On the "Come Up" with Karen               
2013 Reports on matters pertaining to Gary, Indiana and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's running of the "Steel City"

Economics create a battle between the haves and the have-nots, and between the takers and the taken - Karen Freeman-Wilson, 2013

Urban Decay in a City of Steel  (CNN Photo Blogs) -

Gary, a community that seems to know its problems but can't figure out a way to solve them.
The shabbiness of the city, and the casualness with which it residents wield guns for self-protection, is shocking.

  Go To:  Archived 2012 (Jan - Dec) "On the Come Up with Karen" Report
  Go To:  Archived 2011 (Jan - Dec) Rudy Report
  Go To:  Archived
2010 (Jun - Dec) Rudy Report
  Go To:  Archived
2010 (Jan - Jun) Rudy Report
  Go To:  Archived
2009 (Jul - Dec) Rudy Report
  Go To:  Archived
2009 (Jan - Jun) Rudy Report
  Go To:  Archived
2008 Rudy Report
  Go To:  
Jacko Jabber (Reports on matters relating to the demise of Michael Jackson)


Well, here we go with the 2013 report on the running of the City of the Century - Gary, IN - by its elected officials.  This is the second year without Rudy at the helm, as well as the second year a female has occupied the Gary Chief Executive office.  There can be little doubt but Karen Freeeman-Wilson does indeed have her work cut out for her!

Remember, you may access the earlier reports from the links appearing above, or at the bottom of, this page.


Gary Sheraton Demo on Hold
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[23 Jun 2013]

GARY The recent discovery of additional asbestos combined with funding tied up by the federal sequestration is delaying the demolition of the blighted downtown Sheraton Hotel.  "We were impacted by the sequestration and theres still a significant amount of asbestos left," Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Thursday.  The asbestos was found when federal officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently inspected the building.

She said the city is reviewing the asbestos removal contract originally signed by a developer who wanted to turn the 14-story hotel, built in 1971, into a senior citizen high-rise.  The hotel has been closed since the mid-1980s.

In 2007, New Gary Development LLC, a group of Chicago-based investors who had the backing of former mayor Rudy Clay, received a $735,000 loan from the citys Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund.

In 2008, the EPA approved the loan and New Gary hired J&K Environmental Inc. of East Chicago in 2008 to remove the toxin.  Later, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management inspected the project and said 98% of the toxin was gone.  Cleanup on the remaining 2% stalled along with the project that never materialized.

In 2010, the hotel ownership reverted back to the city when the developer failed to pay the loan and owed more than $100,000 in back taxes.

In her first week in office, Freeman-Wilson vowed the hotel would come down and be replaced by the park.  "This is delaying it, but its not that it wont get done," said Freeman-Wilson.

She said the city is seeking federal grants to aid in the demolition, estimated at about $1.3 million.  Last month the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority approved a $200,000 Challenge Grant toward the demolition to serve as a match for federal money.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   I am sure that "reviewing contracts" will resolve the problem that Rudy left.  The Sheraton is not only a white elephant, it is also the gorilla in the room whenever Gary redevelopment is discussed! 

 

Only Way Gary Airport Will Succeed is As a Race Track
A Post-Trib "Letter to Editor"
[21 Jun 2013]

Gary/Chicago Airport solution:

Right now you have a money pit in perfect condition.  You could easily turn that situation around very quickly!

It would take literally, very, very little expense to turn it into a money maker and tourist attraction!

Turn it into a Northern Indiana Dragstrip and set of race tracks, both circle and sportscar type.

You already have:

1. The track (If its long enough for jets, its long enough for drag racing).
2. Resident noise should already be cared for from jet noise.
3. Have the control tower in place and ready.
4. Garages (Hangers).
5. Concession areas.
6. Plane turn arounds could be should tracks for Karts-Stockcars.
7. Etc., Etc.

Only thing lacking would be bleachers and race fans would be more than happy to stand to watch!

Rick Taylor
Westville

 

Gary Firefighter Steals, Then Returns, Photog's Camera at Clay Funeral
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
[14 Jun 2013]

GARY - While mourners paid tribute to former Mayor Rudy Clay at his funeral Wednesday, someone slipped out of the Genesis Center with a digital camera and telescopic lens belonging to a newspaper photographer.  The equipment was returned later that afternoon, and the Times photographer agreed not to pursue criminal charges, police spokeswoman Cpl. Gabrielle King said.

But Gary Fire Engineer Jerome Lynch may face disciplinary action from the department.  Lynch, whose duties include taking pictures at fire scenes and special events, has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is investigated.  City spokeswoman Chelsea Whittington said the city would not comment on a pending personnel matter, but other sources confirmed that Lynch was sent home because of the incident.

Lynch, who describes himself as CEO of Lynchmob, a photography company, told co-workers he took the camera by mistake, because it looks like his.

However, when Lake County security guard Michael Miller saw a firefighter in his dress uniform walking quickly through the Lake Superior Court building, he noted the man carried two cameras and strange behavior, the police report states.  Miller had just learned of the theft and tried to stop the firefighter, who left through another door and fled the area.

Several people recognized Lynch and began calling him on his cell phone.  He eventually returned to the Genesis Center with the camera, which was not damaged, King said.

The Times photographer, Jonathan Miano, 35, had left his black digital Canon camera and white 70-200mm lens in a corner of the Indiana Room while he used other equipment to record events.  Ten minutes later, the camera and lens were gone.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   The life and drama that pervades present-day Gary played out even at Rudy's funeral.  Rudy would be the last person to be surprised or shocked by this fact!

 

Rudolph Clay, Sr. (1936 - 2013)

   

Earlier today (6/4), word reached Gary City Hall that former Mayor Rudy Clay passed away Tuesday.  The cause of his death has not been confirmed.  However, Clay has been battling prostate cancer for more than a year.

He died shortly after noon in his home on the city's west side, said his wife, Christine Swan Clay.  He was 77.  In addition to his wife, Mr. Clay also is survived by a son, Rudy Jr.

Services are pending, but Mr. Clay had asked to hold the event at the city's downtown Genesis Convention Center.

Upon receiving word of Clay's passing, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson expressed her sympathy.

 

Gary Offering Vacant Homes for a Dollar
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[3 Jun 2013]

GARY Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said shes got reason to feel nostalgic about the "dollar home" program shes launching in her housing-ravaged city.  As a young deputy prosecutor 25 years ago, Freeman-Wilson said she purchased a dollar home in the 800 block of Fillmore Street under a popular HUD program.  "It had an overwhelming impact on my living in the city of Gary and contributing to it," she said.

As the city grapples with vacant houses and buildings Freeman-Wilson never forgot the dollar home program and pledged to revive it during her mayoral campaign in 2011.  Today, about 25% of the citys homes are abandoned.  On Monday, Freeman-Wilson said the city will run its own version of the dollar home program starting with 13 houses owned by the city in the University Park neighborhood, largely near Indiana University Northwest.  "At the end of the day, it allows us to keep those who want to stay as homeowners and keep the city vibrant," Freeman-Wilson said at the City Hall press conference.

As for the income, a single homeowner should have an income of $35,250 to qualify.  Two people would require an income of $40,350.  The new dollar homeowners must also pay the taxes on the home and insure it.  Community Development workers will visit the properties to make sure the requirements are met.

Applications will be available at the Community Development Department, 839 Broadway, beginning Friday.  Qualified applicants will be able to inspect the homes and request three preferences.

Freeman-Wilson said she plans to expand the program.  "This is just the beginning.  We will spread it throughout the city," she said.

 

Gary Airport Board Moving On After Allegiant Loss
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson and Michelle L. Quinn
[28 May 2013]

In its first meeting since Fridays announcement, board members Tuesday appeared unperturbed at the airlines leaving.  Board Vice President the Rev. Marion Johnson said the airline has a history of leaving markets all over the country.

Allegiant Air represented the first time an airline with a successful financial track record offered service out of the Gary airport.

Airport officials financed marketing for the airline from the airport's budget.  Wheeler declined to share revenue numbers at Gary or seats sold for flights.

As part of the incentives offered to Allegiant by the airport, the airline paid neither parking nor landing fees for its planes, Landry said.  But he said what the airport will lose in revenue from Allegiant, it will make up in not incurring airline-associated expenses.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Given its history of leaving markets, why did Gary give Allegiant such a sweetheart of a deal one has to wonder?

 

Gary Airport Project Could Be Delayed by Legal, Environmental Hurdles
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[28 May 2013]

Gary/Chicago International Airport should have a clearer picture within weeks as to whether it can complete its $166 million expansion project by its December deadline.

Railroad negotiations and environmental pitfalls both have the potential to delay individual parts of the project, with key meetings and negotiations happening during the next several weeks, the airport authority was told by advisers at its Tuesday meeting at the airport administration building.  "If we don't make that December deadline, it will make us look awful bad," said authority vice president Rev. Marion Johnson at one point during the discussions. T he airport authority and Federal Aviation Administration, which is funding much of the expansion, mutually agreed to the December deadline 2 1/2 years ago.

No timeline can be given for the concluding of utility easements under railroad rights-of-way and complex agreements between two railroads for trackage and other rights, lawyer Charles Spitulnik told the authority.  Both Spitulnik and another lawyer from the Washington, D.C. law firm of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP were in Gary to report to the airport authority and work with railroads and utilities on the deals.  The authority hired the firm four years ago to kick start negotiations with railroads over the complex agreements needed before three sets of tracks owned by three different railroads could be moved to make way for the airport expansion.  The airport's fees paid to lawyers negotiating those agreements with railroads reached $722,875 last August and were still climbing.

Expansion project manager Scott Wheeler told the airport authority a key meeting with environmental regulators is scheduled for Thursday.  The airport is negotiating the final shape of environmental cleanups that must be done before the runway expansion can be completed.  Wheeler told the authority he hopes to come out of Thursday's meeting with a better idea of how construction schedules will be affected.

The airport authority also heard there is no resolution yet to concerns on the part of Boeing Corp. about a new aircraft maintenance center that wants to locate at the airport.  Consultant Al Stanley, of JClark Aviation Group, told the authority a meeting had recently been held with Boeing and East Lake Management & Development, which wants to build a new hangar to service aircraft just east of Boeing's.  Boeing is concerned about the potential for collisions or other accidents when its jet liners mix with the smaller planes that will be using East Lake's hangar.  But Stanley said he could not give a timeline as to when the issue might be resolved.  A planned $3 million investment by East Lake is hanging in the balance, as well as new business it could bring to the airport.  "It's not something you can snap your fingers at and say all of a sudden you have a solution," Stanley told the authority board.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   It would behoove the airport to do whatever is necessary to please Boeing, its only paying tenant, to keep it at Gary International?

 

Airport's $225,000 Could Not Keep Allegiant in Gary
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[25 May 2013]

The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority spent $225,000 marketing Allegiant airlines flights to the public, but it wasn't enough to keep the airline in Gary beyond this summer.  The Airport Authority announced Friday night it had received a May 17 letter from Allegiant stating its last scheduled flight from Gary would take place Aug. 10, leaving the airport once again without regularly scheduled passenger service.

Local officials say that money was not wasted, as Allegiant flights enabled the Gary airport to board more than 10,000 passengers in 2012, which qualified it for $1 million in federal airport improvement funds.  If the airport doesn't break the 10,000 passenger mark, it gets only $150,000 in such funds.

Northwestern Indiana Regional Development Authority CEO Bill Hanna said one issue, such as Allegiant ceasing flights at Gary, will not determine the airport's future.  "We need to take a longer view of things and have a commitment to getting the job done," he said of the airport's future plans and the $166 million expansion project the RDA is helping fund.  Hanna said he only learned Friday night of Allegiant's decision to end flights in August.

On Friday, the airport's interim director, Steve Landry, explained Allegiant's departure by stating: "Allegiant's service from Gary to Orlando isn't consistent with their revenue model."  Landry said Allegiant remains open to looking at future opportunities at Gary.  That was reiterated Saturday by airport spokesman James Ward.  "They left the doors open for discussion," Ward said.  "So it's not like they were dissatisfied with the services here at Gary."

Starting with Pan Am in 1999, Allegiant is the latest in a line of six airlines to test the waters at Gary before pulling out.  Most of the others went out of business altogether about the same time as they ended Gary flights.  Those were Southeast, Hooters, SkyValue and Skybus.  Skybus still holds the record for the shortest stay three weeks.

Gary airport officials consistently claimed passenger loads for Allegaint flights from Gary exceeded the airline's minimum threshold for viability.  Keeping Allegiant in Gary and even the prospect of expanding its services to other cities was also the subject of months of talks between the airline and the airport's lead consultant, JClark Aviation Group.

 

Allegiant Air Pulling Plug on Gary
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus
                     and a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[25 May 2013]

Allegiant Air plans to discontinue passenger service from Gary to Sanford, Fla., in August, officials with Gary/Chicago International Airport said Friday night.  The company remains open to discussing other opportunities at the airport, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.

The airports large-scale runway expansion project and a potential public-private partnership have accelerated discussions with other airlines, she said.  "The airline industry is taking notice and other airlines are expressing an interest in Gary," Freeman-Wilson said.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Co. begin flying between Gary and Sanford on Feb. 15, 2012.  Beginning June 5, weekly flight service will switch to Wednesdays and Saturdays with one-way flights starting at $70, airport officials said.  In a letter sent to the airport on May 17, Allegiant said it anticipates the last flight to Sanford will be Aug. 10.

The mayor said she was disappointed but not surprised by the announcement.  "I dont have their numbers, and I know there were a lot of people happy with the service," she said.  "Our office will continue to work with the airport to get more business there."

Interim airport director Steve Landry said changes at the airport are making the location more competitive.  "An expanded runway to accommodate coast-to-coast destinations and larger aircraft changes the airports competitive advantage significantly," Landry said.  "Right now, Allegiants service to Gary isnt consistent with their revenue model.  However, they remain open to talking to us about future possibilities."

The announcement comes at a time the airport authority is making plans to move ahead with the largest borrowing in its history, with a bonding resolution being readied for its June 10 meeting.  A joint city/airport committee seeking to land a public-private partnership for the airport was told Friday the airport needs to raise $34 million to pay some of the last bills on its $166 million expansion project, as well as some needed repairs to an airport runway and taxiways.  The committee resolved to recommend the airport issue tax-exempt municipal bonds to raise the money, something that will place some limits on private uses of the airport in the future.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   The only other major tairport tenant is Boeing.  However, its lease expired in April of 2013.  It now occupies space at Gary International on a month-to-month basis.  QUERY:  Will they ever get it right at Gary International?

 

Population Shrinking in Most Lake County Cities
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[23 May 2013]

Lake County communities across the board have seen a loss in population the past two years, including ones that had recently seen growth, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Crown Point was the only Lake County city to see a gain in residents, with an increase of 3.1%, or 854 people.  Just five towns saw growth from 2010 to 2012.

The numbers were better in Porter County, where all cities and towns saw at least some degree of growth.  Burns Harbor saw the biggest increase in Porter County with 5.7%, or 66 people.  Valparaisos population grew by 0.9% and Portage grew by 0.1%.

The new numbers show population estimates for all cities and towns.  Hammond and Gary have the biggest decrease, not only among Lake County communities but for all cities in the nation with a population greater than 50,000.  At a drop of 1.4%, the two cities are tied for seventh nationally for the biggest loss.  Hammond continues to hold a slight edge as the largest city in the region, with 79,686 residents to Garys 79,170.

Other cities continued to see drops, including Lake Station (1.4%) and East Chicago (0.8%), but others that saw growth during the past decade, such as Munster, Dyer and Schererville, saw more residents leave than move in over the past two years.  Griffith had a loss of about 1%, or about 150 people.

Winfield claimed Lake Countys highest growth, with an increase of 11.4%.  The town was followed by St. John (3.2%), Crown Point (3.1%), Merrillville (1.1%), Cedar Lake (0.9%) and Lowell (0.7%).
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   I suspect that I may be "mathematically challenged," but I do not comprehend how a Merrilville population increase of 1.1% supports the premise that "Crown Point was the only Lake County city to see a gain in residents"?

 

Feds:  Van Til Indicted for Using Public Employees, Resources for Campaign Work
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by John J. Watkins
[18 May 2013]

HAMMOND | Lake County Surveyor George Van Til defrauded taxpayers by ordering county employees to perform political campaign work on the county dime and using county equipment, prosecutors said Friday.  At one point during his alleged scheme, Van Til, 65, who is serving his 20th year as the county's elected surveyor, paid a county employee $100 to swap out a hard drive on a county computer to cover his tracks, said U.S. Attorney David Capp, who oversees federal prosecutions in Northwest Indiana.

Ultimately, a resident's tip to federal authorities led to the investigation and indictment of Van Til on six federal felony counts of wire fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice, Capp said.  An indictment made public Friday in Hammond federal court accuses Van Til of hatching the scheme between November 2007 and December 2012.

Van Til ordered one employee, who worked for the surveyor's office for about a month, in November 2011 to do "virtually all" campaign work, including serving as a valet and picking up a tuxedo for Van Til to wear to a political fundraiser all while the employee was collecting a Lake County salary, Capp said.  Van Til directed another employee to remove a hard drive from a county computer and replace it with another in case the federal authorities ever paid a visit to the office, Capp said.

Capp accused Van Til, whose office controls $1.5 million in public funds and has a staff of 17 full-time and 15 part-time employees, of abusing the public trust.  "This conduct needs to stop, and it needs to stop immediately," Capp said Friday during a news conference announcing the Van Til indictment.

Van Til did not return calls placed by The Times on Friday seeking comment on the indictment.

 

Gary Charter School Loses Ball State Appeal
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
[15 May 2013]

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) Ball State University has closed the books on its January decision to pull its sponsorship of five academically struggling Indiana charter schools, including the LEAD Preparatory Charter School in Gary.

Ball State said Wednesday that President Jo Ann Gora had approved a review panels decision to reject the five schools appeals.  Appeal panel leader Melissa Rubrecht says the committee made a good-faith effort to make recommendations in the best interest of the students, communities and Ball State.

The schools to be closed are in Gary, Ft. Wayne Indianapolis and Richmond.

 

Gary Approves Temporary Loans to Make Pension Payments
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[14 May 2013]

GARY The city will meet its police and fire pension obligations with loans of millions from the bond bank.

The Common Council at a special Tuesday night meeting unanimously approved ordinances that allow the city to borrow $4 million in tax anticipation warrants and take a $3.5 million loan from the Hammond Bond Bank to cover the next couple months of pension payments for the departments.  The loans will be paid back as the city receives its tax draws in June and December, Controller Celita Green said.

The $4 million in tax anticipation warrants are an extension to the $14 million the city drew on last year for 2013, Green said, and equal the $18 million the city borrowed in 2012.  At the time the city went to approve tax anticipation warrants for 2013, it could borrow only $14 million because it was at its borrowing capacity with the bank.

For the $3.5 million $2 million of which goes to the Police Department and $1.5 million to the Fire Department pension relief monies from the state arrive in June, Green said, and will be enough to pay back the loan.

The city pays $50,000 per month in pension costs, or $10 million per year.  "Weve not received our tax draw, just like no other municipality in the county has," Council President Kyle Allen said.  "When the tax draw comes in, the loans are paid.  This has nothing to do with a lack of planning or any malfeasance."

 

Gary Schools Grad Rate: 2011/2012 %

Wirt/Emerson                             94.1/75.6

New Tech                                    NA/67.3

West Side                                   69.4/65.5

Lew Wallace                              60.4/54.2 (My alma mater)

 

Gary Fires Cop Who Never Should Have Been Hired
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
[11 May 2013]

GARY Less than two years after he was hired, Patrolman Ira Guyton was fired from the Gary Police Department.  But he should have never been hired in the first place.

Guyton, 37, was convicted of two Class A misdemeanors long before he applied to join the police force.  Indiana state law, Gary city ordinances and Gary Police Civil Service Commission rules all prohibit hiring anyone with a conviction for felonies or Class A misdemeanor crimes.

The commission met in a special session Thursday, when Chief Wade Ingram provided information about Guytons criminal record.  After hearing the chiefs report, the board voted to terminate Guyton immediately.  He has been on sick leave, but attended Thursdays meeting and was ordered to return all his city equipment immediately, Ingram said.

In 1995, while attending Vincennes University, Guyton was convicted of criminal conversion in Knox Superior Court.  Then in September 2000, he was convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon in Cook County, Ill., Ingram said.

The investigation conducted before Guyton was hired revealed his criminal history.  Internal Affairs Division detectives recommended that he not be considered for a job.

But the group sworn in Aug. 3, 2011, was one of the most recent processed in the wake of a city ordinance change that allowed the chief to select anyone on the list, rather than starting with those who scored the highest on a battery of tests.  The ordinance change was made in 2007 at the request of then Mayor Rudy Clay, at the urging of council members and residents, in an effort to include more Gary residents on the force.  Then Chief Carter, whose last day as chief was Aug. 2, 2011, included Guyton in his candidate selection.

Guyton graduated from Roosevelt High School.  Several other officers hired since the ordinance change have been terminated, reprimanded or criminally charged since the Gary-first rule was implemented.

The commission is processing a new group of potential hires now.  At its May meeting, the board scheduled dates to conduct oral interviews for candidates.  Internal affairs officers will be present to review background check information before the interviews begin.

 

Lake Councilwoman Retracts Allegation Offered Job to Vote for Tax
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[11 May 2013]

HAMMOND | Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid has apologized for falsely telling a WJOB radio audience Friday morning that Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. offered her a job to change her vote in favor of a county income tax.  "McDermott did not offer me a job of any kind. I said that facetiously, to hurt him.  It's probably hurting me now. I t was wrong, and I apologize," Cid said Friday afternoon.

She said that on the "JED in the Region" show to host James Dedelow, minutes after McDermott had criticized Cid for refusing to vote for the county income tax at Monday's council meeting.

McDermott accused her of angling for a new job in local government.  Cid currently is a deputy county treasurer, but a new state law requires her to give up that job if she wins re-election on the council next year.  "This is all about what is good for Christine.  Quite frankly, she could be trying to parlay that into another job.  Ever think about that? ...  When her next election comes, she can no longer be a boss and work for the company she is the boss for. ....  She is breaking the law right now."  McDermott also said, "She already voted for a local income tax five years ago.  There is no rhyme or reason for her to change her stripes now, except for playing politics, which is exactly what Christine is doing, playing politics and sucking up to a crowd she thinks will get her elected, and they are not.  I can promise you the ones she is talking to aren't going to get her re-elected.  We are going to make sure of it."

Cid said Friday afternoon his remarks prompted her to call the radio station, an act she now regrets.  "He's lying and saying I'm holding two positions illegally right now; that upset me more than anything.   I'm within the law. I was very, very upset with the lies he was saying about me.  I wanted him to feel what I was feeling when someone lies about you and it's not true," she said.

McDermott said he had finished his remarks and was driving away from the WJOB station when he heard Cid on his vehicle's radio.  "I almost wrecked my car," he said.

 

Governor Orders Cuts in Cal Township Spending
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Dan Carden
[11 May 2012]

INDIANAPOLIS | Griffith leaders were ecstatic Friday after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law mandatory reductions in Calumet Township spending and a path for Griffith to exit the township if its excessive spending continues.  "After many years of trying, we're finally going to get needed relief from the township," said Rick Ryfa, a Griffith town councilman.

House Enrolled Act 1585 gives Calumet Township until the end of the year to reduce its township assistance tax rate used for poor relief programs to no more than 12 times the state average.  It is currently 22.64 times the state average, a rate nearly three times greater than the next-highest township.  If the township does not reduce its assistance tax rate by 2014, the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board then can appoint an emergency manager to run the township, which includes parts of Griffith, Gary, Lake Station and unincorporated Lake County.  In 2015, if the township assistance tax rate remains above 12 times the state average, Griffith is entitled to hold a referendum on leaving Calumet Township and joining another.

