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Jerry Davich: Poster child for NWI brain drain?

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Updated: September 17, 2013 6:53AM



Xavier Malfitano works one of the less coveted jobs in county government – the graveyard shift at the Lake County Coroner’s office.

Working midnights there, the 2002 East Chicago Central High School graduate routinely visits, photographs and investigates a grisly variety of death scenes. He also assists in autopsies, notifies the next of kin, and checks into any unnatural deaths.

But he has dire concerns that his weak-pulsed public service career may be dead on arrival, a familiar problem for many region residents his age.

The 29-year-old Merrillville man feels he has done everything right to climb the county government ladder, including working as a former corrections officer at the Lake County Juvenile Justice Center, where he began in 2005.

As an ex-Marine, he has served two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s also earned two college degrees – a certificate in public management and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. And he’s working on his master’s degree.

Plus, Malfitano is bilingual (while also speaking some Arabic), and he earned a first-degree black belt in the Marines. Simply put, he feels he is a “diamond in the rough” in Northwest Indiana, which has had its troubles with brain drain – losing young, smart and talented college graduates to other areas of the country.

“I wonder how many more people like me are in this region but planning on leaving for something better?” he asked when we met earlier this week.

He’s obviously aware of “politicking” his way to the next level, as so many others have done, especially in Lake County which is infamous for such “who you know” cronyism. But he wants to earn his stripes through hard work and commitment.

“Xavier is as tough and motivated in his personal life as he is in his professional life. He’s a high character guy and a military veteran,” said Lake County Recorder Mike Brown, who worked with Malfitano in the juvenile detention center.

“This is who I am,” said Malfitano, adjusting the shirt collar on his crisp attire. “What’s it going to take for a guy like me who’s paid his dues for 12 years to break through? I feel stuck in mid-career here.”

Should he continue to wait in line for a county job while holding a number that’s covered in dust? Or is he being too impatient while tapping his toes for an administration position to open up?

At some point in his career, he will consider running as an elected official, but he first wants to build credibility through his work, not simply his name, as other office-holders have done.

Malfitano is one of eight to 10 deputy coroners in Lake County, which needs them on staff around the clock.

“There’s definitely enough death in Lake County to warrant this,” he said.

There’s also certain death in some Lake County government careers for those who wait too long to move up.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” he said with frustration in his voice. “It’s time to hold up a mirror to the face of Lake County government. We can use my situation as an example to say, ‘Let’s move forward.’”

Malfitano, who’s divorced, is looking for an administration position in Lake County government, but he would be thrilled with such a position in any Northwest Indiana city.

“College officials tell us graduates to not sell ourselves short, but I’m already grossly underpaid,” he noted with a sigh. “I can go be a manager at, say, Speedway gas station and make much better money, but I want to be an administrator in public service.”

Malfitano said he interviewed for a police officer job in a Lake County municipality, but he was not hired.

With mixed ethnicity in his blood – Mexican, Italian and Puerto Rican – he has no interest in playing the minority race card to explain his lack of ladder climbing.

“It’s not a minority issue. It’s a Lake County issue,” he told me. “Plus, it’s not the kind of America I want to believe in. I just need someone to take a chance on me.”

Anyone interested in starting to reverse our region’s brain drain?

Attention teachers and parents

This week’s special “back to school” themed Casual Fridays radio show is seeking your input on the best ways to prepare kids for the new school year, as well as what you are doing to prepare for the new year.

Call in to my studio line at 769-9577 on Friday between noon and 1 p.m. with your comments, questions or suggestions. Casual Fridays airs on Lakeshore Public Radio, WLPR, 89.1-FM, an NPR affiliate, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org.

Did you call me?

Due to problems with my voice mail system, I may have missed your call if you left me a message during the past two weeks. If I didn’t get back to you by now, feel free to leave me a new voice mail at 713-7237 with your feedback, question or column idea. I apologize for any inconvenience or delay for me to respond.

Have you listened to my Casual Fridays radio show on WLPR, 89.1-FM? Archived shows can be found at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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