger said the Porter Town Council will address the Park Board controversy when town attorney Patrick Lyp can advise them.

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 Board.

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 said.

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.



Posted 12/29/2010




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