An investigation by The Times found that Calumet Township spends more on poor relief than any other township in the state mostly on staff costs.  For example, Griffith residents pay $1.7 million in annual township taxes but get only about $10,000 in township services.  The township has more employees than every other Lake County township combined and spent $45 million over the past 10 years to distribute $64 million in poor relief.

 

Veto Failed, Lake Co. Income Tax Passed
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[10 May 2013]

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Commissioners refused Friday morning to veto a local income tax.

Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point made five motions to veto a package of ordinances that imposes a 1.5% tax on the personal income of all county residents and out-of-state residents working in Lake.  Five times the veto requests died for lack of support from Commissioners Mike Repay, D-Hammond, and Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, who sat silently through most of the meeting.  The tax goes into effect this year.

Repay had repeatedly said he couldn't support or vote for the tax because he had promised his constituents he wouldn't.  Repay said after the meeting, "This was not a decision I made easily or overnight.  But, I feel I was elected for more than one issue."

Some tax opponents among the early morning crowd of about 30 in the Syd Garner Auditorium of the Lake County Government Center lashed out at him when the meeting adjourned.  "Who got to you, Repay?" St. John Republican activist Joe Hero shouted.  Others claimed Repay was doing the bidding of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the county Democratic party chairman, and a tax supporter.  Repay said it was his own decision, driven by concern that if the tax hadn't passed in its present form, the state legislature might enact future special legislation to divert any subsequent tax to special interests, like economic development projects outside county government control.  He said that nearly happened in this year's session.  "It could have been a lot worse," Repay said.

Dan Murchek, president of the county police union, praised Repay's courage.  Murchek said if the income tax had failed, at least 30 county police officers would lose their jobs, not to mention police layoffs and fire station closures in municipalities.

Lake County Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, had predicted Thursday that if the tax was vetoed and the council failed to override, county officials would have had to have slashed $20 million from the budgets of every county government department whose services aren't mandated by state law.

County officials said reductions in property tax revenues already have forced them to cut tens of millions of dollars from their budget and eliminated more than 300 jobs in the last three years.  The income tax would have replaced some of that lost money.

Scheub said Friday the tax was unconstitutionally imposed on the county by a state legislature that punished Lake with a property tax levy freeze since 2007.

The 1.5% income tax will become effective Oct. 1.  Residents will pay the tax for the first time when filing their 2013 state income taxes.  The amount owed will be prorated for October, November and December since the tax will not be in effect a full year.

 

County Council: Without Tax, Lake Will Close Departments, Furlough Workers
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carrie Napoleon
[10 May 2013]

CROWN POINT Draconian cuts to Lake County government and its services could begin as soon as next week if the Board of Commissioners fails to pass the 1.5% income tax Friday, officials said.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, during the County Council work session Thursday, put the brakes on any new appropriations and halted the release of any of the $15 million in borrowed money intended for replacing bridge and drainage budgets zeroed out for 2013, paying for the federally mandated improvements at the jail and other miscellaneous capital project requests until officials learn if they will have a new revenue source to pay for it.

Bilski said he is not fear-mongering, but the reality of what trimming $18 million out of the countys already tight budget will mean cuts that will impact services, facilities and employees.  While criminal justice takes up almost 90% of the county's budget, the majority of the $18 million in cuts will need to come from county administration.  "Im saying, lets not give anyone false hope.  We have to make some very, very difficult decisions," Bilski said.

Bilski said officials need to be prepared to take immediate action if the tax is vetoed as expected and stopping any spending is the first step.  Next would be a furlough plan that could begin as soon as next week that would involve closing the administrative building and all of its offices one day a week.  He is working with the councils lawyers and financial consultant to prepare a list of which services the county is mandated by law to provide in the left column and which departments and services can be cut.  "The reality is nothing is sacred on the right side of the paper," he said.

Cuts to many departments will be so significant they may be forced to close.  It is likely officials will be forced to close the parks including the Lake County Fairgrounds.  Officials will also need to consider the possibility of selling some of the countys property assets.  The pinch could be felt as soon as next week as officials are expected to implement an immediate furlough closing the administrative building and all of its offices one day a week.

If the tax is vetoed by commissioners Friday the council will have 60 days to call the veto up for an override.

 

Lake County Council Passes Income Tax
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[6 May 2013]

CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council passed a county income tax Monday.

Anti-tax protesters, who made up at least half the crowd of more than 200 who came for the tax decision, didn't sway four Democrats on the county fiscal body.  For the second time in 28 days, the Democrats formed the majority who voted to impose a 1.5% assessment on the personal income of county residents, as well out-of-state residents working in Lake County.

Council members Ted Bilski, D-Hobart; Elsie Franklin, D-Gary; David Hamm, D-Hobart; and Jerome Prince, D-Gary supported the tax.

Council members Christine Cid, D-East Chicago; Dan Dernulc, R-Highland; and Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, voted no.

The measure now moves to 8:30 a.m. Friday meeting of the Lake County Board of Commissioners.  If two of the three commissioners carry out their promises to kill the income tax with a veto, it would return the tax to the County Council for another vote, as early as May 14.  A supermajority of five council members would be needed to override a veto.

County officials faced a similar dilemma in December 2007.  Then the County Council passed a 1% income tax.  The Board of Commissioners vetoed it.  The council couldn't muster the five votes to override it.

 

Chief Wants Board to Suspend Officers Facing Criminal Charges
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
[3 May 2013]

GARY If Chief Wade Ingram gets his way, police officers charged with a crime will be forced into an unpaid administrative leave until their matter is resolved.

"I have six officers with pending criminal charges," Ingram told the Gary Police Civil Service Commission at its monthly meeting Thursday night.  [Ed. Note - This number equals 2.6% of the entire 231 uniformed officer staff.]  Of the six, five are charged with felonies.  "They are receiving financial compensation by the city to perform duties they were not originally hired for, which in essence is rewarding them monetarily for making bad decisions."

Ingram submitted a memo and supporting documentation that state law allows the board to suspend officers with criminal charges and told the commission the criminal allegations reflect poorly on the department and "the overall reputation and relationship with the community we serve."

Fraternal Order of Police President Sam Abegg said he has not read the memo, but opposes the concept on principle, citing the rights of all individuals of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Abegg noted that all six officers are working within the department.  Many are assigned to the front desk, where they take reports, supervise prisoners and process paperwork.

The board accepted Ingrams memo, but did not discuss its content or what the next step might be.

 

NWI Economic Recovery Left Job Seekers Behind
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[29 Apr 2013]

The Northwest Indiana economy recovered from the recession with robust earnings and sales, but it might be difficult to convince your average working person of that.

Economists at Valparaiso University on Monday unveiled data showing the sum total of the region's output increased 13.3% to $33.2 billion in three years time, but employment in the region remains at recession levels.  The robust growth in Northwest Indiana's economy was confirmed by several indicators, including an 11% increase in productive capacity and a 4.9% rise in private sector sales.  The average value per employee added to products and services produced here has jumped 19% to $53,416 per employee since the recession, according to the data released Monday.

However, when it came to employment, there are actually about 6,700 less people working in the region than during the recession.  The percentage of adults employed or seeking employment actually dropped from 56.8% of the population during the recession to 56% now.  The average compensation per job, a figure that includes the value of employer-provided benefits, has remained stagnant at just above $48,200.

The panelists and much of their audience spent much of the event Monday dealing with what must be done to fix the discrepancy between rising output and falling employment.  They agreed this doesn't have to be the new normal.

A reason for the discrepancy between output and employment lies in the continuing gains in productivity that are being made by American manufacturers, McGrath said.  Steel and other products can be produced in the same volumes as before but with far fewer workers, due to the implementation of computer-controlled systems and other productivity enhancements.  "Your muscle doesn't do you much good in a steel mill anymore," McGrath said.  "But your brain does."

 

Gary Targets Hopes, Future on University Park
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[30 Apr 2013]

GARY Brandon Cruz gazes out across Broadway to the yellow excavator thats raking the soil where the Glen Park Bakery once stood.  The cakes, the doughnuts are long gone. The bakery closed its doors in 2001.  [Ed. Note - The Glen Park home of the bakery owners (my childhood neighbors) is also long gone, having been demolished.]

All Cruz remembers are the weeds.  "I put weed killer down the whole block," said Cruz whos operated We Buy Gold at 3720 Broadway since 2009.  "Glen Park Bakery had a bunch of weeds in front of it.  We cut them down."  Now Cruz is awaiting a dramatic transformation of his ravaged business district.

City officials call the proposed renaissance "University Park."  The name should sound familiar.  A decade ago, former mayor Scott King first proposed the University Park concept featuring an education corridor of development between Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Techs Gary campus.  It was to be anchored by a Boys and Girls Club built with school and city money at Franklin Elementary.  But casino cash drew tight and grandiose plans faded.  The Gary Community School Corp. has since closed Franklin school and trash dots its vacant grounds.

The Comeback -

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is reviving the University Park plan and staking a good portion of the citys dwindling budget toward it.  Its early to talk legacy, but Freeman-Wilson admits University Park would be the kick-starter for economic development so sorely needed.

"Yes, there is a great need, there are 10 other places we could have easily put dollars and seen a difference in the community," she said.  "I decided very early on, that it was important to leverage other relationships like IUN."

Freeman-Wilson said she wants the plan to impress one Hoosier who doesnt live in Gary state Sen. Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican who heads the powerful Senate appropriations committee.  "He didnt think the city wanted to make an investment," Freeman-Wilson said of the area around IUN.

The city is following a 45-page, $113,000 master plan for University Park, released in February by The Community Builders Inc., a not-for-profit agency in Boston.  The organization recently developed the Shops and Lofts at 47 in Chicagos Bronzeville neighborhood.

The Footprint -

University Parks north-south footprint extends 7.5 square miles, from 33rd Av to Ridge Rd and from I- 65 on the east to Grant St on the west.  [Ed. Note - This area encompasses all the land that Rudy so generously gave to Joe Jackson for free to develop his MJ Theme Park. A scheme that never came to pass.]

Department of Commerce Director Forest Hayes said the city harnessed federal dollars to demolish 60 structures within the footprint, and about 10 more will come down in coming weeks.  The notorious Denas Pub, on the corner of 35th and Broadway and two nearby strip joints, the Pussy Cat Club and the Gentlemens Club, came down last month.

One plan, however, has already evaporated.  The Gary Public Transit Corp. had been studying a plan to develop a transit center at the Denas site but the cash-strapped agency couldnt fund it.

The Vision -

Rising from the debris, Freeman-Wilson envisions a transformation for Broadway to attract restaurants, offices and hotels along the interstate.

IUN and Ivy Tech have joined forces and money to propose a shared $55 million building on the east side of Broadway across from IUN.  One wing would include a performing arts center to replace the demolished Tamarack Hall, destroyed by flooding.  Ivy Techs wing would likely focus on health care careers.

Freeman-Wilson says University Parks development should show reluctant state leaders that Gary is an ideal place for a trauma/teaching hospital.  "We believe Indiana University is the perfect footprint for a teaching hospital.  Theres already a medical school," she said referring to the Indiana University School of Medicine-Northwest.  "I think they understand were losing millions of dollars to other states, especially to Illinois, because of our inability to adequately address trauma."

Residential Plans, Too -

University Park plans also call for a revitalized residential neighborhood, diversified with students, new families and senior citizens.

In the next month, Freeman-Wilson says shell kick off her "dollar house" program in Glen Park offering homes to people who qualify to rehab them and live in them.  The city owns many of the abandoned housing stock in Glen Park. [Ed. Note - My east Glen Park family home is owned by a bank in Santa Monica, CA. The houses on either side of it have been demolished.]

Community Development Department Director Arlene Colvin said the city has purchased about 10 properties in Glen Park and will use federal Neighborhood Stability funds to develop the area.

Hayes says the demolition along Broadway has not gone unnoticed.  "Developers are clamoring to look at some of these sites," he said.  Next, Hayes said, the city needs to establish a tax increment finance district within the footprint to spur development.

Several years of planning still lie ahead.  For now, Freeman-Wilson is quarterbacking the project from City Hall.  "The first step is bring buildings down," says Freeman-Wilson.  "When people have perception that you dont care about your neighborhood, abandoned buildings become havens of criminal activity.  "This is the first step in creating a landscape for developers to come in and develop the city."

 

Gary economic development bill passes Senate
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus and Carrie Napoleon
[27 Apr 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS A bill to give Gary an economic shot in the arm passed the Senate unanimously Friday and awaits the governors signature before becoming law.  Senate Bill 85 also includes lifting the Lake County property tax caps.

Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said the bill, as it passed through the General Assembly and saw a number of amendments, continued to receive overwhelming support.  The largest change was an amendment from Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schereville, that removed a state policy requiring Lake County to pass a county income tax.

The levy freeze, set by the General Assembly in 2007, helped to provide controls for rising property taxes, Charbonneau said.  When Lake County would not pass an income tax, he said, the property tax cap became a necessary measure to reduce property tax levy levels.  "I was not here when it passed," he said, "but I would have voted to put it in place.  It needed to happen.  But it was never intended to be in perpetuity."

Sen. Frank Mrvan Jr., D-Hammond, also supported the vote.  "We need the economic development," Mrvan said.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, highlighted the other benefits to the bill, which will provide funding for a feasibility study for both a trauma center and teaching hospital, and a study to expand the Port of Indiana to Lake County.  It also provides the city with $3 million from the Gary Sanitary District and resets membership on the Gary Airport Board, requiring five years of experience in business or aviation management.

Lawmakers said they expected the Lake County Council would pass a 1.5% county income tax, but attorneys for the council said an emergency meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday did not meet open-meeting requirements, thus preventing a vote on the tax.

If the bill is approved by the governor, the county still has options, said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.  "Hopefully they will see this as a seesaw and pass the income tax, and use the 1% for property tax relief," Brown said.  "And, at the same time, they could leave the tax levy where it currently stands, providing more relief."

Rep. Slager, said that he hopes this sets a precedent for the state to stop placing penalties on the counties to pass a tax.  "Before we added this amendment, the Senate had considered imposing a wheel tax to receive roads funds," Slager said.  "Fortunately that has been removed.  So the people of Lake County can direct that on their own."

 

Board May Cut Staff Rather than Close Schools
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[25 Apr 2013]

GARY As the Gary School Board began the arduous task of closing an $18.4 million budget hole Wednesday, shuttering more schools doesnt appear to be on the table.

Instead, the administration recommended staff reductions that could cost 175 teachers their jobs and save the district $10.5 million.  Other staff reduction proposals include cutting 15 custodians, 10 clerical staffers, 10 paraprofessionals and 10 Teamster employees.  The district would save about $6.2 million in benefit costs.

The board didn't take action on the recommendations at the four-hour work session, but by state law, affected teachers must be notified by May 1.

In recent years, Gary has closed several schools as enrollment declined, taking state funding with it.  Tax caps, shrinking enrollment and a skimpy tax collection rate of 42% have sunk the budget.  On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Nikita White listed the districts enrollment at 8,490 students, a drop of almost 700 students from 2011.

While it has closed two high schools in the past, Gary still supports four high schools, including the Roosevelt College and Career Academy, which the state took over last year.  It also operates a Career Center and a New Tech High School.

For now, the board is focusing on employee reductions.  "Some decisions may be painful," White told the board.  "It will be a balancing act, what you can live with and without."

Gary Teacher Union President Joe Zimmerman thinks the teacher layoffs wont be as high as projected.  "Hopefully, it wont result in larger class sizes," he said.  Zimmerman said Gary might be hit with an influx of students, if two charter schools close their doors and the district could recall laid-off teachers.

 

Group Asks Gov to Veto Cal Township Bill
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus
[22 Apr 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus spoke out against House Bill 1585 Monday, saying the policy is bad for the state, and disproportionately affects minority communities.  They hope to convince Gov. Mike Pence to consider vetoing the bill.  The caucus held a press conference to address concerns regarding the bill, which would require Calumet Township to reduce its township assistance tax for poor relief programs down to 12 times the state average.  The current rate is at 22 times the state average.

The bill, which already passed through the General Assembly, will give the township a year to lower the rate, or else the state Distressed Unit Appeals Board will step in.  If the rate is still above the threshold, Griffith can begin a process of seceding from the township to join another.

Gary legislators State. Sen. Earline Rogers and State Reps. Charlie Brown and Vernon Smith, said Monday that the bill is special legislation targeting communities with large minority populations.  Rogers voiced concern about the state board forcing its way into Calumet Township, instead of the regular process where a governing body petitions for help.  "This is different, this calls for no asking by a unit of government," Rogers said,  "But that the board shall come to Calumet Township.  It sets up an adversarial relationship between the local government and the state."

Brown said the General Assembly continues to place unnecessary burdens on Lake County, ranging from the tax levy freeze to not having the ability to appoint its own judges.  "Out of all the township trustees there may be one other one in the state of color," Brown said.  "Why is there so much attention given to this particular township?  Is it even constitutional for this to be directed at this one township?"

Smith went so far as to say the legislation is discrimination in state policy. "I dont believe they will be able to do it because of the need of the community," Smith said.  "Theyve been set up for failure, set up for state takeover, and I believe its discriminatory in nature."

State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Hammond, is a member of the caucus, but supports the bill, saying that responsible, efficient government helps everyone.  "This is all about good government," Reardon said.  "Its not about race or socioeconomic status.  Thats what this is about, helping more people.  If you run things more efficiently, you can help more people.  "Until Calumet Township makes some serious changes to the way they operate, its not fair to anybody.  Not the economically challenged, or the citizens of Griffith."
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Boy, is this one fraught with danger!  The Black Caucus says it has a right to continue to be supported by the good folks of Griffith.  Griffith did not create the mess.  It should not have to sustain it!

 

Gary Launches Phone App to Speed Response Time
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Diane Poulton
[20 Apr 2013]

GARY | Gary is going high-tech by using a phone application to help quicken its response time to residents requests for service and by implementing Microsoft Office 365 to improve employee efficiency and save money.

Gary 311, a free phone application with a built-in Global Positioning System, will pinpoint the callers location as residents report potholes, litter, street light outages and other issues.  Callers will be notified by text or automated voice response when the issue is resolved, Gary Director of Public Works Cloteal M. LaBroi said.  Gary 311 can be downloaded through the Apple Store for iPhones or Google Play for Android phones.  "Once you click on the Gary 311 icon on your cellular phone, you can select your service request type, tell us your problem, take a photo and submit it," LaBroi said.

LaBroi said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson "soft launched" the app at her State of the City address Feb. 26.  "Technology plays a critical role in how we get our work done, not just in government but in most every place of work," Freeman-Wilson said.  "Upon taking office, one of our priorities was to find ways to work smarter when it comes to serving the citizens of Gary."

LaBroi said the Gary Public Works and General Services departments were looking for a solution to efficiently handle a high volume of telephone calls for services.  "We determined that we needed a centralized way of tracking all of these requests and responding to citizens immediately once the work had been completed," LaBroi said.  The $30,000 system generates weekly reports identifying the complaints received, issues, locations and status.  The latest report shows that between April 1 and April 6, the city received 79 requests for service, the majority for potholes, illegal dumping and litter.

Garys Chief Technology Officer Michael Berry said the implementation of Microsoft Office 365 has both improved employee efficiency and saved the city money.  Office 365 is a subscription-based service which offers access to various services and software built around the Microsoft Office platform.  "The citys original Microsoft Enterprise Agreement was $130,000 a year," Berry said.  "With this updated technology, it is now $40,000 a year."
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   There is an app for that!  I am sure Gary residents will have no problem in being precisely pin pointed by GPS.

 

Former Gary Councilwoman Admits Evading Taxes Under Questioning from Federal Judge
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Christin Nance Lazerus
[18 Apr 2013]

It took some pointed questioning from U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen, but former Gary Common Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas pleaded guilty to hiding a $232,000 inheritance to avoid paying taxes and more than $157,000 in IRS penalties at a Thursday morning hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Hammond.

Krusas was charged with one count of tax evasion in October 2012.  She initially plead not guilty, but she reached a plea agreement with the government in late March.  The government alleged that Krusas had not filed a federal income tax return since 1991, and the government has assessed her four times since 1997 for a total of $157,413 and garnished her wages as a Gary councilwoman.

Krusas, 69, resigned her post on the council on Wednesday, her lawyer, Scott King, told the court.  Tax evasion is a felony, which doesnt allow her to hold public office.

At the change of plea hearing, Krusas and King told Van Bokkelen that she owned money to many creditors, but at first she claimed that her intention wasnt specifically to evade the IRS.  "We have to determine a factual basis for this plea," Van Bokkelen said.  "You cant plead guilty just because you want to plead guilty."

King said his client used the inheritance to pay off her mortgage, give her sister $50,000 in cashiers checks and make out $60,000 in cashiers checks to herself.  King said she sent the checks to her sister in $9,500 increments, so her sister wouldnt have to pay gift taxes.  Van Bokkelen said the amount caught his eye because checks in the amount of $10,000 or greater must be reported by banks to the IRS.

 

Argument With Wife Trips Up Wanted Black Disciples Member
Compiled From a Post-Tribune Staff Report
[15 Apr 2013]

GARY Kenneth Blackman eluded the FBI and Chicago police during a sweep of 17 other alleged members of the Black Disciples earlier this month.  But Gary police had no trouble finding him Sunday morning after he argued with his wife, who directed Patrolman Carlos Aleman and Cpl. Timothy Komoscar right to him.

Blackman, with three other Indiana residents including his brother, Walter "Gangster" Blackman, 50, a Miller resident, were charged as part of a drug and gun trafficking investigation at Altgeld Gardens on Chicagos south side.  Most of the suspects were rounded up on April 4 and 5, but only one defendant, Kenneth Blackman, was still at large.  Chicago police and the FBI targeted him as one of their "most wanted."

About 7:30 a.m. Sunday, police went to the area of 38th Avenue and Louisiana Street in Glen Park in response to reports of a disturbance.  Blackmans wife told police where her husband could be found, just a couple blocks away, and said he had a warrant.  She described his car and showed them a picture of him, Gary police spokeswoman Cpl. Gabrielle King said.

Blackman is charged with being a felon in possession of a handgun.  His brother is charged with violating federal drug and firearms laws.  Derrick Christopher, 54, and Brian Washington, 26, were charged in U.S. District Court Northern District in Hammond.  Christopher is charged with selling guns without a license and Washington with dealing cocaine.

A news release issued April 5 by the FBI after the sweep said the charges are part of an ongoing investigation into gun and drug trafficking.  Most of the suspects were apprehended in Chicago and are charged in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!

 

Lake Council Votes to Adopt County Option Tax
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carrie Napoleon
                     and a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[10 Apr 2013]

CROWN POINT A divided Lake County Council on Tuesday passed on first reading a 1.5 percent county option income tax package, the first step in enacting the income taxes officials expect to create a new revenue source and provide residential property tax relief to some.

Emotions at times ran high at times among the 100 people including officials from Hobart, Merrillville, St. John, Schererville and Lowell who came to speak out for or against the tax. Like the council itself, the audience was divided.

County officials are proposing a three-pronged approach: a 1 percent County Adjusted Gross Income Tax, a one-quarter of 1 percent Public Safety County Adjusted Gross Income Tax and a one-quarter of 1 percent County Economic Development Tax.

An estimated $81 million will be generated by the 1 percent CAGIT, which will be used to provide an equal amount of property tax relief to Lake County homesteaders, according to documents provided by the county. The revenues will be allocated among the individual taxing units based on per capita income.

The public safety tax and CEDIT will be the only new sources of revenue created by the tax. Revenues generated from the public safety tax will be used for public safety purposes in the county including the consolidated E-911 center. The CEDIT can be used for a wider variety of purposes including re-establishing the bridge and drainage levies zeroed out during the 2013 budgeting process.

