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Porter seeks to protect dignity of local funerals

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Porter Town Council instructed its attorney, Gregg Sobkowski, to draft an ordinance that would protect the dignity of funerals, and the peace and privacy of mourners.

Meeting Tuesday, council president Elka Nelson explained the ordinance likely would be similar to one from Manchester, MO that late last year was upheld by the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ordinance would protect mourners at funeral/burial sites from protests and demonstrations like those staged by members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS to draw attention to their opposition to homosexuality. Westboro’s protests have taken place at funerals for fallen American soldiers to maximize publicity.

Nelson said while Porter doesn’t have a funeral home, it has churches and places where memorial observances could be held so the town should be proactive.

Porter also has at least one cemetery.

Council member Jeannine Virtue reminded that a procession escorting the body of town resident U.S. Army Spc. James Butz passed through Porter in 2011. Crowds in Porter, Chesterton and along the route lined the streets to pay respect to Butz, who died Sept. 28, 2011 while on duty in Afghanistan.

Virtue said if the council has the opportunity to protect Porter residents during a loved one’s funeral/burial, it should.

In its ruling the Appeals Court said it typically would not be inclined to restrict otherwise lawful speech for its emotional offensiveness alone absent physical harm. “Nevertheless, given the special and unique place an individual’s funeral and burial hold in the lives of those touched by the deceased, the expansion is likely warranted. It is a journey taken only once.”

In other business Tuesday, Nelson advised the Duneland Economic Development Co. again will be offering grants to local businesses to make facade improvements, and for upgrades to assure accessibility for the handicapped. She urged Porter business owners to apply by the April 19 deadline, or to contact her or a DEDC member for more information.

Applications are available at the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce and at the Porter town hall. Nelson said individual grants typically have ranged from $1,000 to about $5,000.

Councilman David Wodrich said the grant program is an excellent opportunity for business owners, and that he was awarded a grant last year to make improvements at one of his businesses.

After the meeting Porter councilman Greg Stinson said unlike previous years, Porter may not be able to match DEDC grants awarded to Porter business owners to extend their ability to renovate properties. “Our budget is tight and we’re looking to see if funds are available.”

Also during the council meeting:

-- Public Works superintendent Brenda Brueckheimer said she’s been fielding calls about standing water in sideyards and streets; she noted Porter had 10 inches of snow and 1 1/2 inches of rain recently on top of frozen ground. She asked for patience until the water slowly drains.

-- Stinson thanked the Street Department for a fine job clearing streets last week. “It was major (snow)storm. It hit hard; it hit fast.”

-- Brueckheimer urged residents not to flush mop heads, diapers and rags into sewers, which apparently has been happening in the Porter Cove and Woodlake Springs areas. Residents also were asked to report the location of pot holes to 926-4212 so they can be filled.

-- Director of Parks Brian Bugajski previewed the March 23 Easter Egg Hunt at 1 p.m. at the Hawthorne Park community building for children ages 1 to 9. New this year will be an egg hunt for special-needs children so call 926-1687 to reserve their spot. Bugajski noted local businesses have been generous with donations for the annual event.

-- Councilman Rob Pomeroy, Fire Department liaison, said members approved the terms of a contract with Westchester Township for 2013 fire protection, and the council approved the contract unanimously. The town will be paid $7,069.

-- On final reading the council approved lowering the speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph on Tremont Road between Indiana 49 and U.S. 20. The road is slated for widening and rebuilding.

Posted 3/13/2013