Chesterton Tribune

GOP majority: Porter County Commissioner John Evans tells vision for future

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Commissioners will see a change in leadership next year as current County Commissioner President Robert Harper bows out of his center district seat in January.

Harper, a Democrat, was one of the many incumbents voted out of office earlier this month and will be succeeded by Republican Nancy Adams, bringing a two-to-one Republican dominance on the commissioner board.

The remaining Democratic member is Southern County Commissioner Carole Knoblock.

A new commissioner president will be decided during a reorganization meeting on Jan. 4, when the commissioners will delegate amongst themselves a president, a vice-president, and a secretary. Traditionally, although not required, the role goes to a member of the reigning party with a certain degree of seniority. Northern County Commissioner John Evans, who has held the office since 2001, seems like the most likely candidate.

The Tribune accordingly sat down with Evans this past week to discuss how he would lead the three-member board if given the top seat and what hopes he has for county government.

The commissioners, as Evans explained, are fundamentally in charge of departments not headed by an elected official: the highway department, information technology services, Enhanced 911, building department, and the plan commission, to name a few. Like the mayor of a municipality, the commissioners approve contracts for the county and look after the “day-to-day” operations.

“We are the executive branch of county government,” said Evans.

Evans said power among the three commissioners is equally distributed. The main differences among the ranks these: the president of the commission is in charge of running the bi-monthly meetings and setting the agendas. A smaller duty undertaken by the commission president, for example, is making the decision to shut down the county building in a weather-related emergency.

A New Team Member

Although individual differences may arise, Evans sees the board as one unit working towards the same goal of improving the quality of life in Porter County. He believes that having opinions and collaboration is a healthy thing.

“The vision has got to be shaped by more than one person,” he said. “Teamwork is important.”

Evans said that part of a commissioner’s guidance comes from the constituents and that the most important trait of a commissioner is the ability to lend an ear.

Evans is excited to welcome Adams to the board. Based on his previous meeting with her, Evans said, he believes her energy and her willingness to listen will shine in her career as a county official.

“Her energy will be good for the county. I heard someone else describe her as ‘the Energizer Bunny on steroids.’”

Evans said that he supports Adams’ wish to draw up a wide-range plan for county development, consolidating suggestions made by county and municipal leaders.

New commissioners, he said, follow a definite learning curve and learn that changes they wish to accomplish do not come easy. He pointed out that county executives do not have the supreme authority to tell elected officials how to conduct their offices.

Evans acknowledged that Adams and Harper have similar characteristics in their leadership, saying that Harper too is a good listener. Both, he said, are very assertive people as a result of their professions. Harper is a criminal defense attorney and Adams is owner of Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso.

Evans said that Harper has been an excellent public servant who established his ideas and values strongly, not willing to sacrifice them just to win popularity. Evans recalled Harper fighting off a lobby who went against his proposed green space ordinance, which requires subdivision developers to set aside a certain percentage of space for natural preservation.

Appointments

Harper’s departure will open the commissioner’s spot on the county’s plan commission. Knoblock has expressed interest in filling the seat as she attends meetings on a regular basis.

The commissioners are in charge of appointing a few more spots in January on the plan commission as well as the board of zoning appeals and drainage board, among others. Applications for board appointment can be found on the county’s Web site.

Appointments are expected to be made at the Jan. 4 organizational meeting.

Evans said there will be both Democrat and Republican appointments and that it “should not be a surprise” if some boards are shifted toward the Republican side.

“To the victor goes the spoils,” he said. “There will be some change.”

Evans said he that takes into consideration the qualifications of an applicant.

PUDs/Drainage Plan

One particular change Evans mentioned he would like to see is to have Planned Unit Developments put back into the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.

PUDs would allow county planners to look at the mixed-use properties as one unit and eliminate the need to screen each separate use of the property. The option, Evans said, would ease the process for both the developer and the plan commission and would also bring a more “hands-on” approach.

Evans said municipalities around the county operate with PUDs on their plan commissions.

Evans boasted the accomplishments of the county’s plan commission as “some of the best in the state” thanks to the PUD and executive director Robert Thompson, whose “tutelage” has improved the office’s communication and collaboration with those looking to develop in Porter County.

“You can’t build willy-nilly. You have to decide what is best for everybody and for the county,” said Evans.

On another note, Evans said he is stands in full support of the recently undertaken drainage studies going on countywide and felt the commissioners made the best decision in selecting Dave Burrus, president of the county’s drainage board, as the project manager.

He wishes the commissioners to keep providing the drainage group with the resources needed such as full use of the county’s Geographical Information System. Evans proposed at the last commissioner’s meeting that the GIS be placed in the commissioners’ hands.

Hospital Money/249 Expansion

Evans feels that Porter County is in a very unique position with the $161 million in proceeds from the sale of Porter hospital.

He agrees that the principle should not be touched until the hospital is completed in 2012, but like the majority of county officials, Evans would like to use the $9 million in interest.

The county council began to discuss possible alternatives to use the money once the hospital broke ground this summer. Some officials, including Harper, have suggested a portion the money should be used as property tax relief while others have made the contention the county should use the money to pay off interest accrued from when various local taxing units borrowed money from other resources due to late tax bills.

Evans does not heavily favor either suggestion, feeling that the property tax relief would only be minimal and is not sure yet if the county has the authority to pay off such debts.

Instead, Evans said he would like the interest money be used for infrastructure. His proposal is to use the money to expand Ind. 249, from where it tees at C.R. 700N and link it about four miles to U.S. Highway 30, providing an access route to Interstate 94 and the Toll Road from U.S. 30.

“I think that would be a benefit to all county residents,” he said.

He said there should be a committee formed that would screen different proposals from community leaders and residents on how the interest money should be spent.

Since there is a strong mixture of views raised, Evans is asking that there be a workshop session for the commissioners and all members of next year’s county council, creating a dialogue not only on the hospital interest but on what each elected official sees as his or her goals and objectives for next year and beyond.

Evans said he would like the meeting to take place in late December before the new members are sworn in.

Evans hopes the meeting, which he feels should be open to the public, can affirm the open communication needed between the two branches since their resolutions often need joint approval.

“I’d like to see that openness always continue,” he said.

 

 

Posted 11/26/2010