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Jerry Davich: Portage council member, mayor spar over Gary snow aid

A City Gary vehicle fills Portage snow plow with salt. | Phocourtesy city Portage

A City of Gary vehicle fills a Portage snow plow with salt. | Photo courtesy city of Portage

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Updated: February 25, 2014 6:29AM



Should the city of Portage have sent a few of its snowplow trucks into Gary on Wednesday to help that city’s cleanup crews after Tuesday’s heavy snowstorm?

Portage Mayor James Snyder says unequivocally yes, and he’s the one who made the call to do so. Portage City Councilman Mark Oprisko, among others on the council, says otherwise, insisting it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and city resources.

In a heated text message thread between Snyder, Oprisko and other city officials on Wednesday night, Oprisko wrote: “This is (expletive) up.”

“I guess they did Miller,” Oprisko wrote, referring to the Miller section of Gary. “Are they going to Brunswick and Midtown next or the Glen Park area?”

“Mayor, why would we send 8 city trucks, manpower, salt to the city of Gary to plow roads. This is irresponsible. The taxpayers of Portage don’t deserve this,” Oprisko wrote. “This is not a major catastrophe… what is wrong with you doing this on the fly.”

“Poor judgment,” Oprisko added. “You ought to personally reimburse the city for the taxpayers’ loss. Unbelievable. Mayor, be a man. I am pissed.”

Snyder replied via text: “Mark, your facts are wrong and your language is inappropriate. If you would like to call and discuss I would be happy to.”

“We do these types of things on a regular occasion through police and fire aid,” Snyder replied via the text thread. “Communities all across the region helped neighbors today in need. We were proud to join the effort to make sure residents who shop or work in Portage could get to our stores to support our businesses.”

On Thursday, I talked with Snyder and Oprisko; neither backed down from their stance on this issue. If anything, both of them are even more convinced about their feelings and their official representation of city residents.

This, I believe, is key, prompting me to wonder how the majority of Portage residents feel about this issue.

“I believe the residents of Portage believe in what we did,” Snyder said. “We were careful to be sure that our workers were guided properly by the city of Gary workers. Our guys had their heads up high with pride to be a part of this gesture.”

Snyder said only four city trucks — not eight — were used and all four trucks were refueled and reloaded with salt in Gary, paid for by that city.

“This is insane,” Snyder told me. “We’re talking about only $500 in labor costs for those city employees who plowed in Gary. These city council members are rising up against me for helping our neighbor in a time of disaster.”

Oprisko disagrees, for starters, about a day-old snowstorm being labeled a time of disaster. He also is upset that Snyder didn’t ask the City Council or the appropriate department for input before acting “like a cowboy” and calling all the shots.

“I’ve been on the City Council for 20-plus years and this city has never done such a thing, not once,” Oprisko told me.

Also, what if a Portage truck hit a Gary resident while plowing there, Oprisko asked. Who would be liable?

“If this was about a four-alarm fire, a tornado or a state of emergency, in Gary or any other neighboring community, we’d be the first to be there,” Oprisko said. “But this wasn’t the case and our residents will be ticked off.”

Snyder posted about this issue on his Facebook page: “We are always ready to help those affected by disaster and grateful it didn’t happen in Portage. With these random storms our time for help may come sooner than we know.”

The post received more than 200 “likes” by city residents and others, including comments such as, “Thank you for lending a hand when others need it. We should all follow this example!”

And, “Many of our residents work in Gary in the mills and many of their residents work in Portage. This was a huge emergency. At some point in time the residents in Portage will have a need.”

Snyder said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson offered to reimburse Portage for the manpower used to plow Gary’s streets. Snyder declined, noting, “She’d be robbing the city of Portage of this blessing.”

Freeman-Wilson told me, “In Northwest Indiana, we have vowed to work together as mayors. This is particularly true for bordering cities. This is another good example of that mutual aid.”

“Because of our truck shortage, the help was sorely needed and greatly appreciated,” she added. “Shame on someone for using something really positive to promote a divide in the community. I can’t wait for the opportunity to return the favor.”

As a longtime Portage resident, I didn’t think twice about my city’s goodwill gesture when I read about it in a P-T story. In fact, I was proud on multiple levels, considering how this region can be so fatally fractured.

After learning more details about this issue, I still feel the same way. How about you?

I’ll be addressing this topic at noon today on my Casual Fridays radio show, on WLPR, 89.1-FM. Call in at 769-9577.



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