situation” was evidently unique enough for the Porter County Council to go
against it current hiring freeze Tuesday as it voted 5-0 Tuesday for
Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford’s request to add a full-time second
legal assistant to his staff.
the Council in a letter late last week explaining three of his staff
members, with a combined total of 67 years experience, have announced their
retirements within the last few weeks. They are leaving in August before
changes in Public Employee Retirement Funds take effect on Sept. 1 that
would lower their pensions, Bradford said.
The PERF changes
have influenced others in Porter County Government to retire, such as County
Treasurer Mike Bucko, whose last day is this Friday, and County Highway
Superintendent Al Hoagland, who will be leaving on Friday, Aug. 14.
Bradford said his
staff retirements also come at a difficult time due to state changes in the
criminal code that took effect this year such as new penalty procedures for
both high level and low level offenders. The new code guidelines won’t
necessarily mean a heavier workload, Bradford told the Chesterton Tribune
later, but those replacing the outgoing employees will need to learn the new
system and won’t have much opportunity to learn from his current staff.
Bradford said he
hopes having an additional position will help avoid errors.
Adding to his
argument, Bradford said he has run his office since 1981 with one less staff
person than his fellow judges and this will bring him in line with other
The Council in
November halted requests for additional personnel across all departments
unless the hire was to replace a terminated or retired employee. It since
has asked departments to cut their 2015 general fund budgets by 10 percent
as revenue losses are causing a shortfall for next year.
an additional appropriation of $11,979 to salaries for the remainder of the
year. The new legal assistant would have a yearly salary of $31,145 not
including insurance and benefits. He said however that if the Council
approves, he would not have to use any more of his funds allocated for
He also said there
will be a savings of $6,000 in longevity pay.
Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, said she’d been “struggling with (the
request) all weekend” after receiving Bradford’s letter because “it’s
against policy.” She however reached the conclusion that not honoring the
request could put the court in jeopardy.
“Our courts do not
come to us with frivolous requests,” Conover said.
Sylvia Graham, D-at large, expressed similar concerns.
situation puts him in a bind beyond his control, said Council President Dan
Whitten, D-at large, who added he “personally did not have a problem voting
yes to the matter.
“He really has a
very unusual circumstance” Whitten said.
Voting to approve
were Whitten, Graham, Conover, and members Robert Poparad, D-at large, and
Jim Biggs, R-1st. Absent were Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and Jim Polarek, R-4th.
requests approved were an additional of $10,000 to the Public Defender’s
Supplemental account needed for legal services; $35,000 to be spent out of
the Dunes Kankakee Grant for construction inspection; and $58,700 for the
County Parks’ Lake Michigan Coastal Grant Fund to rehabilitate the pond and
prairie at Sunset Hill Farm.
In other business,
the Council learned from ITS Director Sharon Lippens that it can save
$30,000 over the next couple of years through a state law, IC 5-22-17-5,
that allows contracts to be canceled when a fiscal body of government makes
a written determination that funds are not available. The contractor will be
able to repossess the equipment, she said.
Lippens said the
current contract with a vendor for equipment in the County’s print shop is
$46,000 per year but the funding has fallen short this year because of
budget cuts. The contract was last renewed in 2011 and was to continue until
2016, but by enactment of the state law, the County can move forward with a
new vendor for $16,000, which is where the savings would come from.
The Council agreed
5-0 in favor of the measure.