Professor, others send checks to Portage to cover Gary plowing expense
BY MICHAEL GONZALEZ Post-Tribune correspondent February 3, 2014 3:46PM
A city of Gary end-loader fills a Portage snow plow with salt during a snowstorm last month. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: February 3, 2014 9:56PM
PORTAGE — When Allen Spector heard some Portage City Council members had sore feelings over Mayor James Snyder sending snow plows to help Gary, the Purdue University-Calumet professor decided to act.
He sent Portage a personal check for $500 to help offset the costs. Others helped, too.
“All I know is on that one occasion (Snyder) did absolutely the right thing,” said Spector, of Hammond.
On Jan. 22, a narrow band of intense snow pounded much of Gary and other western Lake County communities; up to 20 inches of snow fell in some spots. Snyder offered Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson two snow plows.
Almost immediately, several Portage council members criticized the move. Some spoke of spending tax dollars on other cities; others suggested Snyder should have cleared the move with the council first.
In all, 10 to 15 people have sent in checks to Portage, Snyder said, though he had no full accounting Monday. Snyder also said he will work with Gary Karen Freeman-Wilson to decide how to use the donations, likely on something promoting “regionalism.”
“It just says people of the region believe in regionalism and a getter region and in helping each other,” Snyder said. “It’s the American way of helping each other.”
Freeman-Wilson said she is thankful for the donations to Portage and said she did not know why some Portage council members objected.
“Only the people who objected know why they objected,” she said. “They have to look into their own hearts and determine, ‘Why did I find this objectionable’?”
Spector said he was reluctant to discuss his donation, but “to me it was like somebody has to take a stand against this. If someone’s gonna complain about it costing money, let someone set an example.”
Portage City Council President Sue Lynch said she is all for helping neighboring communities, but city taxpayers deserve information on the costs of such help.
Lynch, who said she has been an environmental activist and worked on a number of projects, like the shuttered Gary landfill, said social media fanned misperceptions of council members’ concerns.
“As an elected official, and the council being the fiduciary body for this city, it would naturally be my first reaction, ‘Who’s gonna pay for that?,” Lynch said.
“I don’t know if we’re every going to get a true cost for something like that.”
Snyder said cost to the city was about $642, which he said “pales in comparison” to help Portage received when the City of Valparaiso gave Portage two garbage trucks.
Snyder also said he tries to keep the council informed on major decisions but is not required to “poll” council members on all of his executive branch actions.
“If I were to try to interpret the thoughts of my city council, I would have to be Confucius,” he said.
“What we did, it’s once again thinking big and globally, and that’s why we balance our budget, so we can help other communities.
“That’s what we do on a daily basis.”
Snyder said Portage has enough in its motor vehicle fund to cover clearing streets in Portage. He soon will have the opportunity to give an accounting of his help to Gary; the city council’s budget committee meets Tuesday.