Council members said their past resistance has been overcome by Republican-inspired state laws that reduced business-related tax revenues that have sustained local government in past years. County officials have shrunken their payrolls by 350 jobs in recent years and are reluctant to slash more.

The revenue generated by the tax must be shared around the county in the form of property tax credits that would primarily benefit suburban property owners and build local government budgets, primarily those in the county's urban north.

Residents, including Paula Burrell of Crown Point, said adding new taxes will change behavior of residents and could force those who stand to pay the most to move out of Lake County.

Passage of the ordinances on first reading is only a first step. Council members said they now will step back for several weeks to receive and shape public opinion before taking a second vote. The next scheduled council meeting at which a vote can be taken is 6:30 p.m. May 14.

If passed a second time, the tax proposal goes before the county government's executive branch. Two of the three members of the Board of Commissioners have indicated they would veto the taxes as an unfair imposition on working men and women.

If so, the council would need five votes to override the veto and enact the taxes.

 

'Steel City' Street Scenes (8 Apr 2013)

Teen Motorist Wounded Driving in Gary; Cops Seek Tips
GARY | Police said a 17-year-old motorist was shot as he was driving along the 4400 block of Delaware Street last week. ...

Gunman Shoots Motorist Getting into Vehicle in Gary
GARY | Police said a 20-year-old man was shot Friday afternoon as he tried to enter his vehicle in the 4300 block of West 23rd Avenue. ...

Gary Man Treated for Wound, Charged with Resisting Arrest
GARY | A 27-year-old man was charged with resisting arrest after leading police on a foot chase in the area of 22nd Avenue and Clark Road Saturday

Man Raking Leaves Assaulted after Approached for Money
GARY | A 74-year-old man was injured Sunday night when a man reportedly hit him in the head after demanding money. ...

Gary Man's Death Ruled a Homicide
GARY | The death of a Gary man found late Sunday in the alley behind his home has been ruled a homicide. ...

 

Gary Detective Charged with 3 Felonies in Ghost Payroll Case
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
and a nwiTimes Report by Susan Brown
[5 Apr 2013]

GARY Detective Jennifer Powell, an 11-year-veteran of the Gary Police Department, was charged Thursday with three felonies for allegedly working three jobs that overlapped hours for the past year.  Powell, 36, a resident of the Miller section of Gary, was charged with one count of ghost employment and two counts of theft, all Class D felonies that carry a maximum prison term of three years each.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed Thursday, Indiana State Police began investigating Powell's work activities in January at the request of Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram.

Ingram released a prepared statement through the City of Gary:  "It is always unfortunate when those who have been entrusted to enforce and uphold the law fail to do so themselves," he said.  "This investigation and filed charges prove that unlawful behavior will not be tolerated and that no one is above the law."

 

Gary Airport Privatization Could Fly, Experts Say
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[2 Apr 2013]

A lack of any track record for keeping passenger service at Gary/Chicago International Airport will make any privatization deal there a highly speculative one for investors, according to national experts.

Most successful airport privatization projects have taken place at airports that already were profitable, so investors will have little to go on when evaluating possible investment in Gary, according to Robert Poole, founder of the Reason Foundation.

"That's the big question mark," Poole said. "That's a big question mark for bidders."

"That airport is an asset," aviation consultant Michael Boyd said. "It's a huge asset. It's a huge springboard, and I think the community and the region now realize that."

Experts interviewed this week and others weighing in previously said the Gary airport authority and city cannot expect much, if any, upfront payment for leasing the airport or its facilities. But they can expect an increase in the airport's growth potential if investors roll up their sleeves and put their financial muscle to work.

The mayor told a meeting of the joint committee two weeks ago a lack of progress at the airport has left her open to a management agreement, a lease agreement or other options for spurring on development there. "We just were not getting to where we needed to go as expeditiously as I thought we could," she said.

Almost five years ago, then-mayor Rudy Clay said he had been approached by private investment bankers interested in a public-private partnership at the airport and he began talking up the prospect.

The next year, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the conservative American Enterprise Institute that leasing the airport to a private operator represented "a heck of an opportunity." It was Daniels who engineered the $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road in 2006.

But not everyone thought the idea could work. A strategic business plan prepared for the Gary airport and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority three years ago threw cold water on the idea.

 

Gary Council Prez Urges Opposition to Senate Bill
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[2 Apr 2013]

GARY Common Council President Kyle Allen on Tuesday night renewed his plea for residents to put pressure on the Northwest Indianas legislative delegation to reject the airport section of Senate Bill 585.

Allen reminded those attending the council meeting that the bill would give the governor the ability to restructure the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority by ending current members terms and appointing people who have at least five years experience in business or management.

If the bill passes, Garys airport would be the only municipal airport in the state under the governors control, which Allen said would set "a bad precedent."

"Given the current airport structure that gives the governor an appointee and given that the governor appoints the director for the (Regional Development Authority), enough is enough," Allen said.

"No other airport has (that type of regulation)."

Councilman Roy Pratt, D-At-Large, said Gov. Mike Pence and "his people" could waste their time on the bill if they want, but the courts ultimately would find their effort meaningless.

 

Gary Cop Had Three Full-time Jobs, Including at County Jail
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
[2 Apr 2013]

GARY An investigation into Gary Detective Jennifer Powells busy work schedule already has cost her one job, and she is expected to be charged criminally soon.

On March 21, just days before her one-year probation would end at the Lake County Jail, Powell was escorted from the building and informed of her termination. Powell, hired on the Gary force in 2002, began working the midnight shift at the Lake County Jail on March 26, 2012, Sheriff John Buncich said. Buncich said her termination came as his department cooperated in an investigation by Gary and Indiana State Police, examining ghost payrolling.

The state police completed its investigation into allegations she was working three full-time jobs at Gary, at the jail, and as a security guard for a Miller trucking firm months ago. A Lake County deputy prosecutor is reviewing the case and charges are expected to be filed soon, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Barb McConnell said Tuesday.

Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram said Tuesday he was unaware of the status of the case. "I havent heard anything official, other than rumors," Ingram said. "If it turns out to be true, I would seek some disciplinary action or termination," he added.

Powell is assigned to the day shift in the detective bureau, working sex cases. She was working midnights at the jail and the security job, although many of the hours recorded at the trucking company were worked by fellow officers. Powell coordinated their schedules and distributed checks from the money paid to her because she held the contract with the firm.

During his investigation, Buncich said it appeared that Powell falsified information on her application, adding to the grounds for her dismissal. One apparent lie related to her previous employment at a state correctional facility.

Powell is represented by attorney Scott King, who did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

 

Gary and East Chicago Tax Rates Tower Over Others
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[30 Mar 2013]

CROWN POINT | Lake County remains the home of the highest tax rates in the state.

Residents and property owners of Gary and East Chicago can expect to be taxed at the rate of $5.80 per $100 assessed value.  Much of Gary remains at $6 per $100 assessed value or higher.

That is well above the median tax rate for the entire state, which was $1.88 per $100 assessed value last year, according to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance website.

 

Post-Trib Closes Doors in Merrillville
Compiled From a nwiTimes Staff Report
[29 Mar 2013]

MERRILLVILLE | The Post-Tribune's newsroom and advertising offices in Northwest Indiana are now closed, according to a notice posted on the building's door.

"This office of the Post-Tribune only closed effective Wednesday, March 27, 2013," reads a sign on the door at the offices at 1433 E. 83rd Ave.  Another business is currently housed in part of the building.

The move follows a notice of planned layoffs filed with the state of Illinois in January regarding the Sun-Times Media Group.

Published reports indicate a host of longtime suburban editors, including Post-Tribune executive editor Paulette Haddix, were laid off March 15.  Haddix was affiliated with The Post Tribune during her 40-year career.

In a memo to employees in December, Sun-Times Media Group Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk said all suburban newsroom would be closed, editors would be transferred to the Chicago headquarters and reporters would work from home.

The Post-Tribune, which has operated in the region for 105 years, transferred all of its printing from its former headquarters on Broadway in Gary to the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group plant in 2008.  The printing now takes place at the Chicago Tribune Media Group's Chicago plant.

Sun-Times Media Group executives have credited the company's new "digital-first" strategy for the moves.

 

St. John Woman Murdered at Majestic Star
Compiled From a Post-Trib Staff Report
[29 Mar 2013]

GARY -- A 76-year-old St. John woman died of a gunshot wound early Friday at the Majestic Star Casino.

According to a press release from the Lake County Coroners office, the coroner was called to the Majestic Star parking garage at 3:20 a.m. where they found Mary Austgen, 76, of the 9100 block of Maple Drive in St. John.  Austgen was shot in the lower left torso area and was pronounced dead at 4:10 a.m., according to the press release.  The death has been ruled a homicide.

Austgen had been reported missing by her son, Thomas, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday from the family-owned business at Austgen Electric, 801 E. Main St., Griffith, police Detective Lt. Matt Argadine said.  She was last seen at work.

"As of right now its unclear how she got out there," Argadine said, referring to the casino parking garage where Austgens body was found.  "We are reviewing evidence right now."

Neighbors describe Mary Austgen as a quiet, hard-working woman who kept to herself.  They say she was not the type of person they would expect to be at a Gary casino in the early morning hours.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   What is this going to do in terms of addressing the declining casino revenue problem, one wonders?

 

Yet Another Gary Cop Hired by Rudy Charged with Felonies
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Ruth Ann Krause
[29 Mar 2013]

A Gary police officer has been charged in Lake Superior Court with criminal confinement, strangulation, intimidation and misdemeanor battery in a March 22 domestic dispute.  Patrolman Demonte M. Yanders, 29, is free on $4,000 cash bond posted on Wednesday, when he was arrested on the charges.

The victim, Tiffany Swaggart, told police she and Yanders got into an argument after they left Pepes Restaurant in Merrillville around 11:30 p.m. March 21.  Yanders pulled into a gas station at 53rd and Broadway and began calling Swaggart a name, so she got out of the car and started walking toward her home on Virginia Street in Gary.  Yanders drove away.  About five minutes later a Lake County police officer in an unmarked squad car gave her a ride home.

After the woman drove her car into the garage to hide it from Yanders, he walked up with his gun in his hand and asked how she got home, the probable cause affidavit states.  When she told him a Lake County officer gave her a ride, Yanders said she was lying and holstered his gun.

In the bedroom, Yanders struck her on the side of the face and pushed her onto the bed, grabbed her by the hair, pulled her to the floor and kept forcing her back to the floor by jerking her by the hair.  He demanded her phone and keys and dumped out her purse.

Swaggart ran to the door and ran outside, but Yanders followed her as she screamed for help and began running down the street.  Yanders drove up in his car, said he wasnt serious and to come back home because she had to take her children to school in the morning.  She refused to get in the car but returned home and stood on the porch because Yanders still had her keys and phone.

They both went into the house and Yanders was apologetic at first, but became hostile, so Swaggart put on her coat and tried to leave to use a neighbors phone, but Yanders blocked the doors.  Yanders grabbed her by the neck with both hands in a choke hold, pushed her back into the bedroom and told her to shut up before the kids woke up, the probable cause affidavit states.

Yanders threatened to "put that burner to you," which she understood was slang for shooting her, court records state.  He tried to apologize and wanted to get intimate, but she refused.

Yanders, divorced last fall, was hired as a Gary officer in September 2009, after then-Mayor Rudy Clay and the City Council approved an ordinance to allow the police chief to hire anyone on the eligibility list.  The citys efforts to infuse more Gary residents onto the department meant the new hires were no longer those who scored highest on a battery of tests.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Ah Rudy!  The fact of the matter is even though he is gone from office, we cannot get out from under him!

 

Poor Relief Bill Changes Boost Griffiths Chances to Leave Calumet Township
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus
[ 27 Mar 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS Griffiths chance to secede from Calumet Township is back.

A recent amendment to the bill the towns pinned its hopes on would require Calumet Township to try to reduce the amount of its poor relief tax collection to less than 12 times the state average.  If the township fails to address the high tax rate, the state will step in, and the towns can choose to leave the township.

The bill has seen a number of changes since reaching the Senate.  Originally it allowed a town to leave if the township was at 15 times the state average, then it was amended to require the state to step in if the poor relief tax collection was more than 10 times the state average, but did not allow a town to join a bordering township.

Now the bill has both options, and gives the township a year to get the tax rate below 12 times the state average.  The town needs to also complete a petition requirement of 30% of voters agreeing to leave and find a new township to adopt them.

Griffith Town Council President Glen Gaby said the town is used to paying the high costs of township tax relief, where more than half of the funds, about $2.8 million, go to administrative costs, while $2.1 million is actually used for collection.  He adds that while the township generates the money from the community, no resident from Griffith has been able to serve on the township board to influence the tax rates.  "Were the poster child of taxation without representation," Gaby said.

 

State Audit Blasts Gary Schools
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Carmen McCollum
[27 Mar 2013]

GARY | An Indiana State Board of Accounts audit of the Gary Community School Corp. points out overdrawn fund balances, poor internal controls and poor record-keeping in a 72-page audit released Tuesday that takes the school district to task.  The audit is for the period July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2012.  Auditors began the job in August and did not complete it until January.  According to the state audit, several funds were overdrawn at the time of the audit.

The Gary Community School Corp. has said its financial problems resulted from decreases in state funding because of declining enrollment, low tax collection rates and a lack of reimbursement for reimbursable grants.  The district also was affected by the revised "deghoster," which previously allowed school districts with declining enrollment to continue receiving funds for students who had transferred for three additional years.  That practice was eliminated as part of the state's plan that the money follow the student.  In addition, the Indiana Department of Education took over Roosevelt High School because of six consecutive years of academic failure, and appointed a management company to turn it around.

The Gary Community School Corp. lost approximately $4.5 million from July to December 2012, auditors said.  By the end of last year, Dec. 31, 2012, the district had a negative balance in all funds of $12.2 million, the report said.

As of June 30, 2012, the school corporation's overall cash and investment balance was $2.15 million, with negative balances in three areas:  general budget balance at a negative $2.85 million; capital projects balance at a negative $2.62 million; and transportation funds, cash and investment balance at a negative $7.52 million.

In mid-December, the corporation was issued a judgment bond in the amount of $5.7 million and used that money to pay outstanding debt to vendors.  In January, the district issued mortgage bonds on two schools and received $18 million to be used for capital improvements, funding the budget and debt service, if necessary.

The district had several outstanding bills where the checks were written but payment was withheld until the district received the bond money or its monthly draw from the state.  For example, about $4.7 million worth of vendor checks were processed, approved and posted but not released to vendors.  About $4 million due to the Internal Revenue Service for the period of Oct. 19 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, was not paid until Jan. 4, 2013.

The school corporation contracts with Compass Group USA Inc. through its Chartwells Division to manage the school's food service program.  As of Dec. 31, the school corporation owed Chartwells nearly $1.4 million for the September 2012 through December 2012 invoices.

Based on the school funding formula, the Gary Community School Corp. will receive a monthly distribution of $5.2 million from the state as tuition support to the general fund. By contrast, the district's monthly general fund expenses are estimated at $5.8 million, and that doesn't include utilities.

In the report auditors said "school officials need to continue to assess the financial situation of the school corporation to ensure a sustainable resolution to the material deficit cash balances that have been determined."

The audit said some of the bargaining agreements were not current, and it was difficult to determine if the salaries and wages paid to some staff was in compliance with board-approved rates.

The report also said the school corporation did not completely disburse federal funds until anywhere from four to 160 days after the receipt of the reimbursement.  In some cases, the state chose to hold monies "due to the overall deteriorating financial condition of the school corporation."

Finally, the Indiana State Board of Accounts intends to issue additional reports specifically on Banneker Achievement Center, Roosevelt College and Career Academy, which is the turnaround school currently run by EdisonLearning, and Lew Wallace STEM Academy.

 

EdisonLearning Fires Roosevelt Teacher
Compiled From a nwiTimes Staff Report
[27 Mar 2013]

GARY | EdisonLearning has fired a female teacher at Roosevelt College and Career Academy following an investigation into misconduct.

Roosevelt has been operated by the Tennessee-based management company this school year after the state took over the school because of six consecutive years of academic failure under the Gary Community School Corp.

Vanessa Ronketto, a senior achievement director for EdisonLearning and the school's superintendent, said it's a personnel matter and the school is not allowed to provide any specific details relating to the incident.  "However, I can state that the incident was thoroughly investigated by the school leadership, and as a result of the investigation decisions were made to take appropriate action concerning those involved," she said.  "Further, the reason for the action taken as a result of the schools thorough investigation into this matter which included interviews and the review of other relevant evidence was communicated and specifically detailed in writing to the employee.  The school is not at liberty to share the contents of that communication," Ronketto said.

 

Gary Airport Control Tower to Close; Allegiant Will Still Fly
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[23 Mar 2013]

GARY Gary/Chicago International Airports air traffic control tower did not win a reprieve from the federal government and is expected to shut down in the next six weeks.

"(Im) extremely disappointed," Interim Airport Director Steve Landry said.  Landry received an email Friday afternoon from the Federal Aviation Administration that did not include the Gary airport as one of the 24 contract air traffic control towers that would stay open.  Another 16 towers that already had cost-share agreements with the federal government will also be allowed to stay open.  That means the towers at Gary and another 148 airports with contract air traffic control towers will see their towers shut down, unless each airport comes up with its own contract.

The closures will not force the shutdown of any of the airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers.  In Gary, planes already take off and land without control tower assistance from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The closures will start April 7 and will roll out through the next four weeks.  Landry said the FAA has informed him the Gary tower will close on April 21.

Landry said the Gary airport could make its own contract with an outside company to staff the tower, but it would have to come up with the money $500,000 a year to pay for it.  The airport also has to wait to see what will happen to the companies that provide the tower employees, as some of them could be financially hurt from the federal cuts, Landry said.  "Are they going to remain a viable business because of this?" Landry said.

The towers closure will not affect Allegiant Airs service at the Gary airport.  Landry said he has received word that the airline plans to continue to normal operations at the airport.  That will include another seasonal hiatus starting around the same time the tower closes, but that break is because of a lull in the tourism season between spring break and summer vacations, Landry said.  The airline has told him they will pick up service again starting in mid-May.

 

Big Investment Fish Eye Gary Airport
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[23 Mar 2013]

The drive to land private investment for the Gary/Chicago International Airport already is drawing interest from some of the biggest names in the investment business.  A committee exploring long-term leases or other arrangements for the airport heard Friday from Guggenheim Partners, a financial firm with more than $170 billion under management that just announced a major upgrade of its real estate and infrastructure investment arm.

Guggenheim Partners Managing Partner Ramiro Albarran told the committee now is "a great time" for the Gary airport to be exploring public-private partnerships, because the cost of money is low and investors can realize greater returns.  "I think you'll see investors like us roll up our sleeves and see what can be done there," Albarran told the committee via phone at its regular meeting at the Gary airport administration building.  Albarran said investors would most likely be looking to land a long-term management or lease deal of around 30 years.  It might take three to five years just to get the kind of changes in place the airport would like to see.

Mayor Karen-Freeman Wilson said Guggenheim Partners was one of several financial firms sending representatives to Gary City Hall in mid-November to discuss possible public-private partnerships for the sanitary district, the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium and the airport.  "It was very natural that all expressed some level of interest in the airport," Freeman-Wilson said.

Other financial firms and banks that sent representatives to the November city hall meeting included Barclays PLC, of London; Citigroup Inc., of New York; and global investment banker William Blair, of Chicago, according to the mayor.

A review of Gary airport consultant John Clark's billing shows he has met in person or communicated with Guggenheim Partners six times for a total of 7 hours and 15 minutes since May.  The same billings show Mayor Freeman-Wilson met with Guggenheim Partners for 3 hours in October.  Clark said his initial conversations with Guggenheim Partners were among several contacts he made to discuss development at the airport generally.  He acknowledged in some later ones they talked specifically about public-private partnerships.

 

Missing Gun Yields Lockdown at Lew Wallace
Compiled from a nwiTimes Report by Carmen McCollum
[21 Mar 2013]

GARY | Lew Wallace STEM Academy in Gary was on lockdown for a short period Thursday morning after a school security officer realized he did not have his weapon.  Charmella Greer, Gary Community School Corp. spokeswoman, said Principal LaTanza Boarden made the decision to lock the school down because of concerns regarding the weapon.

Greer said there are five security guards at the school.  She said the one officer did not become aware he didn't have his weapon until after responding to a fight in a second-floor hallway between students.

Greer emphasized the fight had "nothing whatsoever to do with the lockdown or the officer's weapon."  She said they were two totally separate incidents.  However, the officer didn't realize he didn't have his weapon until after the fight was over between the students.

Greer said no one was hurt during the fight.  She could not say how many students were involved in the fight or if any were suspended or expelled as a result.

She said the lockdown only lasted about 20 minutes. Greer said the officer left the building and went home to get his weapon.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   In my days at Wallace we had no security guards, let alone armed security guards.  We had student hall monitors.  We also had administrators with names of Floyd Asher and Alfred Smith.

Speaking of Lew Wallace:  The Class of '64 will hold its 50th Reunion the weekend of August 23-25, 2014 at the Star Plaza/Radisson in Merrillvile.  

 

Report Ranks Lake County Among Unhealthiest in Indiana
Compiled from a nwiTimes Report by Vanessa Renderman
[21 Mar 2013]

An annual health report issued this week ranks Lake County near the bottom in the state for health outcomes, with Porter County closer to the top.

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, called County Health Rankings, analyzes and compares Indiana's 92 counties.  The agencies measure overall health for every county in all 50 states using the same formula.

In Indiana, Lake County ranks No. 81 overall, while Porter County ranks No. 20. Lake County improved since last year's No. 84 ranking, while Porter County worsened slightly, down from a No. 18 ranking in 2012, the report shows.  Hamilton County, which sits just north of Indianapolis and includes Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville, ranked as the most healthy county in the state.  Scott County, just north of the Kentucky border, ranked least healthy.

Each county is broken down into categories with accompanying rankings.  Among the areas considered are motor vehicle crash death rates, the number of sexually transmitted infections, number of fast-food restaurants, adult obesity levels and low birth weight figures.

Lake County ranks No. 49 in the physical environment category, which analyzes areas such as drinking water safety and access to recreational facilities.  Lake County ranks much lower No. 87 for the social and economic factors category, which includes unemployment and violent crime rates. Porter County ranks eighth in that category..
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Is anyone even remotely surprised to learn that living in da' Region is not good for one's health?

 

Census:  Lake County Has Largest 2012 Population Decline in State
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Marc Chase
[14 Mar 2012]

Lake County saw the state's largest population decline in 2012, and Porter County experienced just a fraction of the growth it has seen in the past decade, U.S. Census estimates released Thursday show.

Lake County lost 1,535 residents in 2012, more than any other Indiana county.  Lake was among 54 of the state's 92 counties to lose population.  The next largest population decline came in Madison County, which lost 741 residents.  Porter County was counted among those to add population in 2012, gaining 108 residents.  But that growth was anemic compared to about 1,700 residents per year Porter gained between 2000 and 2010, said Matt Kinghorn, a demographer with the Kelley School of Business.  Those population trends continue to illustrate a slow state economic recovery and a higher-than-average unemployment rate in the extreme northwest corner of Indiana, said local and state economists.

Indiana's overall population growth was paltry in 2012, with less than a 1% increase.  It also marked the sixth straight year that Indiana's population growth rate declined.  That was still higher than those of each of its adjacent states.

Much of the trend reflects the continued slow economic recovery from the major recession of the past few years.  "With a few notable exceptions, population growth is proving to be the ultimate lagging indicated in our steady yet slow economic recovery," Kinghorn said.  Micah Polluk, assistant business professor at Indiana University Northwest, said much of Lake County's population loss likely can be attributed to an unemployment rate that has hovered at about 10% since 2009.  Indiana as a whole has seen recent unemployment rates of about 8.5%, Polluk said.

