Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Republican majority on county election board hires new attorney

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Election Board found itself under new management Tuesday as Valparaiso attorney David Bengs succeeded the three-member board’s Republican member Patrick Lyp.

After being on the board more than a decade, Lyp tendered his resignation to have more time for a new position as attorney for the City of Valparaiso and as its economic development director.

Bengs, who is an associate with Phil Norman PC in Valparaiso, was given membership by a 2-0 vote from current board members J.J. Stankiewicz, the Democratic representative, and County Clerk Karen Martin.

Bengs was also elected president of the board, Stankiewicz vice-president, and Martin as secretary.

Board positions are appointed by the chairperson of a political party. Bengs was selected by Republican Party Chair Michael Simpson who was in attendance Tuesday.

County Voters Registration Democrat Director Kathy Kozuszek said Bengs has worked as watcher for the party on Election Night for the past four years as votes came in and has a good relationship with the office. She said she “couldn’t have been more pleased” he received the GOP appointment.

“I look forward to working with you,” Kozuszek told Bengs.

Kozuszek commented she “truly enjoyed” working with Lyp and said he wouldn’t let party politics play into his decisions.

“He (Lyp) knew what was right was right and what was wrong was wrong,” she said.

The new board split 2-1 however on hiring a new board attorney for the year. Bengs and Martin, who make up a Republican majority, outvoted Stankiewicz in choosing Valparaiso attorney Ethan Lowe as its legal counsel, passing on retaining Clay Patton who has held the position for eight years or more.

Lowe is a partner with Bachley, Tabor, Bozik and Hartman, the same firm that employs Lyp.

Lowe’s areas of practice include municipal law and civil litigation. He previously ran for an At-Large seat on the County Council in the County’s 2012 Republican primary.

The attorney contract is identical to what Patton had last year except for a few additional hourly charges, but the basic compensation is the same, Lowe said.

Stackiewicz said politics was the reason his peers chose Lowe, given the general make-up of the board. Patton has been active in the Porter County Democrat Central Committee.

“It goes with the turf,” Stankiewicz said after the meeting.

Council redistricting suit

In the business portion of the meeting, Stankiewicz brought up the recent lawsuit filed by County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and four residential voters challenging the County Commissioners’ new ordinance of redistricting the county’s four Council districts.

“It will affect us. It is a major election,” said Stankiewicz, who admitted he felt “out of the loop” on what the suit actually alleged.

Martin said the suit would not have an effect “on the decision of the election” and therefore would not fall on the shoulders of the election board.

Lowe said he would look into the matter but much rests on the decision of LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizo who has scheduled a hearing on the matter Thursday at 11 a.m.

The suit, filed December 30 by attorney Ed Hearn, alleges the Commissioner’s ordinance is invalid because not all of District 2 is contiguous. It calls into question Westchester precinct 17 which splits with one area attached to other precincts in District 2 while another part of it is fully encompassed by District 1 precincts.

Lowe said he would have to study Alevizo’s decision to see if the suit would affect just the County Council races or all races.

Candidate filing started last Wednesday with the new ordinance in effect. Kozuszek said so far there have not been any filings for the County Council district races.

Another part of Tuesday’s meeting was a discussion regarding a new referendum for the Boone Twp. School District after it previously failed by just four votes in last November’s election.

Lowe said he would contact attorneys with the Indiana Election Division to see if state law allows election boards to approve of school referendums even as the deadline to submit has passed.

 

Posted 1/15/2014