NIRPC changing of guard as Swanson exits, Warner arrives
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 January 17, 2013 5:20PM
If you go
A reception honoring John Swanson and welcoming Tyson Warner will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday in the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission auditorium, 6100 Southport Road, Portage.
Updated: February 19, 2013 3:10PM
PORTAGE — John Swanson inherited a new playing field and a varied assortment of 53 “bosses” when he became executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in 2004.
Those in the trenches with Swanson said he not only made everyone jell, he left the organization equipped with the same set of goals and direction.
Swanson, 67, retired at the end of last year and has been replaced by Tyson Warner who comes to Northwest Indiana from Fort Riley, Kan., where he was executive director of the Flint Hills Regional Council.
Swanson, former deputy director of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission in Chicago, took over as NIRPC chief when James Ranfranz retired.
The transition came as a 2003 state law transformed the commission into a regional council of governments spanning Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. Departing from the past, the legislation specifically called for elected officials, including all the mayors in the three counties, to serve as commission members.
“It was reconfigured just before I came so it was a challenge. I’m not sure the commission understood what to focus on,” said Swanson on Thursday.
Swanson embraced the change, quickly setting up new committees such economic development, land use, and local government assistance.
Those committees joined NIRPC’s bellwether transportation planning mission as a state-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization, handling $1 billion in federal money for roads, bridges, railways and trails last year.
In 2008, Swanson and NIRPC began to develop a consummate vision for Northwest Indiana, the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.
Two years in the making, NIRPC staffers visited every enclave in Northwest Indiana talking to residents about how they view their future and what they want the region to be.
Unlike previous plans that just focused on transportation, this one included environmental policy objectives, land use, and human and economic resources. The plan just won the prestigious Daniel Burnham Award in April from the American Planning Association.
“John’s biggest legacy is coming in and refocusing the staff on its direction,” said David Hollenbeck, long-time NIRPC attorney. “He took over 53 elected officials and convinced them there was merit in working together for a common cause.”
In the end, a consensus supported NWI’s core communities of Hammond, East Chicago and Gary. No mention of the proposed Illiana Expressway appears in the plan, Swanson said, because its funding source is unknown.
The region is often rapped for its factionalism, but Warner said the willingness of leaders to collaborate attracted him to the job.
“There might have been a bump or two, but they all worked together,” he said.
Swanson plans to leave next week for a vacation in New Zealand and Australia, but he said he’ll continue to call Beverly Shores home.
Warner, 46, who has a master’s degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois-Chicago, is still getting settled and awaiting the arrival of his wife and 14-year-old daughter from Kansas.