"The economy has been bad, and as people have lost their jobs in Lake County, we see them moving to new jobs elsewhere," Polluk said.  He also said the IUN campus in Gary has seen a trend among students who have moved out of Lake County often to Porter, Jasper or Newton counties but continue to commute back to IUN for their college education.

 

Gary Mayor Thwarts Thief Before Going to Theater
Compiled from a nwiTimes Report by Steven Ross Johnson
[13 Mar 2013]

GARY | A funny thing happened to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on her way to the theater Tuesday night she stopped a would-be thief from stealing a neighbors television.

According to a post on the mayors Facebook page, Freeman-Wilson said she spotted a man rolling a new garbage container down the street from her home as she was on her way to the Marquette Park pavilion to see Emmy award-winning actor Ed Asner perform his one-man show "FDR":

"Hi Facebook family.  Today I was leaving home and saw a young man rolling a new garbage can down the street in broad day light," Freeman-Wilson wrote.  "Turns out he has one of my neighbors flat screens in there."

After confronting the man, who according to her post gave her "multiple excuses," she called police who took the man into custody.  "We have to look out for each other," she posted.  "Let's pay attention and of course stop stealing!!"

After police took the man into custody, Freeman-Wilson wrote that she continued on her way to see Asners show.

 

Senate Panel Halts Griffith Bid to Leave Calumet Township
Compiled from a nwiTimes Report by Dan Carden
[13 Mar 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS | The possibility of Griffith leaving Calumet Township and joining another faded significantly Wednesday, after a Senate committee substituted new limits on township poor relief spending for House-approved Griffith separation legislation.  State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1585, said he changed the proposal to address the Griffith-Calumet Township issue "in a different fashion, and yet no less dramatic fashion."

Under the revised legislation, which must be approved by a second committee before going to the full Senate, a township whose assistance tax collections are more than 10 times the state average would have three years to reduce that amount.  The new limit would affect not only Calumet Township but also Lake County's North Township and dozens of large, urban townships across Indiana.

A township that fails to bring its assistance collections below 10 times the state average by 2016 could be designated a distressed political subdivision and have its operations taken over by an emergency manager tasked with cutting spending by the state's Distressed Unit Appeals Board.  "This amendment is an appropriate attempt to try and bring the situation under control in a reasonable way without wading into the political boundary issue," Hershman said.

Griffith and Calumet Township officials, who were prepared to debate the separation issue before the Senate Local Government Committee, were taken aback when the committee accepted Hershman's changes without debate.  The panel later voted 8-1 to send the measure to the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.

However, during testimony on the revised proposal, two state lawmakers on opposite sides of the issue discovered they both don't like parts of the new plan.  State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, sponsor of the House version of the legislation, said not only does Griffith still need a way to escape Calumet Township, but he also does not support a hard cap on poor relief spending.  "We could have some reasonably efficient urban townships that would have to reduce their poor relief budgets, just because," Slager said.  "That's not our goal."

State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she was relieved Griffith "secession" is out of the legislation, but she wants a more precise definition of what counts as poor relief spending.  "I think if some of those questions can be answered in terms of how you differentiate between poor relief and administrative, that would go a long way to make it palatable," Rogers said.

The legislation is likely to be further revised prior to a final vote by the full Senate.  If approved, lawmakers from the House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to devise a compromise proposal that still could include a procedure for Griffith to separate from Calumet Township, which also contains parts of Gary, Lake Station and unincorporated Lake County.

 

Job Seekers Flood Genesis Center
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[10 Mar 2013]

GARY Hundreds of job seekers swarmed the Genesis Convention Center on Saturday hoping to connect with an employer.  That number was not surprising, given that at about 14%, Gary has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Said one participant, the best part of the fair was meeting a representative at Work One and learning how to apply through the agency that works with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.  "We could have done most of this at home though."

Trade unions offered input on apprenticeships and how to apply and get tested.

The vice president of human resources for Horizon Bank, said the fair was busy all afternoon.  "If we can talk about a specific job, well do it," he said.  Otherwise, he referred people to the Horizons career section on its website.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   I may be wrong, but it does not appear that "actual jobs" were being made available to attendees of this event.  The organizers were talking the talk, but not walking the walk when it came to hiring.



Gary Cop in Rap Video Suspended Without Pay for 60 Days
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Lori Caldwell
[8 Mar 2013]

GARY The Gary officer who abandoned his duties to visit the recording of a music video will serve a 60-day unpaid suspension.  Patrolman Jason Johnson is on paid medical leave but should be released next week to begin the suspension.

At a hearing last month, Johnson admitted violating four commission rules and several departmental rules, including neglect of duty, leaving an assignment without permission and unauthorized use of department equipment.  At its monthly meeting Thursday night, the Gary Police Civil Service Commission accepted the punishment recommended in a plea reached between Johnson and Chief Wade Ingram.

Johnson was on duty in early November when rap artist Freddie Gibbs recorded a video on a street in Tarrytown. Johnson appears in the video and Gibbs uses Johnsons Gary squad as a prop.

Ingram initially sought termination for Johnson, hired in 2009.

 

NWI Casino Revenues Drop Again
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[7 Mar 2013]

Revenues at Northwest Indiana casinos dropped 8.8% in February, the second steep monthly drop in a row for the five boats, according to the February revenue report from the Indiana Gaming Commission.

The five boats had a total take of $92,878,802 in February, as compared to $101,853,357 in February 2012, according to the gaming commission's revenue report.

All five boats saw revenues drop.  The largest drop was a 13.6% decline at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, and the smallest was a 2.6% drop at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

Last month the January revenues at the five boats recorded a drop of 9.2%.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   This is not a good omen for Gary, Lake Co. and the Calumet Region.  These dollars are crtical to municipal budgets.

 

NWI High School Graduation Rates
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Christin Nance Lazerus
[5 Mar 2013]

Gary experienced sharp declines in graduation rates, dropping 7.3% to 60.2%. The graduation rate at Wirt/Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts dropped by 18.5%, with only 75.6% of seniors graduating.

Other local school districts seem to be doing a far better job at educating their students, as evidenced by their graduation rates:  Hobart 93.2%, Merrillville 88.6% and Crown Point 97.4%.

All graduation rate includes waivers, which schools can apply for to allow students who dont test well to graduate.  Nearly half 49.6% of all graduates achieved a Core 40 diploma, while 32.3% received an honors diploma and 18% received a general diploma

 

Homeless Man Steals Ambulance Parked Outside Gary Police Station
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Lori Caldwell
[2 Mar 2013]

GARY While Gary Fire Department medics were inside the police station checking a jail inmate with a medical complaint, their ambulance idled right outside the front door. And then it was gone.

Ricky Warren, 53, a homeless man often seen on the first floor of the Public Safety Facility, was arrested at Ridge Rd. and Grant St. where Gary police forced him to stop but not before Warren drove the ambulance, lights flashing, into an SUV.

The occupants of the car struck at 11th and Grant Street flagged Detective JerVean Gates, who began chasing the purloined ambulance.  Gary units surrounded the truck at Ridge Road, but Warren wouldnt open the door.  Police had to force their way into the cab, then use a stun gun on Warren to get him under control.

 

Former Lake County Cops to be Sentenced in June
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[28 Feb 2013]

Two former Lake County Sheriffs Department officers who pleaded guilty a year and a half ago to illegally using their position with the department to buy and sell guns online have finally received sentencing dates.  Ronald Slussers hearing is set for June 26, and Joseph Kumstars hearing is set for June 27.

The men pleaded guilty along with co-defendant Edward Kabella in September 2011, shortly after the indictment was announced, to using their position with the Sheriffs Department to buy 74 fully automatic machine guns that only law enforcement departments and the military can legally buy.  They would then sell parts of those guns that cannot be bought separately online.

They did the same with 91 top-grade laser sights that can only be bought by law enforcement and the military.  The sites allow shooters to see targets up to 1.2 miles away.

Kabella was sentenced last month to serve two years in prison.  This is the first time that a sentencing date has been set for either Slusser or Kumstar.

 

Gary Drops Self-insurance to Save Money
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michael Gonzalez
[28 Feb 2013]

GARY- The Board of Public Works and Safety Wednesday approved a contract to make Cigna, an international insurance and health services company, the new carrier for employees medical, dental and vision insurances.

Until last December, the city self-insured its workers, with Professional Claims Management, a company with a number of contracts throughout Lake County, serving as the third-party administrator.

Under Cigna, employees will get better service and the city will significantly reduce its costs and the number of worker hours spent handling claims, said assistant city attorney Richard Leverett.  "We werent seeing any savings, and we werent handling claims very well," he said.  "This deal with Cigna completely modernizes our plan and it eliminates the city having to handle claims and bills."

Costs to employees and the city were not immediately available Wednesday, but the overall cost should drop from about $1 million a month to about $750,000 monthly, with employees altogether paying about 25% of the premium.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Why am I not surprised that the city was not "handling claims very well?

 

Gary Eyes Waste-to-Energy Plant
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
                     and a nwiTimes Report by Lu Ann Franklin
[27 Feb 2013]

GARY The citys Economic Development Corp. is considering a proposal to issue up to $14 million in bonds to the developer of a waste-to-energy plant.  The EDC will hold a public hearing on the plan at 10 a.m. March 8 at 839 Broadway.

The bonds will be paid solely from the revenue of the energy plant, according to J. Forest Hayes, the citys director of commerce and the head of the EDC.  He said the bonds wont be an obligation to taxpayers or the city.  The bonds will be used to construct a 3.8 million gallon digester by the Gary Renewable Energy Plant that will produce natural gas.  Its estimated to generate about 2.5 megawatts of electricity, according to a legal notice.

Food waste from food manufacturing plants throughout the area would fuel the plant.  Those include manufacturers of bread, beer, and other items, Hayes said.  The anaerobic process utilizes bacteria in the absence of oxygen to break down organic materials, producing methane, according to the Cranfield Water Science Institute.  That gas is then used to power an engine or generator to produce electrical power.

The Indiana Secretary of States office lists an Indianapolis address for the company.  Hayes said the plant is connected to Organic Solutions Management, an Indiana company that manages waste disposal facilities throughout the country.

Theres been interest in waste-to-energy plants at recent Gary Sanitary District board meetings.  On Monday, Jim Nowacki criticized the project at a GSD meeting saying it would send sludge through a pipe to the GSD.  Board members didnt respond to his comment.  Nowacki also said the plant would be located at the site of the former Georgia-Pacific plant at 240 Waite St.  The city said no site has been selected yet.

 

Possible Gary Tower Closing Has Allegiant Looking at Options
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[27 Feb 2013]

Allegiant airline will make decisions on a "case-by-case basis" on whether to keep flying to airports such as Gary/Chicago International, where control towers may close because of federal sequestration budget cuts.

"There are many factors at play, and we will make operations decisions on a case-by-case basis that are in the best interest of safety, above all else," Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler said in an email to The Times.

Allegiant currently operates at a small number of airports without control towers.  At the same time, it has found it has had to cease operations in the past at some that lack towers, Wheeler said.

Allegiant CEO Maury Gallagher told the business publication Vegas Inc. last year that Allegiant pulled out of Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport in Colorado because of growing safety concerns related to the fact the airport did not have a tower.  The skies around Fort Collins-Loveland airport were filled with enough general aviation planes that it was a safety concern for the airline.

 

Mayor Lauds Progress in 2012, Plans for 2013
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michael Gonzalez
[26 Feb 2013]

GARY In her second State of the City speech, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson roused a large audience with a litany of accomplishments and promises to keep fighting to bring more jobs to the city and demolish the former Sheraton Hotel, a nagging symbol of rough times past.

After the speech, which packed 650 residents, business people and supporters into the Genesis Convention Center, Freeman-Wilson lauded her staff, said she will focus on job creation and said she wished she had handled the layoffs of 15 emergency medical technicians differently.

"We know we are destined to return to our rightful place as the beacon of Northwest Indiana," the mayor said to the last of several standing ovations.

One of the standing ovations came from Freeman-Wilsons promise to tear down the abandoned Sheraton Hotel, immediately south of City Hall. The building will come down by the end of July, she said, and it will start an era of fixing up the many entries, or "gateways," into Gary, the mayor said.

But, the city still has daunting challenges, including an official 15.9% unemployment rate, which, the mayor said, may actually be closer to 40% when accounting for residents who are no longer looking for work.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   The promises keep coming, year-after-year, from whomever is in office.  All the while, the "Fortress Sheraton" remains standing!

 

City of Gary and Steelyard Renegotiating
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[26 Feb 2013]

GARY Though trying to negotiate a lesser payment for maintenance costs at the U.S. Steel Yard, home of the minor league baseball RailCats, the city has fallen behind on its payments for its upkeep.

The city paid out only $30,000 of the $200,000 in maintenance fees the stadium charged the city in 2012, Controller Celita Green told the Finance Committee at its Tuesday night meeting.  Negotiations between the city and the stadium over the master agreement between the two stopped the payments until the contract is renegotiated, she said.

As it stands now, the stadium makes a $150,000 lease payment year to the city, but the city is responsible for a $150,000 maintenance contract for its upkeep.  The Common Council has approved the $150,000 maintenance contract each of the last several years.

Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas, D-1, asked Green whether the Tax Increment Financing District could cover the rest of the bills from 2012, including the $57,000 cleaning contract separate from the maintenance contract.  Green said it could, but that expense would have to come before the Redevelopment Commission.  "Can you get them to hurry up so we can get these bills from last year paid?" Krusas said.

The Common Council will take up the ordinance at its 6 p.m. Tuesday night meeting in Council Chambers..
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   What a deal!  Taxpayers pay $207K to make $150K.  Who is the financial advisor to the City of Gary?

 

Fed Budget Fight Could Turn Out Lights at Gary International Tower
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[25 Feb 2013]

Northwest Indiana's only air traffic control tower would be shuttered if the federal sequester kicks in Friday.  Gary/Chicago International Airport Interim Director Steve Landry told the Airport Authority Board on Monday about the control tower's sequester-induced fate.  The Gary Airport's tower would be one of 238 towers the FAA would shut down across the country.  All are at municipal or regional airports.  "There would be no staffing if those procedures go into effect, none at all," Landry said.

The airport would still be able to operate, however.  Landry doesn't forsee Allegiant Air, the airport's only commercial carrier, having to curtail any flights. He said not having the air traffic controllers on the premises wouldn't affect airport safety.  "There is no degradation of safety, I want to make that clear," Landry said.  "Most (municipal or regional) airports don't have towers, and they're able to expedite planes.  It's not as efficient as with having a controller, but we will be operational.  "It's more of an efficiency factor."

Whether other planes continue to land at Gary would remain to be seen.  Although safety wouldn't be an issue, it would be up to the pilots whether they wanted to use the Gary Airport, Landry said.

Landry said Overland Park, Kan.-based Midwest Air Traffic Control, the company that provides the airport's air-traffic controllers, would notify the controllers of their employment end date, if the sequester happens.  Landry said it is his understanding the tower would shut down April 1.

 

Lake County Talking Income Tax to Balance Spending
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[24 Feb 2013]

CROWN POINT | Lake County officials worry the only thing worse than passing a new tax would be passing one that leaves county government still millions of dollars in the hole.  County officials who once denounced a local option income tax as a downstate Republican conspiracy have been quietly calculating its potential to rescue local government from financial peril caused by declining government revenues.  They have been studying a bewildering array of income tax variations and distribution formulas to find a combination generating the most revenue and least taxpayer outcry.

Tension among county officials faced with this challenge was on display last week when state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, unveiled a new income tax model.  It offers Lake County an incentive to pass a 1% income tax by unfreezing its property tax levy and giving local officials the freedom to spend three-fourths of the estimated $96 million the tax generates on any government operational need.  The remainder goes to economic development projects, such as South Shore commuter train extensions.

County officials first reacted with skepticism to Charbonneau's initiative, saying their experience with the General Assembly has taught them to duck when its helping hand was extended.  "We hadn't heard anything about it before, so it immediately raised all of our suspicions," Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said.  Charbonneau said, "I was surprised I was getting all this negative feedback on something I thought was going to be a hugely popular, very positive influx for economic development in Lake County, so if the county council wants to tell me they don't like it, I can pull it out."

Repay said, "Upon further review, this has a possibility of being very helpful. I'm thankful Sen. Charbonneau went the extra mile to help us."  A bi-partisan delegation of local legislators added their support to the new tax initiative, which is expected to receive a full Senate vote this week before moving to the Indiana House of Representatives.

Lake is the only county in the state that hasn't adopted a local income tax and is being punished for its refusal by the General Assembly, which has frozen the total amount of property taxes, called a levy, collected annually since 2007.  The freeze, combined with property taxes caps, has forced county officials to shrink their payroll by 300 jobs and borrow $15 million this year to avoid either deficit spending or even deeper cost-cutting.  "I just spent a couple of days at the state legislature, and those people continually beat up on our elected officials because of a lack of an income tax.  They have us in a stranglehold.  I'm thinking maybe we should remove that as an excuse," Repay said.

Repay said he has been reviewing his opposition to an income tax as he looks for ways to find additional money, including $5.3 million to pay a federal mandate to improve the county jail inmates' medical care, and an additional $3 million to consolidate E-911 emergency police and fire communications as the state demands.  "I agree there is money to be saved in county and municipal government, schools and libraries, but I don't know if those savings are equal to our shortages," Repay said.  "I don't think we will be able to cut our way out of this.  It's taken a long time and a lot of investigation to come to that conclusion.

 

Gary Workers Face Furloughs
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Chelsea Schneider Kirk
[23 Feb 2012]

A strained municipal budget is forcing government employees of the City of Gary to take furlough days again this year.

As local governments continue to grapple with the affects of property tax caps, and in Lake County, frozen tax levies, most have resorted to cost-cutting measures that have directly impacted their workforce.  Eliminating positions by attrition, offering early retirement buyouts, increasing health care costs and layoffs are some of the strategies Northwest Indiana governments have used to trim costs.

In Gary the need to cut means employees must take days off without pay, for projected savings of approximately $102,217.  "We thought it would be better to implement furlough days," Gary City Controller Celita Green said.  "It would reduce pay, but employees would still be working and employed, and we would not be contributing as much to the unemployment in the city."  Gary is requiring 10 days this year, but employees making less than $40,000, some elected official departments and public safety are exempted, according to Green.

Gary's furloughs are a carryover from when the city requested the Distressed Unit Appeals Board allow the city to collect more property taxes than tax caps initially allowed from 2009 to 2011.  At the time, a consultant had recommended when Gary went to the state agency to either institute layoffs or furlough days.  However, the city had laid off more than 400 employees, and it was becoming difficult to provide necessary services and contributing to a large amount of unemployment in the city, Green said.

Gary will save less this year through furloughs.  In 2012, the city saved $233,440 from 10 furlough days, but the requirement to take the days impacted more employees, only exempting those making $20,000 or less, public safety or certain grant-based employees, Green said.  The policy was altered because employees had not received raises since 2005 and cost of living increases, Green said.  Both years the city also required employees making more than $50,000 to take an additional 4% reduction in payroll for around $69,000 in savings.

 

More Cuts Ahead for Gary Schools
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[23 Feb 2013]

GARY Budget woes continue to dog the Gary Community School Corp. as school officials learned this week they face a projected 2013 deficit of $12.8 million.  Chief Financial Office Nikita White told the board the budget she submitted to the Department of Local Government Finance in October still has not been approved, so the $12.8 projected deficit is an estimate.

White offered a list of projected budget cuts to the board, but no action has been taken yet.  White suggested the board consider $2.5 million worth of cuts to administrative and teaching positions.  She also recommended reducing teachers supplemental pay, eliminating all non-grant funded travel expenses and reducing the purchase of supplies in all departments.

The school district has been confronted with reduced revenue brought on by a declining enrollment, low tax collections, and property tax caps.  In addition, a new state school funding formula has made deeper cuts because of the elimination of the "de-ghoster calculation."  The school district faced a $22.5 million shortfall in 2011 and had to cut $14.6 million last year in the wake of reduced state funding.

"The buck stops here around this table," said board member Nellie Moore.  She worried if students began enrolling from three of the citys charter schools that could be closing that the school district wouldnt receive the per pupil funding from the state and could face steeper deficits.  The state funding count is taken once a year in September.  A second count was taken on Feb. 15, but it wont impact funding.

White said she planned to monitor the budget closely after she discovered the district overspent last year by $12.1 million.  "We should have cut based on the amount of revenue coming in," she said.  To help pay its debts, the School Board approved a $5.7 million judgment bond late last year.

The district has been bleeding red ink lately, delaying payments to vendors and skimping on supplies, although Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt denied Moores assertion that teachers and custodians were told not to order supplies, such as toilet paper.  Moore said she visited a school recently and there wasn't toilet paper in the restrooms.  She said teachers complained of not having paper, pencils or crayons.  "We have not said you can't order," Pruitt said.  "There's a breach between your reality and the reality we have in those 16 schools," Moore said.  "There's a disconnect from what you have and what the building people think."

 

Forbes Ranks Gary 19th Among Most Miserable Cities
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus
[23 Feb 2013]

Forbes magazine released its annual list of Americas Most Miserable Cities placing Gary at 19th among the Top 20.  Detroit tops the list.  Chicago is Nr. 4, Lake County, IL., is Nr. 9 and Milwuakee, WI (Ed.-My current place of abode) is Nr. 14.

The list is determined using nine factors, including violent crime, unemployment, foreclosures, taxes, and home prices for the 200 largest metro areas in the country.  The list also factors net migration, weather, and the average commute times.

Forbes editor Kurt Badenhausen, who compiled the list, said the factors are based on statistics for the Gary Metropolitan District, which includes Jasper County, Lake County, Porter County and Newton County.  Each metro area is determined by the same areas used in census counts, where large metropolitan places are divided

Gary's rank is mainly attributed to a high rate of foreclosures and migration out of the city.  One in every 492 housing units received a foreclosure filing in January 2013, compared to Chicago's rate of 1 in every 356 housing units, and 1 in every 517 in Detroit in the same time frame.

Forbes estimates that in 2011 635 people left the city, with a population of 709,300.  Compared to Detroit, with 17,170 leaving and a population of 1.8 million in the metro area, and Chicago's 7.9 million with 22,640 leaving the metro area.

The violent crime rate has been decreasing since the 1990's, according to Badenhausen, lower than other cities on the list.  He said an increase in housing prices and lower taxes improve the city's stock.

"Housing prices are up 10% over the past three years," Badenhausen said.  "That doesn't seem like much, but its a pretty substantial gain compared to other metro areas."

- Gary leaders weigh in -

Unless the list considers the people living in the communities, state Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary says its not worth the time worrying over those lists.  "I don't put much stock in those ratings," Brown said, "unless they talk to the people who live here, and the leaders of the community."  While the city has had hard times and is still recovering from an economic slump, Brown said great opportunities await the city.  "The mere fact that there's good housing stock, people are still living here," Brown said, "and the employment in the area is starting to pick up.  And there's space for businesses to develop and grow."  And if legislation passes through the Indiana General Assembly providing an economic boost with a potential new shipping port, a study for a trauma center and plans for a medical teaching facility, Brown believes a bright future lies ahead.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the list shows how the loss of jobs in the manufacturing industry has affected the region in general.  "I think its a reflection of how the economic downturn has affected us," Freeman-Wilson said, "and not just the most recent downturn but over the past 20 years."  Instead of dwelling on or denying the facts, Freeman-Wilson said it's more important to ask what can be done.  The city needs to attract a variety of industries that aren't affected by the same ebbs and flows of the economy, like transportation and health care.  "You may have some downtime in transportation, but trucks and trains are always going to run," she said.  "And the potential port and the teaching hospital, they're always going to be in demand.  That's why were focused on making that happen."

