In the general
election Tuesday, Nov. 3, six candidates--three Democrats and three
Republicans-- will vie for three At-Large seats on the Porter County
The field includes
incumbent Democrats Dan Whitten and Sylvia Graham, Democrat challenger Susie
Talevski, former Republican Council member Andy Bozak, and Republican
challengers Craig Kenworthy and Mike Brickner.
Tribune invited all to participate in a candidate questionnaire. The
Tribune set word limits and reserved the right to edit for length.
1) Age, place of
Burns Harbor, Director of Operations at Reliable Transportation Specialists
Washington Township (Valparaiso, Ind.). Director of Operations Lake County
Graham: I have
lived in Valparaiso all of my adult life. I am a retired Family Nurse
Practitioner, presently serving my third term on the Council.
Valparaiso, Ind., Union Pipefitter for Local 597.
Valparaiso, Ind. Attorney.
Whitten: I am
54 years young (depending on the day. Sometimes its 54 years old). I reside
in Porter Twp. I am an attorney with my wife Stacey at Whitten & Whitten,
Attorneys at law, located in Portage, Ind.
2) For incumbents:
Why are you seeking re-election to the County Council? (75 words)
Graham: I am
the only woman on the Porter County Council. I feel I have been helpful in
setting budgets and keeping taxes low. I am available to answer questions
and address problems for constituents. I feel my work is not done, and I
still have the desire to serve. With my experience, knowledge, and
commitment to the county, I will be beneficial to my constituents and the
Through my time in the United States Army, years as a police officer, and
time in office, I have spent nearly my entire adult life in public service.
I take great pride in serving Porter County. I would like to continue the
work we have accomplished and are still accomplishing for the residents of
our county, and would like to think that I am helping make it a better and
safer place to live.
Why are you seeking election to the Council? (75 words)
previously served on the County Council I feel thereís more work to do in
order to further secure a better future for our county and to make sure
everyone gets a voice. I feel itís important to give back to your community
and this is one way I can do that. I am able to work with all involved to
help achieve this goal of consistent improvement.
Brickner: Iím a
lifelong Porter County resident, passionate about preserving the quality of
life we enjoy here. I decided not to sit on the sidelines and watch our
Country be destroyed by radical agendas one state, city and, county at a
time. This is the most crucial election of my lifetime and most likely my
childrenís. My goal is to be a voice that will make the right choices for
our County and bring fresh ideas.
work to ensure quality of life that the residents of Porter County have come
to know and expect.
believe that it is the duty of every citizen to be politically engaged. In
2017, I watched the Porter County Council deny a local battered womenís
shelter money from our Porter County Hospital Foundation Fund. This money is
supposed to go towards supporting our charities and communities for health,
safety and wellbeing, not other expenditures. I want to ensure these
important organizations have a voice in our local government.
3) For incumbents:
Describe your achievements in office. (100 words)
helped bring the county budgets through the difficult days of 2009, and I
served on the commission that brought 24 hour medical/nursing care to the
jail. I voted to purchase the financial Low Software system, to build the
animal shelter, and to invest in county property renovations, as well as
replacing the faulty South Haven storm water system. I am a founding member
of the Porter County Government Nonprofit Charitable Foundation. I supported
the purchase of the new voting equipment as well as the new timekeeping
system. Most importantly, I have voted to keep your county tax rate low.
Whitten: I was
instrumental in creating the County Foundation, and implementing its by-laws
and investment policy. Its creation has brought millions in earnings to our
citizens. We have one of the most, if not the most solvent counties in the
state. We have built new facilities, improved on existing buildings and
through such, have created jobs. During my time, we have built a new Animal
Shelter, updated the Government centers in Valpo and Portage. We have
updated the Expo Center and remodeled the Memorial Opera House. Honestly,
the list goes on, but I am limited to 100 words here.
What specific skill sets would you bring to the Council if elected? (100
Bozak: As I
mentioned above, I have served on the County Council before and maintain a
lot of experience in knowing what it takes to continue to move our county
forward. I know how to work well with people. I make myself available to the
residents of our county by giving out my personal cell phone number. I can
and have led through adversity. And in my previous experience in serving on
the council, we not only invested in our infrastructure and services, but
also looked after the people who are employed by the county.
experience as Valparaiso Police Chief and Director of Public Safety for
Porter County provided me the opportunity to work with city and county
government. I understand the budget and the importance of collaboration to
get things accomplished.
