Chesterton Tribune

Letter asks county council to admonish Polarek over 'fruit' joke

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A “joke” made by 4th District Porter County Council representative Jim Polarek during Tuesday night’s council meeting has incited a member of the public to formally ask the council to pass a resolution to publicly admonish him.

Curt Ellis, who is also the consultant hired by the county commissioners to operate the animal shelter Facebook page and regularly attends county meetings, wrote a letter Wednesday addressed to Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, citing his offense taken to a comment Polarek made during a brief discussion regarding the overcrowding at the Porter County Jail.

The letter draws attention to County Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper’s quote “There may be some low-hanging fruit we can get out of there,” where she referred to inmates who could participate in programs alternative to being housed at PCJ.

Immediately afterward, Polarek jokingly said to Harper, “Are you telling me there are fruits in the Porter County Jail?”

In his letter, Ellis said Harper’s statement “was was a very common analogy to which no reasonable person would find fault” but called Polarek’s remark “one of the most insulting and bigoted attempts at humor that I have ever heard at a meeting of our County government,” saying he believes the joke to be a slur against the gay and lesbian community.

What upset Ellis more was the fact the remark went unchallenged by Polarek’s peers, except for Karen Conover, R-3rd, who after the meeting said she found the nature of the remark to be “inappropriate.”

Ellis said he confronted Polarek once the meeting ended telling him he was offended. According to the letter, Polarek responded he was just joking, “chuckle(d) and walk(ed) away.”

“It is totally beyond my comprehension that a member of the Porter County Council can find humor in such tasteless ridicule, and do so with impunity,” said Ellis. “(It was) a slap in the face to the entire LGBT community in Porter County who have contributed so much to make our county the success that it is.”

Ellis concludes his letter by saying the council “should not leave such bigoted behavior unanswered” and that “to do anything less would tacitly imply that the Council, as a whole, does not value and respect the contributions of ALL of our citizens in making Porter County such a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Polarek, who recently made an unsuccessful run for South County Commissioner in the Republican primary, told the Chesterton Tribune on Wednesday his comment was not against the gay community and contended that Ellis “completely took the words out of context.”

“Where I come from, a fruit or fruitcake means a wacko or nut job. I did not mean it in any way to be anti-gay or anti-lesbian,” Polarek said.

Polarek said he would send an e-mail to county officials clarifying his comments but did not say whether or not he would address the matter publically.

Whitten, who was the only council member absent from Tuesday’s meeting, said Wednesday he is not quick to admonish his fellow council members publically because he believes it is up to the public to decide for themselves at election time.

“I leave that to the voters,” Whitten said. “If someone doesn’t like the decorum of an elected official then they can vote them out.”

Whitten said if he was at the council meeting and believed Polarek’s comments to be reprehensible, he would have likely admonish him on a personal level. He said if Polarek wishes to make a public apology, it is at his discretion.

Ellis said an apology would be “meaningless” and instead wished for the council to declare they will not condone this type of behavior.

“A few on the council should stop trying to be comedians and start addressing the important business of government,” he said.

Whitten said he would not go out his way to scold fellow council members who make joking remarks but Polarek should explain his comment.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who also received the letter said Ellis was right in bringing the issue forward and added that public meetings are “truly not the place for jokes.”

 

Posted 5/24/2012