She also points to the fact that a recent study of the Best Performing Cities in 2012 by the Milken Institute listed Gary as one of the most improved in the past year, jumping 83 spots from Nr. 195 in 2011 to No. 112.  Separate from Forbes listing, it considers job growth and wage growth in developing its list.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Here is one on which I am able to opine with some semblance of authority.  I have resided in the city of Milwaukee going on thirteen (13) years now.  I will be the first to acknowledge that the "Brew City" has myriad problems, some of them quite serious.  At the same time, Milwaukee, WI is a veritable paradise when contrasted with the environs of my hometown of Gary, IN!

 

Former Gary Cop to Plead Guilty to Federal Gun, Drug Charges
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[23 Feb 2013]

Former Gary police officer David Finley Jr. will admit he knowingly sold a gun to a felon in August and sold that same person drugs later the same day.

Finley's attorney John Cantrell filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court a notice for Finley, of Merrillville, to plead guilty without the benefit of an agreement with federal prosecutors.  Cantrell said Finley will plead guilty to all three counts against him but said he could not otherwise comment on the case.  Finley was scheduled to go on trial Monday for the charges.

The counts all stem from Aug. 7, when an undercover informant made a deal with Finley, who was being investigated by the FBI, to buy the informant, a felon, a gun.  Federal attorneys have said in court filings they have security video images of Finley buying the gun at Westforth Sports in Calumet Township, then giving the gun a few minutes later to the undercover informant. They also observed Finley distributing marijuana to the informant later that day.

The government had also originally charged Finley with four other drug charges but dropped them after they discovered the substance was fake cocaine.

Finleys change of plea hearing is set for Wednesday afternoon.

 

GPD Captain's Gun Stolen
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Steven Ross Johnson
[23 Feb 2013]

GARY | A top Gary police officer is currently under investigation after allegedly leaving his firearm in a public restroom only to have it stolen.

Police said Capt. Charles Austin reported entering a restroom at the Old Village Shopping Center on the 3600 block of Grant Street around 2:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon.  According to reports, the officer left his weapon on a stall and then exited the restroom.  Police said Austin left the premises only to realize later he had left his firearm back at the restroom.  Upon returning to the restroom, Austin reported the weapon was missing.  Police said they are investigating the incident.

 

Roosevelt Principal Moves to Gary Schools
Compiled From a Gary Crusader Report by Carmen M. Woodson-Wray
[23 Feb 2013]

Roosevelt Career and College Academy Principal Terrance Little has quit his EdisonLearning job as Roosevelt Principal to take a position with the Gary Community School Corporation.  The Gary School Board hired Little as the Transformation Specialist for Culture, Climate and Special Education within the first year of his being named principal of Roosevelt by EdisonLearning, Inc.

EdisonLearning, Inc. was contracted with by the state of Indiana to take over Roosevelt after continued years of poor academic performance reflected by their test scores.  The Gary School District has hired Little after he applied for the position to transform the district's struggling schools.  Hired as principal of Roosevelt in May of 2012, Little was never under contract with EdisonLearning, Inc.

With a 5 to 2 vote, the Gary School District hired Little at a salary of $90,000, close to $40,000 less than what he was making as principal of Roosevelt.  Board members Nellie Moore and LaBrenda King-Smith were the nay votes in the hiring of Little, saying the district should not be hiring in the midst of teacher and other employee layoffs, and in the middle of the school year.

In a statement released to the parents of students at Roosevelt Vanessa Ronketto, Superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy said the situation was a personnel matter and they were limited in providing details.  She did state that a new principal has already been named. 

The following is an excerpt of the letter sent to the parents:  "We are pleased to announce that Donna Henry, who currently serves as Director of the Collegiate Academy of Theodore Roosevelt, has been appointed Interim Principal of the school.  Ms. Henry is an accomplished teacher and administrator, who served as Academy Director for the Chicago International Charter Schools Longwood Campus prior to coming to Gary.  She holds a Masters degree from St. Xavier University in Chicago, and a Bachelors degree in Education from Illinois State University.  Her experience and knowledge perfectly positions her to take on this new role.

In addition, the entire leadership team of Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy will adjust their responsibilities to maintain the seamless operation of the school during this transition.  We appreciate the contributions made by Terrance Little, and recognize the significant role he has played in helping to establish a foundation for quality learning at Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy.  Everyone associated with Theodore Roosevelt wishes him the very best in his future endeavors."

Several attempts to reach Little were unsuccessful.

 

Charges Filed in Gary Homicide Should Clear Police
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Lori Caldwell
[22 Feb 2013]

GARY | A Gary teen has been charged with the Feb. 9 shooting death of Laroi Griffin.  The charges apparently clear accusations by the victim's mother that Gary police killed Griffin, 32, as he stood in a gangway inside Delaney Community Housing Development.  Devonte Hodge, of 1778 Hendricks St., is charged with murder.  An arrest warrant has been issued for him, court records show.  He is 17 years old, but will be 18 on Tuesday.

Police had been busy in Delaney during the days prior to the homicide and were about three blocks away when they learned of gunfire.  When officers arrived, a group of people scattered, leaving Griffin's lifeless body on the pavement.  Griffin, a convicted felon, was a resident in Delaney.

Witnesses told Lake County Cmdr. Matt Eaton that Griffin was drunk and argued with another man in the group standing outside.  Griffin threatened to "shoot any of them," and "Hodge became offended," the probable cause affidavit states.  "Laroi ... threatened to go get his gun ... Hodge raised his handgun and fired it twice at Griffin who was approximately three to five feet in front of him," the affidavit states.  Griffin turned and ran, and Hodge fired a third shot, striking Griffin in the back, witnesses said.

At the scene of the shooting, Chief Wade Ingram met with the victim's mother, who accused police of killing her son.  Ingram immediately dismissed veteran homicide Detective Lorenzo Davis and surrendered the entire case to county police.  When Ingram asked Lake County to pursue the case, duty weapons of all officers working that area were confiscated and tested.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 61 President Samuel Abegg criticized the departments reponse to the mother's allegations, calling them "unfounded."  Upon learning that a suspect had been charged Thursday, Abegg said he was not surprised that Gary police weapons were not involved.  He noted that in his 10 years on the force, several police-involved shootings have occurred and the administration always has acted responsibly.  "There has never been a cover-up," he said.  He noted there didn't appear to be any evidence police fired their guns at the scene that night.

On Wednesday, Lake County police spokeswoman Patti Van Til said the investigation was ongoing and Gary police had not been eliminated as suspects.  "The firearms comparison process is not complete ... we cannot say conclusively one way or another yet.  It's a little too soon to have a definitive answer," Van Til wrote in an email responding to a question by the Post-Tribune.

 

Gary Main Library Could Reopen by End of Year
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[18 Feb 2013]

GARY The main branch of the Gary Public Library is on course to once again become a library.  Closed last January following a 40% cut in the budget, library officials hoped to turn the 50-year-old building into a museum and cultural center.  The move triggered an outcry in the community and led Robert Buggs to form Citizens to Save the Gary Public Library.  The group gathered 5,000 signatures in opposition, filed a court injunction and lobbied to get library board members recalled.

On Monday, Buggs became a member of the library board, taking his oath office at a School Board meeting.  Buggs replaced former board president Tony Walker who resigned.  Walker had led the movement to transform the library into the cultural center to cut down on expenses, but still offer services to the public.

Buggs appointment assures theres a majority bloc of board members who favor reopening the library.  "My number one priority is to get the library opened as a main library," Buggs said.  He favors reopening the library, but staggering the hours and days its open.

The change in course comes after Powers & Sons Construction began renovating the library into a cultural center at a cost of $2.9 million. Books and furniture were moved to other branch locations, and the main floor looks like a dusty construction site.  Buggs said hes worried that archives taken from the Indiana Room and moved to the basement may have mold damage now.

The library board has sought to reduce Powers contract in the wake of the stymied renovation project, and it wants the building transformed into a library.  Buggs says he hopes the library will be reopened by the end of the year.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Now that we have paid to have everything moved out (books, furnishings), let's incur additional expense to have it all replaced/returned.  That is efficient use of Gary taxpayer dollars!

 

A Year Later, Allegiant Still Flying High in Gary
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[18 Feb 2013]

GARY Allegiant Air marked its 1st anniversary of passenger service at the Gary/Chicago International Airport last week, and the airline and city say their relationship is still going strong.

When Allegiant started its two-day a week flights to Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida Feb. 15, 2012, it heralded the first passenger service at the airport in three years.  More importantly, Allegiant brought a quality missing in previous Gary passenger carriers a background of business success.  Parent company Allegiant Travel reported its 40th consecutive profitable quarter last month.  It ended 2012 with double-digit percentage increases in revenue, earnings and earnings per share, leading CEO Maurice Gallagher to say:  "Were just going to be a cash machine going forward."

Thats played out in its first year in Gary, despite periodic suspensions of service at off-peak vacation flight times.  Allegiant plans to suspend service in Gary in mid-April through May of 2013, and resume in June.

Airport Interim Director Steve Landry said Allegiant hit the 10,000-passenger mark in December, guaranteeing the airport $1 million in additional revenue in 2014 from the FAA.  The airline ended the year serving 10,500 passengers.  Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson thinks its the first time an airline hit the 10,000 passenger milestone in Gary.  "Its been a cooperative relationship.  Theyve run promotions with us and all of that has led to success."

READER COMMENT -
Let's see if Allegiant hangs around after December 2013 when their incentives end:  The airport board waived landing, terminal, and fuel flowage fees for the airline for 2 years .... essentially letting Allegiant use the airport for free?

 

Roosevelt Principal Status Still Murky
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson and Teresa Auch Schultz
[15 Feb 2013]

GARY Terrance Littles status at the Roosevelt College and Career Academy is expected to be resolved today, an EdisonLearning Inc. official said Thursday night.

On Tuesday, the Gary School Board named Little, whos principal of the Roosevelt turnaround academy, as an administrator specializing in transforming schools in the Gary Community School Corp.  On Wednesday when asked about his new job, Little said in a text message that he didnt have a new job.  Charmella Greer, spokeswoman for the school district, said Thursday that Little was hired and the district expects him to start work in March.  "Hes not called to turn down the position," she said.

Meanwhile, at a Roosevelt school board meeting Thursday, EdisonLearning official Vanessa Ronketto, who serves as Roosevelts superintendent, received authorization to appoint an interim principal, if the need arises.  Little did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

 

Region Governments Lose Money Under Revised Gaming Bill
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Dan Carden
[15 Feb 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS | Casino tax revenue paid to Northwest Indiana communities would be cut under legislation amended and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.  Senate Bill 528 was changed to require counties, cities and towns, instead of state government, to bear more of the costs of a proposal to reduce gaming taxes on Indiana casinos to spur property improvements and make the casinos more competitive with other states.  Under the amended legislation, local gaming taxes paid by Gary's Majestic Star casinos would drop by at least $5.1 million a year. East Chicago's Ameristar Casino would pay local governments at least $4 million less; Blue Chip Casino, in Michigan City, would pay $2.6 million less, and Hammond's Horseshoe Casino $400,000 less.  Nearly every unit of government in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties shares in the distribution of those funds.

Most of the revenue drop would come from elimination of a state guarantee that the local share of casino admission tax revenue will never drop below the 2002 total.  The legislation replaces the admission tax with a supplemental wagering tax.  State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the committee chairman, said attendance at every casino except Horseshoe has declined since 2002, and last year the state paid $40 million from its general fund to make good on the guarantee.  Kenley said if the plan to make Indiana's casinos more competitive doesn't work, he doesn't want the state on the hook for unlimited future payments to local governments.

State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said the state took in more than $600 million in gaming taxes last year and can more easily afford a reduction in its gaming revenue.  "I don't see why those dollars have to be taken from the individual communities where these boats are docked," Rogers said.  "I think the state needs to be reminded that were it not for individual communities pushing for riverboat gaming, then we probably wouldn't have it."

Sen. Kenley noted the proposal is "a work in progress" and likely to change again as it continues to move through the General Assembly.  Next week all senators will have the opportunity to propose changes before voting on whether to send the measure to the House.

 

Gary Airport Bill Revised
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus
[14 Feb 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS The economic bill proposed by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, gained support from Gary community leaders after amendments to the bill will leave the Gary/Chicago International Airport Board as is.

The bill, which passed from the Public Policy committee with a 9-0 vote, had already been changed to exclude an inland casino, but the amendment added that a study for a trauma center would also include a medical academic facility.  It still has the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor researching opening a port in Gary, and allows the city access to up to $3 million in tax revenues from the Gary Sanitary District.

Charbonneau said the bills origins come from the need for the Port of Indiana to expand.  Since the Burns Harbor port provides over 6,000 direct jobs, and supplements 32,000 job in the region, expanding the port will offer more benefits.  "The Port of Indiana is a huge economic driver," he said, "Its so successful that its out of space."

Original opposition to the bill stemmed from the Airport Board being reorganized, with more board members selected from various communities in the region and the governor.  The bill now requires that anyone appointed to the board have at least five years experience in economic development, aviation or business.  The board will remain with four members appointed by Gary, and one member each for Lake and Porter counties, and one member appointed by the governor.  The governor also can deny an appointee if the person does not meet the experience requirement.

"The key thing here," said State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, "is you got to have some knowledge."  Randolph said adding a little oversight on appointments to the airport board is fine, considering the potential.  "Youve got to give a little to get a little," Randolph said.  "So I dont mind having the governor having some say, to allow us to look at the trauma and academic center and the port authority."

Some Gary residents at the hearing felt it was time for the airport to have more state oversight to produce results.  They cited the taxpayer dollars invested already that have not resulted in a top-tier commercial airport.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and City Councilman Kyle Allen, D-at large, supported the bill and pointed to the benefits to the city.  "We had a wide group of residents around the city in support of this," Freeman-Wilson said.  "You cant have a better group to support this. And I think the message of the 9-0 support is significant."

 

Roosevelt Principal Denies Gary Hiring; Says Doesnt Have New Job
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Christin Nance Lazerus and Carole Carlson
[14 Feb 2013]

Terrance Littles future as principal of Roosevelt Career and College Academy is up in the air after the Gary Community School Corp. approved his hiring to transform their struggling schools at Tuesday nights School Board meeting.

EdisonLearning Inc. Senior V.P. for Operations, Todd McIntire, said the company found out Wednesday morning that Little was approved as a transformation specialist for culture, climate and special education by the district.  "We are speaking with Terrance about this, this morning," McIntire said.  "Were trying to figure out what is going on.  Were trying to figure out Terrances intentions and what the districts intentions are."

EdisonLearning received the management contract for Roosevelt after the state took over the school due to years of failing test scores, and Little was announced as principal in May 2012.  When contacted via text on Wednesday morning, Little responded that he doesnt have a new job.  Gary spokeswoman Charmella Greer confirmed Little did apply for the position.  Little was not present at Tuesdays school board meeting.

McIntire initially said that EdisonLearning and Little would release statements on the matter Wednesday afternoon, but later in the day, he said EdisonLearning wouldnt release any additional information before Thursday.  "Right now, were still waiting for a few more things to develop," McIntire said.

Littles salary was set at $135,000 by EdisonLearning when he took over the principals job last year, but he serves without a contract.  The Gary position would pay him $90,000.

 

Freeman-Wilson Reappointed GSD Administrator
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Chelsea Schneider Kirk
[14 Feb 2013]

HAMMOND | Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson will again serve as special administrator over the Gary Sanitary District.  The special administrator is reviewed annually by the federal government and is traditionally served by the Gary mayor, according to Jewell Harris Jr., the sanitary district's legal counsel.

A federal judge appointed Freeman-Wilson to the role through Feb. 1, 2014, according to an order filed in Hammond federal court Wednesday.

For the role, Freeman-Wilson will receive compensation of $54,000 from the sanitary district in addition to the $81,175 she is paid as mayor.  Freeman-Wilson also is required to take a furlough day per month through 2013 because she's a city employee making more than $40,000.

Freeman-Wilson was first appointed to the role in 2012.  The Gary Sanitary District must comply with the Clean Water Act through a federal consent decree.  The federal government holds Freeman-Wilson, as special administrator, accountable for the sanitary district's compliance with the consent decree.

 

Gary Schools Hire Roosevelt/EdisonLearning Principal
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Christin Nance Lazerus
[13 Feb 2013]

GARY In a surprise move, the Gary School Board hired EdisonLearning's current Roosevelt Career and College Academy principal Terrance Little to help turn around the Garys struggling schools.  Little was hired as the transformation specialist for culture, climate and special education.

Less than a year ago EdisonLearning Inc.named Little to lead Roosevelt after the state took control of the school following years of poor academic performance.  Little will have to quit his post at Roosevelt with EdisonLearing to start his job with the Gary Community School Corp.

The board voted 5-2 to accept Little, but several board members were bothered by the hire.  Board member Nellie Moore voted against all the recommendations, saying the district should not be hiring anyone when its laying off teachers and other employees.  Board member LaBrenda King Smith wondered why they were hiring Little in the middle of the school year and why he was taking a $40,000 pay cut.

Former West Side principal Clifford Gooden was approved to be the transformation specialist for leadership.  A motion to hire state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, as the specialist for curriculum and instruction failed to garner a second and didnt come up for a vote.  The specialists will be paid around $95,000, and they will be paid out of federal Title I and II funds until the end of September.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the specialists will focus on improving the districts F schools.  Pruitt said the district will look for more people to fill the third specialist position rather than resubmit Smiths name.  She expects the specialists to start by the beginning of March, and she said Littles employment with EdisonLearning shouldnt cause a delay.

"They will be working those schools that are failing," Pruitt said.  "Those that are doing well and making (Annual Yearly Progress) wont need as much close attention."
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   A surprise move?  I am sure it came as a real surprise to EdisonLearning!  What surprises me is that no school board member questioned the moral/ethics behind this hire.  Oh yeah, this is Gary.  It is no secret that the GCSC did not wish EdisonLearning well in its efforts at Roosevelt.  EdisonLearning will tell you the GCSC actively undermines them at every turn.  I would say this act pretty much confirms that being the case!

 

Gary Airport to Explore Public-Private Partnership
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[12 Feb 2013]

GARY The Gary/Chicago International Airport will start exploring the idea of a public-private partnership.  Airport Authority President Nate Williams announced at its Monday morning meeting that an ad hoc committee will be formed to look at a new model for managing the airport as it goes into the future.  That could include bringing in an outside management firm.

Airport and city officials made it clear they are contemplating something less than a wholesale privatization of the airport -- such as is being planned for Midway International in Chicago -- but something more than just bringing in new management.  Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who supports the idea, said the partnership would not be a wholesale privatization, nor would it even look like the effort the city of Chicago is undertaking with its Midway Airport.  "Were not selling the airport," the mayor said.  "We want someone with a robust balance sheet who will put their money where their mouth is to help develop the airport and its surrounding areas."

The six-member ad hoc committee will consist of Airport Authority members Cornell Collins and David Bochnowski, two members appointed by the city of Gary, two members of the citys business community and one at-large member (Reporting 101 Michelle, 1+1+2+2+1=7?), who could represent the Regional Development Authority if the board chooses to go in that direction.  The committee is expected to present its findings to the board in 60 days.

Bochnowski, who will chair the committee, said public-private partnerships have been used in other areas successfully and said that in order to move forward, the idea was worth exploring.  The move comes on the heels of Senate Bill 585, which would have stripped majority control of the airport authority from Gary's mayor.  Indiana Senate Democrats say that bill will be amended to maintain the status quo with airport authority appointments.

 

Gary Lawmaker Sinks Land-based Casino Language
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Christin Nance Lazerus
[10 Feb 2013]

State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, removed land-based casino language from Senate Bill 585 on Friday, which likely ends the projects prospects for 2013.

Rogers said that she took the proposed casino plans out of the bill to enhance its chances of passing and ease concerns of Gary residents. The bill would change the makeup of the Gary/Chicago International Airport board by increasing the Indiana governors appointments to five and giving the governor the selection of the board chairman and veto power over any board decision.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   I am more than a bit confused here.  I thought those with a vested interest in the "Steel City" did not want SB 585 to pass?  Is Rogers saying it is in the best interest of Gary to cede control of the Gary/Chigcago Int'l. Aiport to Indianapolis?

 

Still Hope, Gary Nobel Prize-winning Economist Says
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michael Gonzalez
[9 Feb 2013]

GARY Gary is nowhere near its "boomtown days of the 1950s," but there is still hope for opportunity in the city and around the country, said Nobel Prize-winning economist and best-selling author Joseph Stiglitz, a Gary native.

The Columbia University professor, who last month won the French Legions Medal of Honor, also praised public education in Gary for his success.  "I wouldnt claim I made it on my own," said Stiglitz, the 1960 valedictorian of the shuttered Horace Mann High School in Gary.  "I was very lucky in that I had fantastic teachers in Horace Mann, a public school, and one of the reasons Im so committed to public education is I thought I got a fantastic education in the Gary public school system."

Stiglitz was the guest of correspondent and radio show host Michael Gonzalez on "Steel Shores," a weekly news and talk radio program on WLTH 1370 AM.

Gary has been an example of the challenges and problems brought about by industrialization, Stiglitz said.  During his last visit to Gary, Stiglitz said he was struck by changes in the city.  "Oh, (Gary) was very different," he said.  "The one thing that usually strikes someone is the population has gone down by something like 50%, and that means theres a lot of empty houses, and that, obviously, like Detroit, strikes someone in the face."

Stiglitz ties much of the financial crisis of 2007-08, largely blamed for the recession, on cozy relationships between financial sector leaders and politicians and policy makers.  One result is the vast majority of Americans have far less opportunity than they have had since the Great Depression, Stiglitz wrote, but there still is hope.  "There is still opportunity in America but its not equal opportunity," Stiglitz said.  "People at the bottom have to work harder.  Lets be honest about it, its not a level playing field, but we are still a country where there is some opportunity, and its better to try."

 

Gary Schools Provide No Access to Pools
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Mike Hutton
[9 Feb 2013]

The four pools in the Gary high schools are empty, lifeless, concrete holes, closed off from public view.  Swimming as a high school sport died in Gary this year, though it had been terminally ill for some time.  The official cause was administrative neglect.

The decline of the conditions of the pools at West Side, Lew Wallace and Roosevelt, a school that isnt run by the Gary school system as of this school year, has coincided with the school districts financial free fall.

Swimming was killed in Gary because of indifference from the top.  Michael Washington, who works in finance for the school system, said he had no information on the pools. "This is the first Ive heard about it," he said.  It wasnt about dried-up, broken-down pools.  It wasnt about money.  It wasnt about getting the kids to the pool.

Those are excuses.

It was about thoughtlessness.  It was about snuffing out the voices and dreams of young people.  It was about failing to be creative and resourceful in a time and place where those qualities are essential for survival in a school system that is besieged with problems.  It was about not listening to the kids.

Students can't swim in physical education classes. The physical education teachers use a video and they teach dry land swimming no water involved.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Hmm, and how exactly does that work?

 

Gary Mayor, Senator, Residents Discuss Legislation Concerns
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Elvia Malagon
[8 Feb 2013]

GARY | Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, spoke with residents by phone Thursday about bills they say will affect residents.  The chat was the first of a weekly call during which residents can talk directly to officials about legislation.

Freeman-Wilson said House Bill 1585 concerned her because it would pave the way for Griffith to leave Calumet Township.  "We believe that that is a bad policy," she said.  If this legislation passes and Griffith residents vote to leave the township, Freeman-Wilson said, it would place an extra burden on Gary..
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   The "extra burden" if Griffith leaves is that Gary would have to support its own residents, instead of being supported by the residents of Griffith!  To put it in the mayor's own words, the takers would no longer be able to count on the taken to meet their needs. 

 

Gary Mayor Provides Toll-free Calls for Legislative Updates
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Staff
[7 Feb 2013]

GARY | Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson will start a call-in program today to update Gary residents about the latest legislation in the General Assembly.

