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Ethics complaint against Portage mayor dropped

Portage mayor elect Jim Snyder is congratulated by supporter Joe Wszolek Tuesday evening IslMoradFish Company Portage. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times

Portage mayor elect Jim Snyder is congratulated by supporter Joe Wszolek Tuesday evening at the Isla Morada Fish Company in Portage. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 16, 2012 2:44AM



Portage Ethics Commission member Dave Kasarda informed council president Sue Lynch that a complaint against the mayor filed with the commission is being dismissed on the grounds that the complaint was not properly filed and did not contain the appropriate content.

Lynch received the dismissal letter on Dec. 12. “The law is pretty specific about how you have to file a complaint,” said Lynch.

Lynch was surprised to receive the dismissal because the commission, comprised of five members, only has three current members — Kasarda, Alton Goin and Jeff Brooks. Former members Brian Dahlin and Scott McClure have resigned.

Lynch has someone in mind to appoint to the commission, “But they haven’t yet agreed to it.” To her knowledge the mayor has not made a replacement appointment.

Kasarda could not be reached for comment but fellow commissioner Goin, commenting on the dismissal, stated that only he and Kasarda acted on the complaint, as commissioner Brooks was unavailable for a meeting.

“We couldn’t vote on it because there wasn’t a quorum. What else could we do (but dismiss the complaint)?” said Goin.

“None of the process of filing the complaint was followed, according to the ethics ordinance,” said Goin. “There should have been some evidence presented, instead it was based on hearsay. If they want to refile it, then they can do it.”

The complaint was originally filed in late October after Portage Mayor James Snyder, County Assessor Jim Snyder, and John Hannon, serving as city of Portage Engineer on a not to exceed annual contract of $20,000, accompanied Chuck Shields, owner of Circle R Electric, on a trip to Florida. They stayed at Shields’ Florida condominium.

Circle R Electric recently received a $36,000 contract from the Portage Redevelopment Commission to install parking lot lighting at the Ameriplex facility on the recommendation of Hannon. The Ameriplex lighting project originally called for simply repainting the light poles and bids had been received for that work. Those bids were tabled on a motion by redevelopment commission member Steve Nelson and the project was changed to replacing the poles, a contract which was awarded to Circle R Electric.

Circle R Electric has also received nearly $118,000 in contracts from Porter County this year.

Council members Mark Oprisko and Elizabeth Modesto are both concerned over the dismissal.

“I’m very upset,” said Modesto. “I’m not for dismissal. I think the person who filed the complaint deserves his day in court. I have a lot of residents who are expressing dissatisfaction about the whole process.”

Oprisko has acknowledged that while the mayor has probably not done anything legally wrong, “Morally and ethically it isn’t right.” Oprisko contends it has the appearance of “pay for lay,” and says public officials should be held to the highest ethical and moral standards.

“This has to become a moral and ethical issue. You can’t be going out with people the city does business with, it doesn’t look right,” said Oprisko.

Oprisko has used Circle R Electric for work in his Lake and Porter county businesses, and said that Shields has invited him to Florida in the past, but declined the offer.

Both Snyders contend nothing wrong took place.

“This was a golf trip. How do you put a value on eight guys sleeping on the floor of somebody’s condo?” said Jon Snyder. “How can you compare this with some kind of unethical activity?” Assessor Snyder contends he has no influence on county policy or contracts.

“It cracks me up that all of a sudden there is guilt by association when this has taken place in the past,” said Jon Snyder, “This is some kind of political smear.”

In a statement, Mayor Snyder said, “The Portage Ethics Commission dismissed the ethics complaint. We believed this would happen as no violation of the ethics ordinance occurred.

“My administration will begin a rigorous education of the Mayor’s Office, the City Council and Department Heads of the ordinance passed in 1998.

“The Mayor’s office will appoint new members in the January Council meeting. Talking tough ethics to the press is easy; educating members affected by the ethics ordinance is my priority.”

Cal Bellamy, Shared Ethics Advisory Commission president, cautions that any ethics complaint is very “fact sensitive.”

“Our code of shared ethics and values is the basis for the way we operate in general. Normally you would not want to compromise your independence,” said Bellamy.

The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission is a voluntary association of cities and towns that subscribe to a shared code of ethical conduct.

Portage Director of Public Works A. J. Monroe recently pointed out that while employees are expected to maintain high ethical standards, there has never been any outreach or education about what those standards are. “We should have people sign ethics agreements when hired,” said Monroe.

A result of the filing of the complaint against the mayor is a general consensus by the city council that the existing ethics ordinance is inadequate. The council is in the process of organizing a subcommittee to review and, if necessary, rewrite the ethics ordinance. No one has been appointed to the committee yet – as Lynch points out, “Things may not be as simple as they appear on the surface.”



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