Councilwoman announces bid for Calumet Township trustee post
BY MICHAEL GONZALEZ Post-Tribune correspondent December 18, 2013 4:14PM
Updated: December 18, 2013 7:52PM
GARY — Gary’s next political season kicked off in earnest earlier this week, as Common Councilwoman Kimberly Robinson announced she will try to unseat longtime Calumet Township Trustee and former union activist Mary Elgin next May.
Robinson described the trustee’s office as “top heavy” in management and salaries paid to those supervisors, while Elgin, who has held the office since defeating former trustee and convicted felon Dozier Allen in 2002, immediately criticized a number of Robinson’s claims.
Robinson, who was appointed to her council spot by a Democratic party caucus in 2008, successfully ran for election in 2011. From 1998 to 2000, she was on the three-member board that oversees the trustee’s office.
“There are too many managers there,” Robinson said Monday, referring to the trustee’s office. “I think most of the money is being spent on operations and not enough on services. So where is that money going? What are they doing with it?”
Elgin said she has streamlined the organization since taking over 10 years ago, while adding Robinson has no record of accomplishments on the Common Council.
“I have some unfinished business,” Elgin said, citing legislation passed this year that ultimately may limit the revenue her office collects from Griffith. “I feel very strong about the township, township assistance, and helping the needy.
“I feel very comfortable about what I’ve accomplished, but to leave that unfinished, I think that’s a battle we have not finished yet.”
The Calumet Township trustee’s office has been a hotbed of controversy for several years. Along with efforts by some Griffith leaders to secede from the township, Elgin and her team have been a focus of local media for the way they have handled assistance and other expenditures.
Elgin submitted a budget proposal of $9 million for state approval next year, but her office “may get $4 million,” she said.
Elgin also said her $88,000 salary is significantly less than her predecessor, who she claimed collected more than $127,000 in multiple forms of compensation.
Elgin confirmed she pays her chief deputy, her niece Donna Frazier, $61,000, and her son is one of her six deputies, with a salary of about $46,000 — but, due to plummeting tax revenue, Elgin said she’s cut her staff from 230 employees to 77.
Robinson, whose council district stretched from part of Midtown to Black Oak, abutting Griffith, is likely to hit hard on Elgin hiring family members, something Elgin rejected as political shenanigans.
“Is she real?” Elgin said, responding to Robinson’s nepotism accusation. She added that “about 10 (Robinson) family members” work for the city of Gary.
“That’s not the issue. A government job is a government job, and I prefer to have people I know and trust around me.”
The trustee’s race may become a chance for Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson to return a favor. Elgin strongly supported Freeman-Wilson’s opponent, attorney Ragen Hatcher, in the 2011 mayoral race, but Robinson, a friend and strong council ally of Freeman-Wilson’s, said no one put her in the race to face Elgin.
Robinson is a top official for Lake County Treasurer John Petalas, working out of an office in City Hall.
“This is not personal at all,” Robinson said.
“The person who encouraged me was myself, from being here in the (Lake County) treasurer’s office, where I see people who come in and struggle to pay property taxes and struggle to get everything they should be getting.
“So, I say ‘Let me see how I can help’.”