Kenworthy: I am
currently the president of the Porter County Park Board. I have worked with
both the Council and Commissioners in developing long-term budgetary
solutions along with future planning of land acquisition for the park
district. Thereby ensuring open space and recreational opportunities for
future generations of Porter County residents.
have always been a peopleís advocate. I have a unique ability to empathize
and sympathize with people. Iím genuinely kind, caring, and compassionate. I
truly care about people. I also listen well. I intend on listening to the
needs and concerns of the people of Porter County and doing all that I can
to meet those needs and concerns. I will use my advocacy skills to be the
voice of the people on the county council. Iím also very curious about
seeking out new ideas and developing creative solutions to solve problems.
4) For incumbents:
As a sitting member of the Council, what are the two things you think the
Council could have handled better in the last four years? Explain. (100
Graham: I feel
I have been very successful working together with council members for the
citizens of Porter County. I continue to fund service organizations that
give great benefits back to our county. OE, FYS, and County Aging and
Community Services are examples of this. I have supported investing and
making improvements to our county properties along with staying up to date
on roadwork and replacing aging bridges. All of these actions added years of
service to these county owned buildings, while promoting job growth and not
raising taxes for Porter County residents.
Honestly, I think we did a solid job. Weíve created jobs, improved buildings
and built new facilities. All the while, keeping taxes low. Although we gave
a considerable sum for non-profits, had the market not been such a roller
coaster ride at times, we could have given more. But, notwithstanding, weíve
provided assistance to many. Had we been given a crystal ball, we could have
braced better for the pandemic. But unfortunately, we did not. It seems
clear to me that weíre heading in the right direction and things are on
track to continue moving forward
For challengers: As
a citizen seeking election to the Council, what are two things you think the
Council has done a good job of the past four years? (100 words)
Bozak: Since I
sat on the council within the past four years, I can name several of our
accomplishments. I was part of the team that approved a $50 million
investment in Porter County. We set up the Porter County Foundation and made
sure we had a balanced and fair budget for the County. Additionally, when on
the council, I had pushed for better communications throughout our County,
both internally and publicly. My personal cell number is 219-508-7152 if you
ever need to reach me.
Council did a good job developing and following through with the first
capital improvement plan. Funds were properly allocated to invest in needed
infrastructure improvements and many of the projects are either completed or
Working with the commissioners to renovate county buildings. (2) They have
stayed within their budgetary constraints while maintaining county services.
Construction of the new animal shelter was certainly a positive addition to
our county. Also, I supported the councilís approval of the mobile voting
vehicle purchase that the Clerk of the Court requested.
yourself from your opponents and indicate why in particular you believe
yourself to be the better candidate. (100 words)
Bozak: Most of
the other candidates in this race are really good people that Iíve worked
with previously. One of the major things I pride myself in is open
communication. I make sure Iím available when people need help and make sure
to always hear both sides of the situation before making a decision. I not
only preach open communication, but practice it as well. I work well with
both parties and make sure that any solution that I provide is well thought
through and researched. I freely provide my personal cell phone number to
anyone that needs it (219-508-7152).
leadership experience and work history in administrative positions make me
the better candidate. I do not believe that being an elected official should
be a career profession. Some of my opponents have been in County politics
for years. County councilman/councilwoman is a part-time position. I do not
agree with the fact that several of the part-time elected officials are
receiving full-time County employee health benefits. This is approximately a
$20,000 a year benefit per part-time employee.
Graham: I have
12 years of council budgeting experience. My attendance and voting record
speak for itself. I answer phone calls and meet with constituents for
discussions while working with many different departments to produce
solutions. I have been fiscally responsible, voting for balancing budgets
that promote job growth. I do not burden taxpayers by using county insurance
and never have. I have worked on the Plan Commission, NICTD board, NIRPC,
PCACS, WM and Recycling and the EMA. I am liaison to multiple county
departments. I am retired and have the time and the energy to do the job.