Between 5 and 6 p.m. every Thursday night, Freeman-Wilson will be on the phone with Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, and Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, to provide updates and answer questions.

Participants may dial in to a toll-free line and enter an access code. The access code will change weekly, but that information will be provided in advance.

The toll-free number is (866) 320-4709. The access code for today is 281992.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   One must ask, why is this info coming from the Times, and not the Post-Trib?  To me it is becoming more and more apparent that the Post-Trib has all but abandoned its Gary readers.

 

Lake Co. Assessor Puts County Council Feet to Fire Over Ttownship Officials Reassessment Pay
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[7 Feb 2013]

CROWN POINT | The Republican Lake County assessor says Democratic officials are mismanaging public money in a way that is undermining his authority and wrongly enriching township officials.  Adams said the council diverted more than $26,000 last year from his office's reassessment budget to provide personal bonuses called per-diem wages to the county's five township assessors.  He said Calumet Township Assessor Jacqueline Collins in Gary, who received $10,000 in addition to her base salary of $52,726, now has a higher salary than he does.

County Assessor Hank Adams, speaking at a Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, attacked the County Council, which oversees government fiscal matters, for "micromanaging" his office.  He said council members' interference threatens his efforts to deliver county property tax bills on time.  Adams said he will be writing a letter to the General Assembly asking lawmakers to eliminate township assessors as elected officials.

 

Griffith Secession Bill Clears Committee
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[ 6 Feb 2013]

GRIFFITH The towns hopes of seceding from Calumet Township inched another step forward Tuesday.  Council VP Rick Ryfa told the Town Council on Tuesday night that HB 1585, which seeks to allow a municipality to attach itself to an adjacent township if its current township property tax rate is at least 15 times the states average assistance rate, passed 11-1 out of the Indiana House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.  It will now go to the full House for a vote.

"(District 95 Representative) John Bartlett asked (District 15 Representative and bill co-sponsor) Hal Slager if the town would be willing to work with the township, and Slager said unequivocally No, " she said.  "When colleagues have a dispute, theyre supposed to work through it, and I think that when people find themselves in the majority, they do whatever they want and when theres a dispute, they pass legislation instead of working it out."

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who also testified Tuesday, called the bills passage out of committee "troubling."  The mayor also said she believes the action, while primarily motivated by the tax issue, is just as much racially motivated.  "Theres no question its racial, and its unfortunate," Freeman-Wilson said.  "Do you see Munster seceding from North Township because the income of its residents is higher?  And Valpos not trying to secede because it supports Portage."

Gary Common Council President Kyle Allen said the bill sets a bad precedent.  "If the issue is providing a service they dont use, any city can now secede," Allen said.  "And none of the cities are complaining about the gaming money they receive without having their own gaming licenses."

In order to secede per HB 1585, 1) 30% of the voters in a municipality who voted in the last secretary of state election must sign petitions in favor of getting out of the municipalitys township.  2) Once the number of signatures has been achieved, the municipalitys governing body must vote to have a referendum, either by special election or at the next available election.  3) The referendum would then need two-thirds of the vote to pass.

Assuming Griffiths referendum passes, the town now has one year to petition its adjacent townships in Griffiths case, that would be St. John, North or Ross Townships and they have that year to accept. Should none of them want to avail themselves to Griffith, the town could then opt to administer township services themselves.

If HB 1585 passes, it would go into effect July 1.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   I am going to go out on a limb here and venture a guess that whenever hard working, tax paying citizens of whatever color protest over having to support the self-serving lifestyle of non-working, benefit consuming citizens of whatever color, one will see the race card bandied about?

I would also note that what is going on here seems to fit the Mayor's own definition of "economics" (see above).

 

Heat Still Not Fully Restored at Roosevelt
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Carmen McCollum
[6 Feb 2013]

GARY | Parents of students at Roosevelt College and Career Academy say it's still cold inside the building following a previous school shutdown because of a broken heating system.

Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, who pledged to make the repairs, left a maintenance person at Roosevelt to oversee operation of the boilers last week. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

EdisonLearning's Vanessa Ronketto, who serves as Roosevelt school superintendent, said she has been working to take temperature readings room by room. "They are currently entering the final numbers into a tracking document that we are using to review the situation," she said early Tuesday. "The Gary community school district has been working to replace coils one by one. The coils had to be ordered. The repair work is not yet completed in all spaces." Ronketto also said there are some broken or cracked heating valves, issues that were previously identified and reported.

Shortly before 5 p.m., Ronketto said temperature readings in all classroom spaces were taken. "There are 12 classroom spaces that are below 65 degrees. When we reinstated school last week, we moved four classes into other available spaces. Currently, we do not have any other warm spaces to move classes to," she said. She said students in the colder classrooms may keep their coats on.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   This has been ongoing since Jan. 22.  I think enough time has elapsed to have had the problem corrected.

 

Gary Officials Unite For Airport Bill Oversight
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
                    and a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[4 Feb 2013]

GARY The Gary/Chicago International Airport and the City of Gary have joined forces to monitor Senate Bill 585 as it makes its way in the General Assembly.  The Airport Authority at a special meeting Monday voted 4-1 to select and pay up to $10,000 for a consultant to have a continued presence at the Statehouse.  The city will also contribute up to $10,000 to the effort, Interim Airport Director Steve Landry said.

The board also included in its vote the option for Authority Board President Nate Williams to sign off on the contract without the board present if the two administrations find a consultant quickly.  The consultants will be vetted, but time is of the essence, officials said.  "The airport thinks its prudent to have a consultant downstate for these negotiations," Landry said.  "The timing is also as such that we need to expedite the process."

"We don't want the state to have the controlling hand here at the airport," said authority Vice President Rev. Marion Johnson.  "We want to be inclusive of the region.  We want to be inclusive of the state.  But we feel control should remain here in Gary."

Johnson also said the fact Gary taxpayers built up the airport over the decades and continue to support it should be taken into account.  Property owners in Gary will pay an estimated $2.96 million in property taxes to support the Gary airport this year, according to the airport's 2013 budget.  In addition, more than $4 million in property taxes paid by property owners in the Airport Development Zone on Gary's west end will be set aside for the exclusive use of the airport.

Airport Board member Nikki Thorn, the Porter County appointee who replaced Bob Poparad, cast the dissenting vote.  Thorn didnt return a request for comment.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who attended the executive session prior to the special meeting, said discusssions on the bill have been daily and that while she and her Chief of Staff Bridget Lane have traveled back and forth to the Statehouse over the last few weeks, continuing to do so is unrealistic.  Freeman-Wilson said while she still supports the bills overall goal of bringing a land-based casino, trauma center and shipping port to Gary, she rejects the idea of giving the governor control.

Currently, the Gary mayor appoints four members.  The proposed legislation, authored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, would increase the governors appointments to five as well as its chair, who would have veto power.

"Gary shouldnt be treated any differently than any other municipality," the mayor said.  "The argument cannot be made that the (Regional Development Authority) invested money into it because the state has also invested in other airports, such as South Bend and Fort Wayne.  Thats what states do.  No other place has its assets controlled by the state, and Gary should be no different."
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   It appears as though "da' Mayor is walking a mighty fine line here in an effort to offend no one, be it the locals or the Indy legislature crowd?  She very well could end up pleasing no one.  One may not have their cake and eat it too.  She should know this to be the case.  It is time for her to take an unequivocal stand in favor of Gary in this debacle!

 

Opposition to State Takeover of Gary airport Misguided, Lawmakers Say
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[3 Feb 2013

A community group rallied residents on Saturday to oppose a state bill that would give the governor control of Gary/Chicago International Airport.  The Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations hosted the rally at Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary to oppose Indiana Senate Bill 585, part of which would change the makeup of the board of the Gary airport.  The event drew more than 100 people.

Politicians, however, insisted the groups opposition to the bill was misguided.  They said they, too, opposed this section of the bill but that the majority of the legislation could inject millions and perhaps billions into Gary's economy.  Right now, the Gary mayor appoints four members.  The proposed legislation, authored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, would increase the governors appointments to five.  The governor would also select the chairman of the board, who would have veto power over any board decision.  But the bill would also create a land-based casino, a trauma center and a shipping port in Gary plans expected to bring tens of thousands of jobs to the city.

Speakers at the rally claimed the bill would treat Gary unfairly, as other large airports in the state, such as the ones in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, do not have any board member appointed by the governor.  "Arent we, too, Indiana?" the Rev. Dwight Gardner said to applause.  "House Bill 585 ... suggests that Northwest Indiana and particularly Gary are not full partners in statehood and will not be allowed to sit at the table when the company of growth and investment come calling."

Gardner compared the bill to the Regional Development Authority, which he said allowed 95% of the jobs on the airport runway expansion project to go to non-Gary residents.  Changing the airport board would just further allow the state to use Gary resources for the states economic gain without letting the city benefit, he said.  "Why are we being asked to surrender anything in order that our government would use our tax dollars to invest where we live?" Gardner asked.  "Its a strange fruit.  Why is it that our community always has to give up something in order to get something from our state government, as we are an orphan or stepchild?"

Renee Hatcher, an attorney with the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, pointed to the Chicago/Gary Airport Authority Compact, which she said took control of the Gary airport out of any one states hands, something a judge has already ruled on after Illinois tried and failed to take over the airports in Chicago from that city.  She called the bill a "takeover" by the state.

The federation called on people at the meeting to tell their elected officials that they opposed the bill.  However, several politicians who attended the meeting held their own meeting afterward, calling out the federation for not contacting them first about the bill and not allowing them to speak.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, all said they opposed any move to give power of the board to the governor, but that the rest of the bill would provide a large economic boost to the region.  Rogers said the bill, which was filed in January, is still in its infancy and she is already in talks with Charbonneau to amend it.  "There will not be anything in the legislation about the governor having a majority," she told the residents, adding that Gov. Mike Pence likely knows nothing about the bill. "  ... [P]eople are misinformed and not aware of where we are at in the process."

She defended Charbonneau, saying hes worked with Gary leaders since last year to help bring Garys visions to fruition.  "Ed Charbonneau is not an enemy," Rogers said.  "He is a person looking to help Gary."

Freeman-Wilson cautioned people against using only half the information, saying shes already sent an email to the Gary Common Council calling the proposed changes to the airport board a "deal breaker."

Brown called on everyone at the meeting to work together, as legislators in the rest of the state dont trust Northwest Indiana to do whats right.  "We have to convince them that theyre wrong," he said.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   It is my humble opinion that  it is Gary that has conceived, nursed and nutured the Gary International Airport.  (I used to view the moniker "Gary Int'l. Airport" as more than comical.  It now appears to be taking on a modicum of possibility?)  I do not recall much, if any, downstate support for this project as it struggled through the years to stay afloat.  The Gary Aiport Authority alone should be the one to reap what it has sowed in this regard, be it good or bad.

Back in the 70's, I actually sat in the gallery at the Indiana Statehouse and listened to the introduction of a bill to give Lake Co. to the State of Illinois.  I was infuriated then, and I am infuriated at this move by the legislature 2 score years later!  Lend NWI a helping hand, or get the hell out of the way!  

 

U. S. Steel Carbonyx Project Stumbling
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bowdeya Tweh
[3 Feb 2013]

United States Steel Corp. officials expect to start up a second module in Gary during late summer to produce a substitute for a critical raw material to make steel.  But environmental regulators and sources familiar with the Gary Works operation say the company may be struggling to get its first carbon alloy synthesis production module and related equipment to full operation.

Based on air permits the company received to move forward with the project, Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesman Rob Elstro said U.S. Steel is currently not in compliance with it.  Within 180 days of the startup of the module, Elstro said the permit called for U.S. Steel to send results to IDEM from "stack tests" from two different kilns the module uses to create the coke substitute.  The tests are done to detect emission rates of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter.  Prior to the closing of the testing window on Thursday, Elstro said U.S. Steel requested more time to complete the tests until production reaches what would be considered normal operating levels.  IDEM is considering its response to the letter.  The Environmental Protection Agency has not had communications with U.S. Steel about its Carbonyx project in recent months.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Courtney Boone said the company typically doesn't provide updates on operations outside of information shared during quarterly conference calls with analysts.  Carbonyx spokesman Gary Pollard didn't return a call seeking comment.  The Carbonyx project has suffered several delays and operating malfunctions that have delayed the first module from reaching full operation, sources with knowledge of plant operations told the Times.

Gary would be the home of the largest commercial application of the Carbonyx technology in North America.  A smaller pilot operation for the technology exists in Ardmore, Okla., but one source said it has been difficult to obtain the proper chemistry needed for finished products at the production scale U.S. Steel requires.  Engineering challenges and a lack of promised safety training for workers have hurt the operation as well, a source said.

U.S.Steel is licensing the right to build coke substitute production modules using proprietary technology from Plano, Texas-based Carbonyx Inc.  "U.S. Steel made a very bad deal," the source said.  "It basically wrote a check to Carbonyx and said, 'run this plant.'"

In a Tuesday conference call with securities analysts, U.S. Steel Chairman and CEO John Surma said the project in Gary is among others the company is pursuing to reduce carbon costs, which he said is the company's biggest market exposure.  Steelmakers use coke in blast furnaces that is derived from metallurgical coal.  The expected benefit from the Carbonyx process is that a semi-crystalline carbon material can be produced from blends of lower-value coals, which are less typically expensive, to reduce iron.

 

Griffith Should be Allowed to Leave Cal Township
nwiTimes Reader Opinion
[3 Feb 2013]

Mr. James, too bad you haven't learned to find and tell the truth during your 30 years of writing.  Have you ever or do you still live in Gary, even the Miller section?  You owe an apology to us residents and businesses who were driven out of Gary since the 60's by gangsters, in and out of government.  Where is your long-time employer, the Post Trib?  The building at 11th and Broadway looks vacant.

You and your cronies have forced Griffith to pay far too much of Gary's (Calumet Township's) corruption bill for far too long.  Let them divorce themselves from this bad marriage, and don't stick the county, state or federals with the bill for Gary's (Calumet Township's) bad behavior either.

- Cy H., Highland

Gary Rises in Best-performing Cities Index
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Rob Earnshaw
[2 Feb 2013]

The city of Gary was one the biggest gainers in the Milken Institutes annual index of Best-Performing Cities of 2012.  The Best-Performing Cities index includes measures of job, wage and technology performance in ranking the nations 200 large metropolitan areas and 179 smaller metros.  Gary was ranked No. 112, a leap of 83 slots from No. 195 in 2011.

The index does not use quality-of-life metrics, such as commute time or housing costs.  In the Institutes index, employment growth is weighted most heavily due to its critical importance to community vitality.  Wage and salary growth measures the quality of jobs created and sustained.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the improved ranking is consistent with a plan of action to increase the assessed valuation of the city, which is done by creating jobs and bringing in new businesses.  "While I think a lot of the increase came from the recovery we saw in the auto industry and as a consequence from the steel industry, it is still the direction we want to move in terms of our efforts to secure jobs for local residents," she said.  "I think we will continue to see improvement because of growth at the airport, because of our efforts of other areas of economic development.  We will also see improvement in terms of quality of life because I think those go hand-in-hand."

Jen Bellezza, marketing and community relations director for Gary-based Indiana Parenting Institute, said its encouraging to have the word "growth" attached to the city, especially in the areas of jobs, wages and industry.  "I think it important for citizens to understand how growth works; how growth in one industry spurs growth in others," she said. "Add to that being made aware that primary growth is occurring in the areas of tech and manufacturing helps vocational education institutions like Ivy Tech know where to focus to prepare our residents to attract industry and jobs here to Gary."

Bellezza thinks the report brings hope to a struggling city.  "Struggle doesn't just happen when you're falling, but also when you're rising," she said.  "It's called growing pains.  This report lets Gary know that what we're currently experiencing is not the struggles of decline but the struggles of growth.  We now have our proof Gary is indeed on the comeback."

The leader of the index was San Jose, "the capital of Silicon Valley."  Indiana communities include Fort Wayne at No. 59, a vault from No. 127, and Indianapolis-Carmel at No. 51, up from No. 121.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   I seem to recall that not too long ago Forbes named Gary as "the top place" to invest?  One wonders what it is these folks are drinking?  At the same time, why is Indy looking to take control of the Gary Int'l. Airport if it does not feel it is a money maker?

 

Gary Bill Means Loss of Control Over Gary Airport
Compiled from a nwiTimes Report by Chelsea Schneider Kirk
[31 Jan 2013]

HAMMOND | Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. contends the push for a land-based casino in Gary will carry the consequence of losing local control over the airport board.  Currently, the Gary mayor appoints four of the seven members on the airport board but would lose the majority under the bill.  The bill expands the board's membership to 11 with four appointments from the Gary mayor, one appointment from Lake County, one appointment from Porter County and five appointments from the governor.  One of the governor's appointments would serve as chair of the board.  The bill requires decisions on matters such as contracts, loans and property acquisition to have the chair's support to pass.

McDermott, who has been a vocal opponent of a land-based casino in Gary, spoke about the legislation at a city event Tuesday that addresses the casino and changes to the makeup of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority.  The bill also requires studies on the feasibility of a second port on Lake Michigan and the need for a Level 1 trauma center in Northwest Indiana.

"I think Gary is making a major mistake if they give away the Gary airport," McDermott said.  "I think they are making a mistake they are going to regret for years and years and years because if Indianapolis gets a hold of that thing, they're not even going to listen to them anymore in Gary."

Yet, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Wednesday each of the issues in the bill stand on their own merit, and she expects changes to the bill.  "That's why we are comfortable to say we support the clear economic development aspects of the bill, but we reject the change in the airport board."  "I don't think it's either or. I don't think we have to trade one for the other.  We can look at all aspects of the bill and work with it," Freeman-Wilson said.

McDermott said an aspect of the bill he would support is a trauma center, but not if it's included in the same legislation as a land-based casino.  "We can support that.  We have needs for a trauma center in Gary," McDermott said.  "So why do they loop the trauma center in Gary to a bill that we can't support?"  McDermott told residents gathered at Eggers Middle School for a Mayor's Night Out event that a land-based casino would come out of their back pockets.

Freeman-Wilson said Gary is simply wishing to locate a casino off a well-traveled highway similar to what Hammond has done with its casino.  "I don't think it would hurt Hammond," Freeman-Wilson said.  "Just as they've been able to spur ancillary development with Walmart and other development that's what we are trying to do."

 

Heat Back On at Roosevelt
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carrie Napoleon
[29 Jan 2013]

GARY School corporation workers on Monday were taking the temperature in every classroom at Roosevelt College and Career Academy to ensure there was adequate heat in the building for classes to resume.

Cheryl Pruitt, Gary Community School Corp. superintendent, said her staff was working at the school again on Monday to repair everything and show the independent contractor hired by turnaround operator EdisonLearning Inc. how to maintain the schools heating system.  "We will have a designated person over here for the rest of the week to try to train them on what to do so this wont keep happening," Pruitt said.

She said the heaters were working last week, but the maintenance contractor did not fill the boiler properly and the pipes burst.  The contractor was hired in November after the staff maintenance person familiar with the boilers resigned.  The damage after the heater was fixed is the responsibility of EdisonLearning, she said.

Pruitt said she does not know when Roosevelt will reopen.  "That is up to EdisonLearning," she said.  Pruitt said if the school was still under control of the school corporation it would never have closed.  She blamed the boiler malfunction on the maintenance of the equipment, which is not the responsibility of the school corporation.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Can you say lawsuit?


 

Multiple Shootings Have Gary Police Scrambling Monday
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Lori Caldwell
[29 Jan 2013]

GARY One man is dead and at least one other wounded in separate shootings Monday night in Gary.  Police scrambled from one crime scene to the next as reports of gunshot victims, shots fired and cars damaged by bullets started coming in about 6:30 p.m.

When officers arrived in the 1200 block of Taft Street, they found a man on a porch who had already died from multiple gunshots.  The man was identified as Erich C. Beard, of Gary, by the Lake County Coroner's office.  Officers set up a perimeter and searched the area for a suspect.  Detective Lorenzo Davis questioned one person who had seen the victim earlier in the evening.  Investigators declined further comment on the status of the case, saying their work had just begun when they learned of another shooting victim.

At about 7:30 p.m., police learned as many as three shooting victims had arrived at the Methodist Hospitals Northlake campus emergency room.  Lt. Del Stout said later it appeared there was one victim, and his wounds were not related to the homicide an hour earlier.  A 29-year old man told police he was approached in the 4500 block of Pensylvania St. by a man holding a gun and was shot when he started to run.

Police located a car at 45th Avenue and Delaware St. that had been damaged by gunfire.  Police said the man who walked into the emergency room at 7:30 p.m. with gunshots to his upper body may have been in or near that car when he was wounded.

The shootings followed an incident on Sunday when a man told Gary police he was shot while standing outside of a residence at 51st Place and Harrison St.  The man, 19, told police a group of men approached him, and one fired shots at him, striking him once, according to Gary police.  The man told police he then went to the emergency room for treatment.

 

Gary Recalculating EMS Severance Pay
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[28 Jan 2013]

GARY Emergency Medical Service workers who originally were told they owed thousands of dollars in earned time should see most, if not all, of their money as soon as the city finishes calculating their severance.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the former employees at a private Friday morning meeting that an error in calculating their sick-time caused the final figures to skew toward them owing the city, former employee Juana McLaurin said.  If the workers are still found to owe money after the recalculation, the city wont ask them to repay it.  McLaurin said the mayor also took responsibility for how badly the merger was handled but said she wouldnt reverse the decision.  "She said she took the blame for it, and supposedly, theyre straightening it out," McLaurin said.

The mayor on Saturday confirmed her remarks, saying the whole situation was handled poorly.  It was, however, the right decision, she said.  "Each department has taken measures to reduce their budgets, and when you talk about a $12 million to $13 million (fire budget), and its reduced by $1 million, thats a less-than 10% reduction.  With the exception of the legal department, because it was understaffed, our entire budget was reduced 10%."  Public safety comprises 60% of the citys total budget, she said.

Toward the point of earned time, Freeman-Wilson said much of the assumption the EMS workers were working under was a negotiation agreed to but never ratifed under the Rudy Clay administration.  During that time, a provision was crafted to allow EMS workers with 20 years or more an additional vacation day.  In the end, that time was never approved.

Freeman-Wilson said the Finance Department contacted the State Board of Accounts for guidance and is following its directive with regard to reconfiguring the earned time.  Those reconfigurations and earned time payouts are expected to be completed by Feb. 15.  "We were never trying to hardline the workers," the mayor said.  "Were trying to adhere to the law in a way that reflects whats reasonable to them."

McLaurin said that since several of the former EMS workers, as well as some former firefighters, have filed complaints with the Indiana Department of Labor, the city seems more willing to work with them.  Former EMS employee Lisa Hall, who was with the department 17 years, said she felt the mayor wasnt sympathetic to their plight.  Hall was told at the Jan. 9 meeting she owes the city just more than $20,100.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Hey, let's just blame it on Rudy, right?  He is gone, and an easy target.  Seems to me that city council, not Rudy, would be the entitly to ratify negotiated agreements between the city and its employees?

The city will not be seeking repayment of any monies owed?  What is this?  Are the coffers  so flush that it can readily absorb this unplanned for expense?

 

Roosevelt Woes Continue
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Jonathan Miano
[28 Jan 2013]

GARY | Roosevelt College and Career Academy is closed again today due to heating issues.  A continuing lack of heat in more than half the rooms at Roosevelt College and Career Academy is keeping the facility closed again today.

That is the fourth school day missed since Tuesday, when the temperatures inside the Gary high school were in the 40s.  "Right now we don't have enough classroom at 68 degrees to have school tomorrow," Roosevelt Principal Terrance Little said Sunday night.  "If most of the rooms warm up and we could move kids around, that would be fine, but we did a room count and right now we aren't even half way there."  Little said he hopes to reopen the school later this week.

Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said Sunday night her school corporation made repairs Wednesday.  She puzzled over the cause of the problem.  "That is one of our newest boilers," she said.

Marion Williams, a Gary School Board member, said, "I was principal there for five years and we never had problems with the heating system.  They put a brand new boiler, heating and cooling system in there in 2005."
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Perhaps the unseasonably warm temps predicted for tomorrow will permit Roosevelt to have school at least 1 day this week?

 

Judge Turns Up Heat on Gary Schools with Restraining Order
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[26 Jan 2013]

GARY A Marion County judge granted a temporary restraining order Friday that calls for the Gary Community School Corp. to immediately complete repairs at its own expense to the heating system at the Roosevelt College and Career Academy by Monday.

However, the school superintendent on Friday night said the district properly repaired the heating system earlier in the week and that the school operator bears responsibility for damage to the facility and the loss of class time for students.

The judges order calls for the repairs to allow the school to maintain a temperature of 68 degrees in all areas of the building.  It also calls for the immediate removal of standing water throughout the school after pipes burst during a frigid cold spell earlier in the week.  Water leaked through ceiling tiles and into offices and classrooms.

Turnaround operator EdisonLearning Inc. sought the restraining order after it canceled three days of school because there wasnt heat.  The Indiana Department of Education awarded a four-year contract to EdisonLearning last year to run Roosevelt, which was identified as a failing school.

Marion Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Ayers cited state law that calls for the school district to be responsible for maintenance of the building and grounds of the school, consistent with its maintenance at its other schools.  "GCSC has failed to carry out these responsibilities," Ayers wrote in the order.

Repairs were under way at Roosevelt, but classes had to be canceled Friday because heat had not been restored and water had damaged ceiling tiles and pooled on floors.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said Gary Community School Corp. has expended millions of dollars and manpower "holding EdisonLearnings hand to make sure Roosevelt opens every school day."  "When we were informed about the heat situation, we sent our maintenance personnel to investigate the problem," she said.

"We were advised that the building should have been open for school because the heat was repaired on Wednesday.  "We have since learned that the maintenance person EdisonLearning hired did not check to make sure water was in the boilers or turn the boilers on, which caused pipes to burst." 

Pruitt said EdisonLearning must be held accountable.  "EdisonLearning continues to fail the students and the community by not taking ownership of how it has caused numerous problems in the building affecting taxpayer dollars and student achievement," she said.

 

Former Gary Reserve Police Officer Sent to Prison
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[24 Jan 2013]

A former Gary reserve police officer will spend 30 months in prison, a federal judge announced Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano also ordered Phllip Rucker to help pay $73,489 in restitution to several banks defrauded by him and his co-defendants, including Gary businessman Jerry Haymon, as part of their mortgage fraud scheme.

A federal jury in Hammond found Rucker guilty in December 2011 of helping recruit buyers for the scheme, which involved selling houses in Gary for tens of thousands of dollars more than they were actually worth.  Haymon would file liens on the house for renovation work that was never done to collect the difference between the selling price and what the house was actually worth.

The defendants hid the scheme from banks by submitting fake financial information to make it appear the buyers could afford the house.

 

Flooding, Heating Probs Shut Down Roosevelt
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[24 Jan 2013]

GARY - Officials at Roosevelt College and Career Academy cancelled classes for the second straight day Thursday, because they said the school didnt have heat.  Spokesman Michael E. Serpe said school was conducted on Tuesday even though temperatures were in the mid-40s.  He said the Gary Community School Corp. was informed of the repairs needed for the heating system.  Serpe said repair crews came to the school on Wednesday, but further problems developed resulting in frozen pipes and flooding in the building.

Serpe said the school district is the landlord of the building and is required to maintain it.  The school is operated by EdisonLearning Inc. under a four-year contract with the Indiana Department of Education.  Serpe said EdisonLearning has contacted the Indiana Department of Education about the problems and it could have to make up the lost days.

Last year, the state removed Roosevelt from the control of the school district because of years of poor academic performance.  The district, however, still owns the building and is supposed to meet regularly with EdisonLearning officials to iron out maintenance and other issues.

 

Gary Sheds 13 School Administrators
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[23 Jan 2013]

GARY - A divided School Board voted 4-3 Tuesday not to renew the contracts of 13 school administrators.

Five assistant principals given notices work at the academically struggling West Side Leadership Academy and the Lew Wallace STEM Academy.

Last year, the board transferred former West Side Principal Judy Dunlap to special assignment.

Attorney Daniel F. Friel said the administrators were notified of the action last month, per state law.  They had the right to seek a hearing before the superintendent and a hearing before the board. He said only one administrator sought a hearing.

Friel said although the nonrenewal notices were approved by the board, it doesnt preclude the district from moving the administrators into other positions.  In recent years, the board has sent layoff notices to all of its administrators, rehiring them later in the year.  The notices must be received by Feb. 1 or the staffers automatically retain their jobs, he said.

Administrators received a variety of reasons for the nonrenewals; including job performance, restructuring of the administrative staff for the 2013-14 school year and budgetary reasons.

 

City of Gary Weighs Proposed Airport Board Changes
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn and Matt Mikus
              and a nwiTimes Report by Keith Benman
[23 Jan 2013]

GARY The state may want to take over the Gary/Chicago International Airports governance, but the Chicago/Gary Airport Authority Compact may render those efforts for naught.  Formed to stave off a similar attempted takeover of Midway, OHare International and the former Meigs Field by the Illinois General Assembly in 1995, the interstate compact has been upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Several cities, such as New York City, have interstate compacts that set the precedent.

Senate Bill 0585, written and sponsored by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, seeks to install an additional five governor-appointed members to the Airport Authority Board as well as one apiece from Lake and Porter counties.  Also, the bill calls for Gov. Mike Pence to name the new boards chairman.  The compact, which provides the city with a share of facility charges collected from Midway and OHare, allows for a seven-member board, with an appointment each from Lake and Porter counties.

"The law says that the compact is in charge, and (the city of Gary) still has control," Pratt said.  "I have people whore wanting me to say this is racial, and its not were talking about power, here but now theyre getting insulting.  They want to trick us."  "We spent years and years developing that airport," Pratt said Tuesday at a news conference at Gary City Council chambers.  "It's about to become a major airport, and now they want to take it over."

In alleging a state move to take over Gary's airport, Pratt was referring to Senate Bill 585 as introduced by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.  That bill has as its centerpiece the establishment of a land-based casino in Gary, but it also would expand the Gary Airport Authority board and make other changes.

Pratt said because the compact was created to help Chicago keep control of its airports, hes confident Chicago will defend Gary against the bill.

If the compact authority doesnt defend the city with Pratt, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson says she will.

That isnt to say Freeman-Wilson doesnt support the bill.  Shes a proponent of it and what it has to offer the city.  The mayor said she consulted with legislators as the bill was drawn up but that she did not write it.  She will continue to work with legislators as the bill evolves and changes, she said.  But even if the bill makes it sound like the state is trying to strip away Garys remaining assets which she doesnt believe to be true she appreciates the message behind some of the language.  "Folks have been watching us (with the airport), and theyve been underwhelmed.  Got it," she said.  "Is the solution having the governor come in?  No, but lets find something that addresses the concerns.

Former city Corporation Counsel MacArthur Drake, part of the team that drafted the compact in 1995, said "Theres no reason we have to give up the airport.

 

Laid-off Gary EMS Workers Told Owe City Money
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Michelle L. Quinn
[16 Jan 2013]

GARY 15 Gary EMS workers laid off when the Fire Department merged with EMS have been told they owe the city thousands and suspect their earned time will be used to cover the bill.

Juanita Smith, a 15-year veteran, said Wednesday the 15 were called in to the Public Safety Building on Jan. 9 to meet with human resources representatives, Controller Celita Green and Corporate Counsel Niquelle Allen to turn in their badges and gear.  After a question-and-answer session, each was called up individually to speak to the human resources representative about what they thought was their severance pay.

Instead, Smith said, she was told she owes the city $27,000. "Were trying to figure out how, if we owe the city that much money, howre we going to get a check (for our earned time)?" said Smith, 51, of Gary.  "And if I owe you that much money, why leave me in the dark this long?  (The $27,000) is almost my salary for the year, so I owe you, and youre going to get rid of me?"

Sonji Draper, a 20-year veteran, said she had 10 years with the department before she took even one sick day.  According to records she got from the department, for 2011, she had 13 vacation days, 28 sick days and 11 compensatory days earned.  According to her calculations, she expected a little more than $15,000 in time owed to her.  Now, she said, she was told she owes $16,000.  "There is no way in hell I wouldve ever dedicated 20 years of my time to get this in return," Draper said.  "And theres no way that only 15 of us owe the city money."

Juana McLaurin, a 32-year EMS veteran, said she saw where some of her time was miscalculated; she said she even ended up correcting extra time she was given incorrectly.  Shes still being told she owes the city $6,000.  And if the city plans on taking that out of her time earned, she will fight them.  "Ive been told by a CPA and an attorney that the city either has to get (an employees) authorization to take money out of (earned) time, or else they have to take you to court," she said.  "This is my money."  McLaurin also said that the employment personnel manual, which was passed as an ordinance 7-0 in 2006, states that in order to be paid for five or more sick days off, a doctors note was all the employee needed.  "Theyre now going back to 2006 to try to get the money back for that time," she said.

Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett declined comment, saying the issue is a "personnel matter."

Both McLauring and Smith have appointments with a city auditor Wednesday to determine exactly how much, if anything, they owe.  McLaurin, for one, is hoping its all a misunderstanding.  "This is a horrible way to go off a job that you love, and I dont want to be bitter," she said.  "This job was good to me, and it had a flexibility that was humane."

Smith and Draper, however, feel the citys treating them like criminals, and Smith is decidedly less optimistic.  "Why are they doing me like this?" she said.  "Every one of us was devoted to that job, and I have never heard of anyone going through this kind of commotion during a layoff.  Theyre acting like we did something to them."
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Sounds like yet another fine example of the financial record keeping practices of the City of Gary?

 

Bill to Give Gary Economic Shot in Arm
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Matt Mikus
[16 Jan 2013]

INDIANAPOLIS A bill introduced by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, could offer economic development opportunities for Gary, a measure allowing an inland casino within city limits and access to up to $3 million in revenue collected over time from the Gary Sanitary District.  The same bill, introduced to the Indiana Senate on Tuesday, would decrease the maximum property tax levy of the Gary Sanitary District to zero, take away one of the two existing casino licenses in Gary (The state currently allows two casino licenses in Gary.  Under existing law, no casinos in Indiana are land-based.), and reorganize the Gary International Airport Authority to include five appointed members from the governors office, raising the number on the board to 11 members.

The new airport board would consist of four members appointed from the city of Gary, one member appointed by Lake County, one member appointed by Porter County, and five members appointed by the governor.  One appointee must come from a list of nominees from either Portage or Valparaiso, another from a list of nominees from Hammond, East Chicago or Crown Point.  Two appointees must have experience in either aviation, regional economic development or business, and the last appointee will serve as the boards chairman.

The new bill is a strong starting point for economic development, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Tuesday.  Two years ago, the sanitary district board offered the funds to the city of Gary, but there was no legal means to provide the funds.  "Everyone agreed it made sense," Freeman-Wilson said, "but there was no mechanism to make it happen.  It was released, but right now its just out there.  They couldnt just give it to Gary."  In order to use the funds, the city needed specific legislation from the General Assembly.

There could be some push back against the amount of involvement for the airport, but she said she understands the states concern that the airports development has not progressed as effectively as state lawmakers might have hoped.  "Its a starting point.  Well make our position known to them, and well go through whatever differences there may be," Freeman-Wilson said.  "In the legislature, you dont get anything without some bartering.  Now that the bill has been filed, the discussions can begin."

"This is a great way forward.  You havent seen that kind of legislation for the area in terms of economic development for a long time."

Griffith Makes Another Bid to Leave Cal Township
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Charles F. Haber
[16 Jan 2013]

A bill, HB-1585, was introduced in the Indiana House of Representatives on Monday by freshman Rep. Hal Slager-R, Schererville.  "(It) allows for the transfer of a municipal territory to an adjacent township if certain conditions are satisfied," Slager said Tuesday afternoon.  The bill says a community can conduct a referendum among its own citizens to determine whether to leave a township and join an adjacent one if the township's assistance property tax rate is 15 times the statewide assistance average.  Griffith's tax rate is more than 30 times the average, Griffith Council Vice President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd, noted.  The bill also says that, if a town leaves its township and is unable to join any adjacent township, it can perform township services on its own.

Slager said his bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster; and Gerald Torr, R-Carmel.  "We like our chances of this moving forward in the House," Ryfa said.

"The poor relief levy by Calumet Township is unfortunate, but should not be borne so heavily by the residents of Griffith, who utilize such a small amount of services from the township," Slager said.  Ryfa noted that past attempts have failed at the last minute because they were attached to larger, existing bills that failed.  "This year we are introducing a stand-alone bill that will reform only the most egregious of townships," Ryfa said.  "It is a bill that is good for Griffith, very fair to the rest of the state, and should be acceptable to the Indiana Township Association."

Town officials say that getting the word out among the Indiana General Assembly members should help the town's cause.  "The Griffith town officials and I have been working hard over the last several months to make sure that legislators around the state are aware of the injustices that the people of Griffith face at the hands of Calumet Township," said Griffith's lobbyist, attorney Mario V. Massillamany of Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Indianapolis.

If the bill becomes law, it will be effective starting July 1.

 

A Year In, Gary Mayor Looking to Brighter Future
Compiled From a Post-ATrib Report by Carole Carlson
[13 Jan 2013]

GARY As Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson sat in her office on a late December day, a ping from a faulty ceiling pipe kept time in the background as the mayor talked about issues that shaped her first year in office.  She says the challenges facing one of the poorest cities in Indiana are never far from her mind.  Mismatched wooden trays sit on her desk, despite her secretarys insistence they get a matching set.  "They still work," said Freeman-Wilson, the Harvard-educated daughter of a Gary steelworker.

A year ago, Freeman-Wilsons elevation to City Hall left residents bubbling with optimism, despite a fading budget and tax base that left some wondering if bankruptcy was inevitable.  Hope is a scarce commodity in this city where 13% (viz., 10,400) of the 80,000 residents are unemployed.

A year later, Freeman-Wilsons stock is still high in Northwest Indiana.  Her relationship with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is strong, even though the city still owes millions to the RDA.  Freeman-Wilson is also popular among other mayors and town leaders on the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, where she represents the city.  Past Gary mayors typically sent delegates to NIRPC.  Freeman-Wilson attends the meetings herself; forging new alliances taking a leadership role in regional planning.

Yet, the mayors omnipresence throughout the region and in the media hasnt stilled the whispers among her fellow Democrats in Gary, where rumor mills roar louder than the citys steel mill.

While the mayor says shes frugal, some wonder why she has surrounded herself with a gold standard of staffers who command gold-standard salaries.  The critics got louder after the city dismissed 15 emergency medical technicians last month.  To save money, the city also eliminated the job of public safety director held by Richard Ligon and the deputy mayor position held by Delvert Cole who now heads the Gary Housing Authority, which isnt funded by the citys budget.  Both were cabinet positions.  "While we do not take job loss lightly, we accept the challenges that come with responsible government," Freeman-Wilson said.

The mayor says she hears the critics, but vows her team can stir growth and make the city solvent again.  "I can show you were different," she says.  She said its discouraging to see people judge her administration by what has happened in the past.  "You have to have a thick skin in this business."

City Councilman Roy Pratt says its too early to judge Freeman-Wilson.  "You wouldnt expect shed turn the city upside down in one year," Pratt said.  "Some things shes done are good, some are mistakes.  The EMS was a mistake.  These are people who are very important, they are first responders, they stabilize patients, and they are responsible for life and death."

Perhaps her harshest critic, Miller resident Jim Nowacki, isnt impressed with Freeman-Wilsons job performance and says shes installed "whole crews" of people working on her image.  "The most glaring, of course, is the reliance shes placed on high-priced talent.  Shes filled her administration with six-digit-figure salaries," says Nowacki, who attends most meetings in the city.  Rather than getting down to the gritty business of running the city, she continues the strategy of we can plan our way out of the problems.  Weve spent almost a year and were still talking about planning."

Nowacki and others wonder about the mayors allegiance to New Jersey-based consultant John "Bo" Kemp, who worked for Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker.  Kemp received contracts allowing him to earn up to $145,000 this year, although Freeman-Wilson has said she doesnt expect him to receive the top amount.  Even though the Gary Sanitary District has a full-time director who earns $120,000 a year, Kemp is assigned to pull together an operations plans for the GSD and Stormwater District.  And hes analyzing the future of the cash-draining Genesis Convention Center and uses for the U.S. Steel Yard, built as a minor league baseball stadium.

Freeman-Wilson said she didnt meet Kemp until after she won the primary in 2011.  "I wanted someone who had experience in what I knew we were going to have to do.  Bo has been worth every penny."

Freeman-Wilson says the city has been open with reporting its contracts that arent advertised for bids.  "We tend to work with people we know will get the job done.  Are there people whove gotten contracts who Ive known and are friends?  Absolutely."

Freeman-Wilson believes the way out of Garys despair is one part demolition and one part economic development.  She established a new city office the Department of Commerce and brought in Gary native J. Forest Hayes from Washington to run it.  Theres an aggressive demolition program, cobbled together with federal cash, jail inmates and rusty city equipment.  Its knocked down more than 125 structures in 2012.  The mayor concedes there are thousands more to go. The biggest development, so far, is a $20 million truck stop on Grant Street.

The mayor established an education roundtable that meets regularly with officials from Indiana University Northwest, the Gary Community School Corp., charter schools, Ivy Tech and the Northwest Indiana Urban League. The group, though it has gained little publicity, discusses issues that confront urban schools. Keeping students in school could reduce the citys relentless violence and unemployment picture.

Last year, homicides rose 22% over 2011 with 43 deaths by far the most of any Northwest Indiana city.  "Its not a reflection on our law enforcement.  I know our police officers are working hard every day," Freeman-Wilson said.  The mayor has sought help from the governor for Indiana State Police officers and Indiana National Guardsmen to patrol Gary streets.

Chuck Hughes, once a mayoral candidate himself and now executive director of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, says reducing crime is paramount to entice new business.  "Collectively, we share the same disappointments.  I see where the mayor has reached out to the state and federal government.  We all worry about crime.  I know the mayor has to make some difficult decisions in terms of the budget, those things are disappointing," Hughes said.

The mayor says when she took office, the budget deficit was $10 million, while now its $8 million.  "By the end of next year, Id like the deficit to be zero," she said.  Making budget cuts in a city where more than half of the payroll is eaten up for public safety is difficult.  "You cant come in and slash.  Weve got almost 53 square miles to cover."

The mayors ambitious legislative agenda that includes plans for a land-based casino and the groundwork for establishing a trauma/teaching hospital seems tenuous at best with the General Assembly in unsympathetic GOP control.  Freeman-Wilson is banking on Gary/Chicago International Airport to trigger some of Garys rebirth.  The airport is in the midst of a $166 million runway expansion the city hopes will lead to increased passenger and freight service that depend on larger aircraft.

As part of the mayors economic thrust, shed like to establish a transportation corridor near the airport with an intermodal freight port near Buffington Harbor.  On that front so far theres no tangible movement, other than a federal civil lawsuit against a Freeman-Wilson backer whose private company is being sued for failing to pay the company doing a study of the intermodal project.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   Homicides up a mere 22%?  The Sheraton still standing tall, vacant and ugly (with a demolition cost of $1.2 Mil, instead of being free; as she pitched it last year to the public)?  The potential for either the Indiana State Police and or uniformed troops patrolling the streets of Gary?  Yes, there indeed is room for improvement!

In her defense on the question of high priced, six-figure, gold-standard salaries, if you had street cred in whatever the needed field of endeavor might be, how much of a salary would it take to get you to ply your trade in the "Steel City?"  Pretty much, I suspect?  

 

Charter Says Gary Schools Have Not Paid Legal Fees
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[11 Jan 2013]

The Gary Community School Corp. still hasnt paid about $10,000 in legal fees a federal judge ordered it to fork over after making frivolous arguments in a lawsuit filed by charter school operator LEAD College Preparatory.

LEAD sued the school district when it tried to buy the former Ernie Pyle Elementary School for a charter school for $1, as required by Indiana law for empty schools, and Gary wouldnt cooperate.  The school district had the case moved from Lake County to the U.S. District Court in Hammond.  However, a federal judge ordered the case back to the county level, saying it should never have been moved.

In October the judge ordered the school district to pay LEADs legal fees.  According to a press release from LEADs attorney, Trent McCain, the school district has yet to pay the money.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   And why, pray tell, should the school city be any differnt than the City of Gary, when it comes to paying its bills?

 

Trial Set for Gary Councilwoman Accused of Tax Evasion
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Teresa Auch Schultz
[11 Jan 2013]

Gary Councilwoman Marilyn Krusas is scheduled to go on trial April 8 on a charge of tax evasion.  The trial date was set Thursday, a day after attorneys had their first status conference in the case.  According to court records, her trial is expected to last one week.

Krusas, 69, was charged in September and is accused of not filing a federal income tax return since 1991 and wracking up $157,413 in debt to the IRS.  When she inherited $232,680 in 2009 and 2010, according to court filings, she used the money to pay down other debts and to write herself and a relative cashiers checks for $110,000 instead of paying off what she owed to the government.

Krusas has pleaded not guilty in the case and continues to serve on the council, a positions he was first elected to in 2000.

 

OUR VIEW:  Scrutiny Needed for Gary EDC
A Post-Trib Editorial
[11 Jan 2013]

Leaders of Garys Economic Development Corp. are proving adept at creating economic opportunities ... for themselves.

Last month, the quasi-government agency refused to share details about its proposed 2013 budget that contained requests for generous raises for a handful of EDC employees.

The administrative assistants salary would increase from $4,845 to $25,000 and the assistant directors salary would jump from $37,000 to $50,000. J. Forest Hayes, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilsons pick to head up the new Commerce Department, is slated to receive $15,000 from the EDC, in addition to his $90,000 city salary.

Hayes said in October, after businessman Tom Collins II resigned as the EDCs director after just 10 months, that he would not receive a salary or compensation.  Collins was set to receive $1 a year.

Michael Tolbert, the attorney for the EDC, said the private, nonprofit agency, doesnt have to share its financial information with the public due to the sensitive nature involved in wooing businesses to the city.  Refusing to release budget information is poor public policy and should cause concern<.br>

The stench from a past agency, the Gary Urban Enterprise Association, still lingers after its leaders were convicted of fraud in connection with long-running schemes to tap into GUEAs pot of money.  GUEA wasnt transparent, either.

Garys EDC meets at City Hall where its paid staffers work.  It has a duty to share its financial information with the public, not hide it.

 

Region, Lake County, Hobart Institution Now Only History
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Diane Poulton
[9 Jan 2013]

Known as Hunky Hollow in the 60's and 70's, it was "the place to be."  The 70-year-old dining establishment closed its doors Jan 1.  Some are blaming the state smoking law that went into effect last year.  That law bans smoking in most public places, such as restaurants.  Locals describe Hunky Hollow as a "Hobart institution."

Reader Comment -
Ed11 - 1 hour ago

The old customers who had the money are dying of alcoholism and smoking related illnesses.  A new crowd can't be created because we are looking for healthier food at lower prices.  Plus the demographics are changing too.  It is a combination of many factors.  We are seeing the same story over and over again.  To blame it on a smoking ban is too simplistic.  It is combination of may factors including the economy.  How many of those customers were real estate agents, bankers and contractors?  A new day has dawned but the financially strong,and healthy I might ad, will survive.


