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Commissioners give thumbs up to county highway, emergency agencies in aftermath of storm

VALPARAISO — Porter County’s highway department, E-911 and its emergency management agency garnered applause and accolades during Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting for handling the blizzard that’s frozen the region in place the past few days.

The county’s E-911 system saw a tremendous spike in calls, said central communications director John Jokantas, including 1,829 on Monday, up from a more routine 400 or so a day. Most calls were not emergencies, but slide-offs.

Highway supervisor Al Hoagland said the snow accumulation actually started New Year’s Eve. His 42 employees logged 1,137 hours of overtime in seven days, battling rapidly accumulating snow, bitter cold and winds that often eradicated the efforts of his department’s plows.

“I think we’ve put on a pretty good effort. We’re trying,” he said to applause.

Porter County received 18 inches of new snow in the past three days, said EMA Director Russell Shirley, who provided a timeline for his agency’s response to the storm.

The National Guard assisted stranded motorists, he said, and his agency worked closely with the Porter County Sheriff’s Department and Porter Regional Hospital’s emergency medical services.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “We have a strange idea of fun.”

Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, commended all involved with the storm’s aftermath, adding the county has 800 miles of rural roads.

“Some of the smaller subdivisions with cul-de-sacs are going to take a little while to get cleaned out,” he said.

In other business, the county saw $183,576 in savings after switching its health clinic services from HealtheAccess to Porter Regional Hospital for 2013, according to figures provided to the commissioners by Anton Insurance, the county’s servicing agent for its health insurance plan.

In November, the Federal Bureau of Investigation requested communication regarding the contract, which commissioners renewed at the meeting.

Commissioners selected Porter in December 2012 because the county could pay per employee visit, rather than a flat monthly fee, which they thought would be more cost-effective.

In a related matter, Evans read a “uniform non-conflict of interest disclosure statement” into the record, declaring neither he nor his wife, Laurie Wehner-Evans, who works for Porter, stand to gain any financial benefit from the county’s clinic contract.

The FBI also sought conflict of interest statements from Porter County Clerk Karen Martin’s office; whether those records, the communication regarding the clinic contract, and additional information on highway department contracts are related is unclear.

The filing was not a response to the FBI investigation, Evans said.

“If I was concerned I needed to file a conflict of interest, I would have done it,” he said after the meeting. “This is a non-conflict, so there’s no mistake.”



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