Kenworthy: I am
not a politician; I have completely self-funded my campaign and therefore am
not beholden to any special interest group of citizens. I am a Union
Pipefitter with 35 years of experience, so I understand the working-class
citizens in this county. I know their struggles. I know their challenges. I
come from a family of educators; I know the daily challenges of those who
have devoted their lives to educating our children. I grew up around my
grandparentís farm in Porter Township, therefore I know how important
farmers are to this County.
agriculture we learn the importance of rotating the crops, just like in
farming itís time to rotate out career politicians and bring in new people
with fresh ideas. Iíve never served in elected office, and Iím not a career
politician. As a new council member, I will bring new ideas, energy, and
vision to the Council. In society, you need to have change in order to have
renewal, rejuvenation, and revitalization. Also, Iím the most progressive
out of the six people running. And frankly, this Council could use a
Whitten: As I
state below, we all have our areas of strength. I have the experience of
running County government. Additionally, I have extensive knowledge of
municipal law. My wife and I have represented several municipalities over
the years. That experience has given me the insight into the numerous legal
issues that confront the Council. My years as a bankruptcy attorney have
given me the opportunity to help many Porter County families through
difficult times. This understanding of issues that families in our County
face, has given me a special understanding of the issues facing the whole
6) What are the key
issues in this race? (75 words)
Bozak: One of
the largest challenges we face is our expected lower tax revenues due to the
COVID-19 health crisis. The Council and all departments must take steps to
help offset some of these financial losses, and yet still manage to provide
the services our citizens have come to expect. This all has to happen while
still maintaining one of the lowest county tax structures in all of Indiana.
I do not support increasing taxes.
County leadership should develop a second capital improvement plan on how to
wisely appropriate and allocate funds from the Porter County Non-Profit
Charitable Foundation. There must be collaboration and synergy between
Council members and Commissioners to accomplish big picture goals and
initiatives. County leadership must review and update all County ordinances.
County leadership needs to be vigilant in properly managing growth so as to
not compromise the agricultural landscape which makes Porter County
going to take experience to budget amid COVID-19. The County is in solid
financial shape. However, we must remain vigilant. I will remain fiscally
responsible, keeping taxes low. I want to continue investing in county
projects that will promote job growth. Public safety, with drug prevention
and rehab programs being a must. Our roads must be maintained with water
testing to protect our ecosystem.
key issues of this race are maintaining our quality of life for residents
while staying within the budget. Funding our law enforcement departments so
they can be provided the tools they need to maintain law and order within
this County. Along with finding funding to increase and develop park land.
infrastructure development, affordable housing, the health and safety of the
residents, economic losses due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has become a top
priority. County leaders need to ensure the health and safety of everyone in
the county. Iím particularly concerned about our elderly population,
especially those in nursing homes. The county should invest in acquiring
protective masks so that everyone can have access to masks irrespective of
ability to pay.
on the right track, improving quality of life for residents. I have the
experience and knowledge of municipal budgets to continue that growth and
keep our county tax rate low. The issues come down to this: Do people like
the direction our county is going? Weíve funded safe schools projects, done
extensive drainage system upgrades, paved many miles of highway, given
public safety the tools they need, and used Foundation earnings for social
7) What are your
priorities for the use of the funds in the Porter County Non-profit
Charitable foundation? (75 words)
Bozak: We must
ensure the Foundation funds are still there for future generations. We
should never spend the principle but invest only the interest generated
within Porter County. If the Council decides to establish a charitable arm
of this foundation in the future, we must ensure that it is properly
established with the appropriate checks and balances. Plus, we need to
guarantee that the monies allocated from this fund are invested responsibly
in our Countyís future.
priorities are investing in our County roads with an initial substantial
investment to catch up for a manageable road improvement plan. We must
allocate funds for the MAAC foundation. The quality of life in Porter County
we all enjoy is dependent on our citizens being and feeling safe. During
this time when one party advocates for defunding law enforcement, I will be
committed to increasing funding for training for all public safety.
should have the ability to continue meeting our obligations for funding our
County service organizations, however, I will monitor the situation closely.
Examples of expected state money losses include road funds due to losses in
gas taxes. I expect losses in casino revenue funds that support our drug
task force team, as well as employee longevity pay. Both are important line
items that will be maintained. If adjustments are needed, Iíll vote for
fund capital projects that have been identified by county government. To
help nonprofit agencies throughout the County in their mission to serve our
Countyís at risk residents.