 

Gary Audit Pictures City in Financial Distress
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carole Carlson
[9 Jan 2013]

GARY Recently released state audits offer a glimpse of the rough financial times the city is enduring.

Transfers were made but not paid back in a timely fashion and the city needs months to pay its bills.  In one case, the audit noted the Sanitary District made two temporary transfers, recorded in December 2011, that totaled $605,000 without approval of the GSD board.  The board did not approve the temporary transfers until June 25, 2012.

The audit also disclosed that some funds were overdrawn for four or more years including an emergency shelter fund that had a negative balance.  Some payments to vendors were made more than seven months after the invoice dates.  "We have been slow in repaying because of finances," said City Controller Celita Green.  She blamed part of the citys fiscal distress on the continuing legal battle with Majestic Star Casino over a disputed $14 million the city says its owed, and by the citys low rate of tax collection in the past few years.  The city has managed to reduce the 2011 general fund ending cash deficit balance to nearly 50% lower than what it was 2010.

One of the citys obligations is to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.  The audit states the city had an outstanding balance of $6.87 million owed to the RDA as of June 2012.  The city has made all its required quarterly payments to the RDA in 2011 and 2012, reducing its outstanding balance.

The audit also disclosed that city workers were unaware of federal guidelines covering the documentation of grant money spent.  Green said the city has launched some changes to improve its bookkeeping.  "We were told in our exit conference there were a lot of audit findings cleaned up from last year.  Since then, weve implemented a grant management program and instituted policies and procedures this month."

The audit said the city didnt follow its own public works bid policy when it awarded a contract of $8,265 with Community Development Block Grant funds for renovation work at Pittman (Sq.) Park.  The project included a change order of $4,480 which exceeded 50 percent of the project.  The citys policy is to obtain three quotes with the contract going to the "lowest or most responsive vendor."

In 2011, a miscalculation by staff in the councils office resulted in City Council members receiving overpayments.  The mistake carried forward into the first four pay periods of 2012.  The state asked former council members Shirley Stanford and Ragen Hatcher to each reimburse the city $1,148.  Last September, Stanford entered into a repayment plan and Hatcher repaid the $1,148 overpayment.

The audit also disclosed issues with the travel policy involving City Council members.  The citys policy allows for members to be reimbursed for car travel or airfare, based on which is less expensive.  Lodging expense is not to exceed the lowest single occupancy rate.  In two cases, Hatcher was reimbursed for lodging exceeding the lowest single occupancy rate.  The difference was $929.  "It is unclear as to why the council members are not abiding by the travel policy.  Every effort should be made by the governmental unit to avoid unreasonable or excessive costs," the auditor wrote.  The city travel policy is being reviewed to ensure it conforms to statutes, and it will be redistributed to all employees.

The audit found the city has no process in place to document daily cash collections for parking at the Adam Benjamin Metro Center.

At the Genesis Center, a petty cash count done Aug. 7, 2012, yielded $5,950, exceeding the $5,000 approved amount.

Two events at the Genesis Center had errors in the calculation of charges with the gratuity fee. In both cases, the lessee was overcharged.


 

Lake County Budget Woes Mean Income Tax an Option
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report by Carrie Napoleon
[9 Jan 2013]

CROWN POINT The time has come to make draconian cuts to services or find another way to pay for Lake County government, officials say.

A majority of County Council members Tuesday said they are ready to open discussions on the possibility of some form of county income tax to pay for the anticipated $15 to $20 million shortfall in revenues for operating expenses in 2014.  Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, said county staff has done much to arrange a borrowing plan that will get the county through 2013, but if dramatic action is not taken this year the deficit in 2014 will be worse and will continue to grow each year the matter languishes.  "Our choices are slim.  Either cut out entire segments of this operation or the other choice is to find another source of revenue," Prince said.

That revenue most likely would have to be in the form of some kind of income tax.  Prince said officials should begin to open the dialogue in February and discuss all possibilities how the county can balance its budget.  Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart agreed putting the matter up for discussion in February would be a starting point. He said any solution to the countys financial woes would have to be multi-facetted.

"There is no tax (alone) that can resolve all of our issues," Bilski said.


 

Part of Series on Township Government
Calumet Township, Griffith Will Duke it Out in General Assembly
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[9 Jan 2013]

Secede is too strong a word for what the town of Griffith wants to do to Calumet Township.   Instead, Griffith will lobby for legislation to reorganize the town and the township trustee's office so they can "go their separate ways," Griffith Town Councilman Rick Ryfa said last week.

Last year, town officials said they wanted to secede from Calumet Township and form their own township to escape the heavy tax burden the township trustee's $10.2 million budget is expected to impose on Griffith homeowners and businesses.  Ryfa said 85% of those homes are paying the maximum amount of property taxes allowed under the state's tax caps.  Tax rates are the highest in the state to support township assistance for the many township residents who live below the poverty line, primarily in the city of Gary.

"We anticipate submitting two or three bills this January.  We need serious, permanent relief, not just something on paper.  Ryfa declined to detail the legislative proposals until they are publicly introduced, but did say, "We aren't saying secede anymore.  We are asking for reorganization."

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin said her office cut its budget by $4 million for this year to appease Griffith concerns.  "We have explained this to Griffith over and over."

However, the township may have to take its case to the General Assembly as well.  State Sen. Brandt Hershman, a downstate Republican and floor leader said, "If you look at (Calumet's) per capita spending on poor relief, it is outrageous.  Anytime you have a number that's far out of the ordinary, it bears scrutiny."  Anytime the system is being abused, it cries out for a solution.  My challenge to Calumet Township officials and Griffith and Northwest Indiana delegation last year was that they solve their own problems," Hershman said.  "We wanted to give them some breathing room to do that, but if they can't or won't, we will provide a solution for them."

 

PART II IN A SERIES
Calumet Township Payroll Resembles a Small Village
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[7 Jan 2013]

GARY | Calumet Township taxpayers have provided their trustee with many helping hands during the most recent decade.  A Times computer-assisted analysis of the office's 2010 payroll shows there was room on the trustee's staff for 17 administrative assistants, eight assistant deputies, six maintenance assistants, five shelter assistants, two assistant maintenance supervisors and a lone job-search workfare assistant.  Collectively, those assistants were paid about $1.1 million that year.  The plethora of assistants helped swell the Calumet Township payroll to 135 employees in 2010.  Though that number dropped to 82 employees by 2012, it still is about as many as all the other 10 Lake County townships' employees combined.

Those numbers have garnered the criticism of some region political leaders, who believe the township is the poster child for bloated government and waste.  But Trustee Mary Elgin said her staff used to be much larger and that she has taken austerity measures in recent years.  "I had 230 when I took office (in 2003).  I'm at 82 at the moment," Elgin said.

Elgin said she trimmed her budget by 23 people when she first took office and was greeted with a lawsuit claiming they were political firings.  All but one of the suits were thrown out of court for lack of evidence.  The remaining one was settled privately.

At the top of the Calumet Township payroll over the decade reviewed by the Times stands Trustee Mary Elgin, who earned $88,000 a year.  Calumet Township's three board members were paid $25,000 a year each to attend a handful of meetings connected with the once-a-year budget approval for the township.

Calumet Township provided an average of $6.5 million annually in food, emergency shelter and long-term housing, electrical service and heat, job training and placement, emergency medical care and burial for the township's poorest residents; to an average of 9,800 recipients per year during the 10 years analyzed by the Times.  By contrast, the office's payroll for administering that relief averaged about $4.5 million annually, just $2 million less than what it cost to provide township services.  The high administrative overhead in relation to the assistance provided the poor has fueled criticism that township trustee operations in general are much less efficient than the best private charities.

Many of the office's employees have job titles indicating their responsibilities are directed at handling that crowd of people in need for verifying eligibility and delivering help to the one in 10 who qualify for relief.  Those employees include more than 40 intake clerks, general assistance supervisors, investigative inquiry investigators, claims processors, job counselors, job search/workfare deputies and supervisory appeal hearing officers.  "We may have 10 service representatives working on the crowd of claimants in the course of a day," Elgin said.

Still, a number of Calumet Township jobs appear to have little to do with providing poor relief.  During the 10 years of data analyzed by the Times, the township employed more than 20 with jobs in building maintenance and technical support and a deputy of buildings and vehicles to manage the township's properties.  The buildings managed by the township once stood at six but now are down to three.

The township also maintains a vehicle fleet that includes eight take-home cars for select employees.  At least one of the buildings is a township-run emergency shelter for the homeless.  The payroll lists at least one part-time building manager, who was paid $28,500 in 2002 under former Calumet Trustee Dozier Allen, to be the live-in supervisor of the shelter's residents on the weekends.

There also were more than 40 employees with miscellaneous titles that extend beyond working with township relief services, including front-desk clerks, a switchboard operator, several finance assistants, client vendor processors, order-writers, an administrative assistant of policies and research and an executive secretary to the trustee.  They also include an administrative assistant, who was paid at least $51,500 between 2001 and 2002.

 


Calumet Township Rich in Poverty
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[6 Jan 2013]

GARY | Hidden away among Lake County's many courthouses, city and town halls, along with state and federal government offices, are political subdivisions rarely seen on any map.

Most of 11 elected township trustees and their meager staffs quietly go about the work of helping the poor and ensuring fire and ambulance service in far corners of the county under the names:  Calumet, Center, Cedar Creek, Eagle Creek, Hanover, Hobart, North, Ross, St. John, West Creek and Winfield.

But Calumet is a township with a capital T.  Until recently, the office of Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin owned and operated a chain of homeless shelters, a fleet of 46 township-owned vehicles and has been home to as many as 230 clerks, claims processors, job-search deputies, recordkeepers, order-writers, investigators, building managers, front-desk and switchboard workers and assistants.  This crew was paid $4.2 million annually between 2001 and 2010 in return for processing at least 365,000 requests for help.  They bestowed at least $64 million of food, emergency shelter and longer-term housing, electrical service and heat, job training and placement, emergency medical care and burial services over that decade.

During these years, the township generated at least $24 million in business for hundreds of merchants and consultants ranging from $2.4 million for health and casualty insurance for its many employees and real estate holdings, to $60 for Build-A-Bear items.

In the eyes of Griffith officials, Calumet Township is inefficient because it is too large and spendthrift.  They are again lobbying the General Assembly to escape the crushing burden that has resulted in maximum tax bills for 85% of the town's homesteads.  Town Councilman Rick Ryfa said Calumet's property tax rates are 34 times the state average.  Griffith taxpayers forwarded $2.97 million to the trustee's office for use as township poor relief, but the town's residents received back less than $11,000 in township assistance.  "I spent hours dissecting their records and still can't figure out where the money is going," Ryfa said.  "Maybe they don't know where the money is going, either."

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin said she inherited a bloated operation from former trustee, Dozier Allen Jr.  She said she has closed township buildings, downsized her staff and fleet of take-home cars, reduced her budget by $4 million last year and fought unsuccessfully with state officials to recognize her austerities.

The trustee for Calumet, which embraces Gary, Griffith and five square miles no municipality has annexed, has proposed a 2013 budget of $10.2 million, its smallest in more than decade, but still larger than all but five so-called metro townships around the state.  The trustee's office spent a total of at least $360 million since 2003, and is scheduled to spend about $100 per resident -- many times larger than the state average -- this year.

North Township, by way of comparison, plans to spend $41.75 per resident on services in East Chicago, Hammond, Highland, Munster and Whiting.  North's population is 36% larger than Calumet's.

The Calumet Township trustee's office grew to its larger-than-life size under Dozier Allen.  He took office in 1970, as the region's steel-related industries began shedding jobs in the thousands in the face of increasing automation and overseas competition.

In theory, township assistance is supposed to be brief, with recipients returning to self-sufficiency or qualifying for more permanent welfare benefits.  Elgin said in reality it becomes a way of life, passed down from generation to generation.


 

Cal Township Members a Rogues' Gallery of Corruption
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bill Dolan
[6 Jan 2013]

GARY | Many dark corners of local government in Lake County have been home to corrupt public officials over the years.  Calumet Township is no exception.

Will Smith Jr., who worked from 1997 to 2001 as a township assistant deputy earning an annual salary of $26,288, was convicted in 2007 by a federal jury in Hammond for filing a false income tax return as part a tax avoidance scheme unrelated to his township work.  He served 15 months.

Ezell Cooper, a claims fraud investigator for the township between 1989 to 2005, pleaded guilty in 1990 to embezzling money from the United Steelworkers Union Local 1014 while he was its financial secretary.  Cooper received probation.

Both Smith and Cooper worked for Dozier Allen Jr., who had served 32 years as trustee.  Federal authorities investigated Allen himself on more than one occasion.  The U.S. Attorney's office alleged Allen was suspected of filching more than $63,000 between 1998 and 2000 from a state grant meant to move township residents off welfare.  In 2000, Allen bought a new Ford F-250 truck and then sold it eight months later to the township for $24,950 in an apparent conflict of interest.  No charges were ever filed over those matters though.

The U.S. Attorney's office did charge Allen and three of his closest former deputies five years after voters removed him from office, indicting Allen and his former deputies on charges of defrauding the township in connection with another state grant of public money.  Allen's charges originated at a time when Indiana was in danger of losing $15 million in federal job training grants unless the state could obtain township assistance records proving the severity of local unemployment and poverty.

While other township trustees gave state officials the needed data, Allen insisted the state pay for his information.  The state agreed to do so on condition he prove the money was used to reimburse his employees for the extra work to satisfy the state's information needs.  Allen never provided proof of his staff's extra work.  Federal prosecutors said it was later discovered that Winfo Data Systems -- a longtime information technology contractor for the county -- was able to produce the information the state needed with only a few key strokes.  Nevertheless, Allen's administration billed the state, and "instead of directing this money to the office, the defendants pocketed the bounty themselves.

The defendants did nothing to earn these spoils," the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote recently after reviewing and affirming Allen's public corruption conviction.  Federal prosecutors said Allen pocketed $28,000, while township employees Wanda Joshua received $51,000, Ann Marie Karras received $38,000 and Albert Young Jr. received $26,000 from the grant.  The appeals court noted Allen's scheme unraveled when Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen -- Dozier Allen's second cousin and a township board member at the time -- publicly questioned whether Dozier Allen had the authority to pay himself more money than his annual salary.  The State Board of Accounts then investigated.  Defense lawyers argued the payments were legal and above-board, but a jury found otherwise.  Dozier Allen served an 18-month sentence.

 

U.S. Steel Production Up 3% in 2012
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report by Bowdeya Tweh
[4 Jan 2013]

Production of raw steel in the U.S. is expected to have increased about 3% in 2012 from a year earlier, according to early estimates from the American Iron and Steel Institute.  Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the Washington-based trade association representing the interests of the North American steel industry, said steel production last year is expected to grow for the fourth consecutive year.  Domestic mills produced 95.2 million tons of raw steel in 2011.

U.S. steel consumption rose 3.7% to 110 million tons in 2012.  "Steel is doing a little bit better than the economy as a whole, but it's still a fragile recovery," Gibson said.

However, the 2012 production level remains less than the 100 million-ton mark exceeded in each year between 2002 and 2008.  During those seven years, the average capacity utilization rate was 87.4%.

Finished steel imports represented about 24% of the domestic steel market.  Total steel imports, based on permit applications in 2012, was about 33.3 million tons, up from about 17% from a year earlier.  Gibson said producers are concerned that import levels are rising faster than steel production to support the small growth in steel consumption.  "We are very concerned that in a still fragile, recovering economy, imports, especially unfair trade imports from places like China, are penetrating this market" at the expense of domestic producers, Gibson said.

U.S. steel mills had a capacity utilization rate of 73.9% last week, down from a 74.5% a week earlier.

 

State Monies Taken from Gary Schools for Roosevelt Special Ed
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report By Carole Carlson
[3 Jan 2013]

The State Board of Education ruled Wednesday that $176,939 will be diverted from the Gary Community School Corp.s state funding to pay for special education services for students at the Roosevelt College and Career Academy, a privately run turnaround school.  The money will be diverted from Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year.

The school district opposed the action, approved unanimously at Wednesdays State Board of Education meeting.  Gary Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt attended Wednesdays meeting and expressed disappointment in the boards decision.  "We dont have a problem turning over monies that we have to do, we just want to research it to make sure its correct," Pruitt said.

Pruitt said the district received notice of the money being withheld Dec. 21 and didnt receive a detailed spreadsheet until Dec. 31.  Pruitt said the district wanted to research the findings on the number of special education students at Roosevelt, now operated by EdisonLearning Inc., under a four-year contract with the state.

Even a state education official seemed confused when asked for the total number of special education students at Roosevelt.  The official pegged the total between 77 and 155 students, based on the possibility that some students fall into more than one special education category.

Pruitt said Gary is watching a lawsuit recently won by the Indianapolis Public Schools, which sued the State Board of Education for miscounting the number of students at four schools taken over by the state last year.  Some officials say the ruling means the state shorted Indianapolis about $6 million and shorted the Gary Community School Corp. about $2 million.  Sample said the state intends to appeal the ruling.

In Gary's case, the district lost about $2.8 million when the state took over Roosevelt after the school received a state accountability grade of F for six straight years.  Pruitt said the state estimated Roosevelts enrollment at 1,034 students last year when it determined its funding.  Pruitt said the school has just 678 students. "Were hopeful those monies can be returned," she said.  Beginning this month, the 2012 enrollment count taken in September will determine how much money EdisonLearning will receive to operate Roosevelt.

 

Gary Maps Plan to Reduce Homicides
Compiled From a Post-Trib Report By Lori Caldwell
[1 Jan 2013]

When Wade Ingram arrived a year ago to lead the Gary Police Department, burglars had the run of the city, striking homes in every neighborhood, often during daylight hours.  The good news is burglaries are down 25% from 2011.  Ingram said he tackled the problem by several means, including an expanded burglary team.

In the meantime, homicides went up 22%, with an unofficial total of 43 violent deaths in the city.  "Now I will shift my focus to violent crime, shootings and homicides," Ingram said.  Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson agreed, saying homicides in the last two months 10, or almost 25%of the year's total is of particular concern to her.

Both the chief and mayor acknowledge the shortage of patrol officers on the street makes it easier for criminals and more dangerous for cops on the beat.  Ingram plans to increase visibility in 2013 by ordering officers who work administrative jobs to spend two days per month on patrol.  The Crime Suppression Unit can also be assigned patrol duties, and detectives will continue to spend part of their time on the street, he said.

Of the 43 homicides, 34 were men.  Of those, all but one died of a gunshot wound.  Nine women were killed in 2012, but only three were shot.

While the nation mourned and politicians postured for tougher gun laws after the mass slaying in Newtown, CT, last month, Gary has shown little outcry for the loss of their own victims.  "People have become immune," Ingram said.  Several anti-violence rallies in areas where homicides occurred have drawn small numbers, but Ingram said he has seen more participants with each march.

Freeman-Wilson acknowledged many homicides were drug or gang-related, although the city doesn't have the highly organized gang activity similar to the gang wars of the 1970's.  "Its more in the neighborhood, this is my crew kind of thing," the mayor said.

Ingram said investigators can't always identify a motive for deadly crimes, particularly if it involves retaliation.  Often, shooting victims who survive don't tell police the truth about what led to their injuries.

The chief said he is disappointed with the year's increase in homicides and regrets halting the ministers work on street corners in September.  "I should have kept that going.  We thought it would be cold.  How could we know it would be 70 degrees in October?" Ingram said.  When the ministers program stopped, the city added 15 more homicides in the following weeks.  "I think it would have made a difference," he said.  We don't get up in arms


 

Mayor Defends Firing 15 EMTs as Cost-saving Plan Broached Months Ago
Compiled From a nwiTimes Report By Deborah Laverty
[1 Jan 2013]

GARY | The possible elimination of 15 emergency medical technician jobs and $1.2 million in cost savings to the city was broached 3 months ago, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Monday.  Action taken by City Council at a special meeting Friday should not have come as a surprise to anyone, including the EMTs, because the issue was discussed multiple times, Freeman-Wilson said.

"The merger of fire and EMT services and the elimination of EMT positions were first proposed in detail on Sept. 26," Freeman-Wilson said.  The resulting cost savings, a reduction in the fire budget by $1.2 million, was also a major consideration, she said.  "They, the EMTs, had plenty of notice about the possibility of the move," Freeman-Wilson said.

The mayor takes exception to comments made at Friday's City Council meeting by some EMTs, including Juana McLaurin, Freeman-Wilson said.  McLaurin, one of those whose job was cut, said she wasn't aware of the possibility until a few weeks ago.

The council, after debating the issue for more than an hour Friday, voted 6-2 to merge the fire and EMT services and terminate 15 firefighters and EMTs, including McLaurin.  In addition to broaching the merger and terminations Sept. 26, the proposal was reiterated at City Council finance and public safety committee meetings in October and November, Freeman-Wilson said.  "Fire Chief Teresa Everett also presented a PowerPoint presentation of the proposed plan to the City Council, the Fire Commission and the general public," Freeman-Wilson said.

The decision to pass the 2013 budget Friday allowed the city to save a number of jobs, Freeman-Wilson said.  "Had the council reverted to the 2012 salary budget for fire, we would have been forced to completely eliminate EMS (more than 35 jobs) on Jan. 1 and 35 firefighter positions on July 1," Freeman-Wilson said.  The total savings from layoffs of the 15 EMTs will reduce the fire budget by $1.2 million and will mean an improved level of care provided to residents, Wilson-Freeman said.

"Effective Jan. 1, the service will be provided by EMS paramedics and firefighter/EMTs.  EMTs interested in becoming firefighters had the opportunity to take the test earlier this year, and a number were given additional opportunities for certifications and training that would have allowed them to avoid being laid off," she said.

 

Post-Trib Closing NWI News Ops?
Compiled From a nwiTimes Staff Report
[20 Dec 2012]

The Post-Tribune may be closing its Northwest Indiana newsroom while retaining a small number of reporters here to work from home, under a proposal from Sun-Times Media Group Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk.  It appears the Merrillville-based newspaper will continue to publish, but the shuttering of its news operation at 1433 E. 83rd Av. would represent the end of its physical presence in the region after a 105-year run.

Kirk's memo was distributed to all Sun-Times Media Group newspapers Thursday, and Kirk will come to Merrillville on Friday to meet with employees.  All the changes would be complete by March, according to the memo.  Neither Kirk nor Post-Tribune Publisher Lisa Tatina returned a call seeking more information Thursday afternoon.

In his memo, Kirk stated the shuttering of all the newspaper group's Chicago-area publications is being done to promote a "digital first" strategy.  The memo stated:  "Print will be with us for some time, but not forever.  We cannot wait for change to come without being prepared.  Otherwise we're dead."

Kirk stated his memo was a proposal, which still has to be approved by Publisher Tim Knight.  However, the timelines and specifics included in the six-page memo indicate it is the result of many months of work by Sun-Times Media Group management.  Kirk stated he does not anticipate cutting jobs.  However, he said there may be job "redundancy" and determinations on positions will be made later.

Five years ago, the Post-Tribune transferred all its printing from its former headquarters on Broadway in Gary to the Chicago plant of its parent, the Sun-Times Media Group.  Not long after the announcement of the transfer of the Gary printing operation, the newspaper announced it would be closing its last remaining region news bureau in Valparaiso.  At about the same time, it placed its Merrillville newsroom building up for sale.  It also once ran an office on the Crown Point square, which has been put up for sale.
________________
[COMMENT -GDY]:
   The Post-Trib becoming a "work from home" operation?  I cannot say I am surprised.  Anyone who actually bothers to read the print edition is painfully aware of how woefully pitiful it is.  I can say, as a former Post-Trib Honor Carrier I am saddened by this turn of events.  It does not bode well for the City of Gary, either, I might add.   I also find it of note that this story was reported in the NWI Times, not in the Post-Trib! 


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