Ethics group gets hearing, but no takers, at Lake County Council meeting
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent December 8, 2013 1:54PM
Updated: December 9, 2013 8:48PM
CROWN POINT — The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission would like to see Lake County join.
However, that effort may be derailed by difficulties lawmakers have trying to write specific rules for following descriptions of ethics that are intentionally vague.
Cal Bellamy, director of the ethics commission, appeared before the council Thursday to ask them to consider joining the group, which serves Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. Currently there are 10 members; the two newest are Gary and LaPorte County. He said the commission’s mission is to educate employees on what is right and what is wrong in a political workplace.
“Our role is training, not enforcement,” Bellamy said. The education is for government employees and not directed at elected officials.
Bellamy said he asked to be placed on the county council’s agenda because he is routinely asked by ethics commission members and potential members if the county is a participant.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said he takes exception to people looking at Lake County negatively when ethics are discussed.
“I get a little tired of getting thrown under the bus. Why isn’t Porter County doing this?” Bilski asked.
Bellamy said the commission has sought members from Porter County, but witout success. All members are from Lake and La Porte counties. Bellamy said he has met with several Porter County council members and commissioners but has not been invited to make a presentation to the full panels.
Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, agreed with Bilski. She said while the council may have not joined the commission, council members have been willing to listen.
Ray Szarmach, council attorney, said even if officials want to participate, he would not recommend they approve the ordinance as it is written. For example, he noted the code asks employees to pledge to be ethical.
“How do you measure that? By what viewpoint? That is blatantly unconstitutionally vague,” Szarmach said.
Bilski said the council is not opposed to the idea of the ethics training or of the mission of the commission, but it cannot participate if its attorney says there are legal problems with the ordinance.
“We can’t create a law my counsel advises us it is illegal to create,” Bilski said.