Porter County Non-Profit Foundation money belongs to the people. When
elected to the Porter County Council, Iíll ensure that we create a grant
making process to begin distributing the interest generated from our
investments. From small cities like Burns Harbor and Hebron, to local
non-profits across the County, we can use this money for community needs.
The principal will always remain invested and the fund sustainable, but the
profits need to be fairly dispersed.
need to continue using its earnings for the betterment of the county. We
used some of the earnings for social services, but also used the foundation
to promote growth for the county. It has been a mechanism to keep the County
tax rate down, to ensure that we don't "tax families out of the county.Ē
Managing a watchful eye on the investments is paramount in the shifting
sands of the investment world these days
8) National issues
often dominate political conversations, and some would say tensions are
running especially high due to the upcoming presidential election. Explain
why local government is where youíve chosen to serve and why itís important
to you? (100 words)
federal policies dominate the headlines, policies and taxes on the local
level have more direct influence on your everyday life. Itís important to
serve where you feel you will have the most positive impact on your
community. My previous experience will help the Council move in a positive
direction. Being a local official would allow me to work directly with the
people whose lives we are impacting, and help make our community a better
place to live. After all, I have a vested interest in making Porter County a
great place to live - my family resides here!
government is the most effective form of government. Most accomplishments
are seen at the local level. At the local level, there is opportunity for
the residents to connect with their elected officials and be more engaged in
the decision-making process.
Graham: I have
been a person helping others most of my life. I am a previous 4-H leader,
and a retired RN, FNP. Carole Knoblock, a previous County Commissioner, was
my friend, and I helped her with her campaigns. One day she asked me if I
would run for office, and I said yes. I have been a County elected official
for the past 12 years, and it has been enjoyable. I am getting satisfaction
in helping my County, and I find it very satisfying to give back to the
County that has been so good to me.
feel the average resident of this County deserves to have their views heard.
Sometimes with all the other noise that goes on, peopleís voices get lost. I
want to be the person who listens to those people and bring their issues and
thoughts to County government.
First, local government has the most direct impact over your day to day
life. From maintaining our local infrastructure to protecting our lakeshore
to creating job growth, the County is the first responder to the needs of
our residents. Also, during this time it is important for women to step up
into positions of leadership. There is only one other woman on the Council,
and itís time we have more representation in local government.
this national election is starting to feel like ďMr. Toadís Wild Ride.Ē Itís
hard to predict how it will affect local government and local races. I have
chosen to serve as a County Councilman because budgets and funding
challenges are in my wheelhouse. Local government often can have the most
impact on the day to day lives of the families in our County. I take great
pride and consider it a privilege to be able to take part making our County
a better place to live, work and raise a family.
9) Describe an
experience you have had outside of serving in/campaigning for local
government office that elevated your understanding of how local government
affects everyday people. (125 words)
ago, my son had a seizure and had to be taken to the hospital. We called an
ambulance, and it was then we found out that the town of Burns Harbor had no
ambulance service of its own. An outside service had to be called in, which
added valuable, life-threatening minutes. Burns Harbor ended up getting a
service years later, but I remember thinking this is a reason to run for
office. After I got on the BH council, I made sure we always had funds to
run that service.
County residents do not and should not rely on local government to interfere
with how they conduct their everyday lives. Government at all levels should
be non- invasive and most citizens want their government basically to leave
them alone to live their lives. What I have experienced is that our
residents want to go to work, pay their bills and enjoy what free time they
have. What our residents should expect from their government officials is
professional properly-funded public safety, well maintained roads, sewer and
drainage solutions, a properly managed park system, good schools and elected
officials who recognize we represent and work for them.
having a garage sale, a dog appeared on our property looking very
frightened. A family member caught him and secured him on a leash, as we
called the animal shelter and alerted them of the situation. They told me it
was Saturday, and they would be by on Monday. I told him that was not an
acceptable answer. Within an hour, an animal officer appeared and took the
dog -- two hours later, a nearby homeowner appeared and thanked me for
assisting in helping return his animal safely to him. All worked well, as it
should have. This incident helped me realize the importance of County-funded
areas being able to assist citizens when needed, and in a timely manner.
Kenworthy: I am
currently the president of the Porter County Park Board. The most recent
task that I have accomplished as president of the Park Board was to work
with the Commissioners and the Council in conveying the Zona Wildlife
sanctuary from the Commissioners to the Park Board. This was done over an
extended period of time but through cooperation of all involved the task was
completed. I have also worked the past nine years on the Park Board in
developing budgets and planning for the County Park Department. I served on
the board of the Porter County youth league and developed a knowledge of the
need for recreational opportunities for the families of this County.
Talevski: As a
two-time Democratic National Convention Delegate for the great state of
Indiana, I realized the importance of electoral politics. Thousands of
people coming together to create meaningful change across our nation. When
we use our voice on a local level, we can elevate our County to higher
standards and create a more inclusive, just, and equitable society. It all
starts at the local level!
my wife Stacey, I have represented numerous government agencies throughout
the region. As such, I gained experience and knowledge of municipal law.
That includes an understanding of what government should and should not do.
And more importantly, how its actions can impact its citizenry. Further, as
a bankruptcy attorney, I have met with thousands of Porter County families.
I see firsthand the struggles that many of our families are and will be
facing. I have made it my lifeís work to help struggling families through
difficult times. As I have stated above, through military service on the
United States Army, police service and serving on various volunteer boards,
I have made public service a priority in my life.
10) The COVID-19
pandemic is a crisis the likes of which our nation hasnít seen in over a
century – since the 1918 influenza pandemic. What are your specific plans
for leading Porter County through this crisis? (125 words)
Bozak: As we go
through this unprecedented time, I feel itís very important that the Council
works with all department heads, plus the Commissioners, to make sure that
funds are available for what is needed to protect County employees and the
general public. The Council is the financial arm of the government, and itís
important that communication flows freely so everyone involved can make sure
that the tools are provided to protect people as best we can. This is a
pandemic that we are still learning about, and we are processing new
information weekly. We need to make sure we stay on top of the newest
recommendations from the CDC and our own Porter County Health Department.
leaders we must use wisdom when challenged with any crises. As we navigate
through the COVID-19 pandemic, we must understand that the virus is real and
has and will continue to affect many of our residents. We have been
inundated with so much information, we donít exactly know what is fact or
fiction. We need to take precautions around our most vulnerable citizens,
which includes our own family members. We must also open up our Country. Our
kids need to be in school and our businesses need to open. People want and
need to get back to their jobs.
the COVID-19 onset, Iíve participated in weekly zoom meetings with the
commissioners, sheriff, health department, and Porter Hospital lead by the
Emergency Management department. Each area reports concerns and questions. A
County site was opened at Northshore in Portage for testing along with
Porter, HealthLinc, and Kouts. The county health department says, through
grants, Porter County will have two new test sites where people may go and
be tested for free. A new test site in Portage opened at 6040 Lute Road,
monitored by Porter Regional Hospital. As a councilperson, I pledge to
continue to keep people informed and strongly suggest all follow the CDC
guidelines of safe distancing, hand washing/sanitizing, and wearing a mask.
Iíll keep citizens informed as I learn of changes.
County Council oversees the budget for governmental budgets in Porter
County. The best way I know to get through the COVID-19 crisis economically
is to provide the financial support that each department needs to continue
to function during this crisis.
First, it is essential that all of our elected officials heed the advice of
our nationís top public health experts. We should lead with science, not
partisanship. I believe that Indiana acted late in establishing a state-wide
mask mandate, which cost lives. If I was on the County Council, I wouldíve
worked to ensure a Countywide mask mandate at the same time Marion county
established it. Going forward, I would like to make sure that everyone has
access to personal protective equipment. After months of isolation, I would
also like to guarantee that our mental health services are fully-funded and
accessible to everyone.
Whitten: I was
in office during the last major recession. Iím no stranger to governing
during a financial crisis. That having been said, COVID-19 has created a
crisis of new proportions. Primarily my concern is the public health. We
have ensured that the public has access and information to weather this
storm. But beyond that, government has to be mindful that many small
businesses will be trying to recover. As a small business owner, I
understand this daunting task that lies ahead. We should be open minded, and
invite all stakeholders in brainstorming the road ahead. Conventional
thinking may no longer apply. We are in new ďnorm.Ē We have to be willing to
step up and provide the resources necessary to navigate through the