NIRPC public participation vote postponed

2013-05-23T16:30:00Z 2013-05-30T18:06:10Z NIRPC public participation vote postponedBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Action on a public participation plan was postponed Thursday at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission due to concerns raised by disability rights advocates and confusion over what was to be voted on.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland made the motion to postpone the vote due to what he said were valid concerns brought forth by the advocacy group Everybody Counts.

"All of your concerns are totally legitimate," Copeland said, as about half a dozen people in the audience held up signs with messages such as "Listen to Us!" and "Liar Liar Plans on Fire!"

The NIRPC board resolved to host a commission meeting specifically devoted to the public participation plan, which has been in the making since last year. Everybody Counts and other disability rights groups have complained their views on the plans have been misrepresented.

NIRPC's public participation plan is designed to meet federal requirements the public have a vigorous voice in NIRPC's actions, such as approving millions of dollars for road projects, regional planning and economic development.

The disability rights advocates had waited for almost three hours for the meeting to begin, after confusion about a closed executive session scheduled for 9 a.m., which is usually when the open full commission meeting takes place.

NIRPC officials produced meeting notices that cited the section of Indiana's Open Meetings law authorizing the closed session and giving its time as 9 a.m.

However, not only the disability-rights advocates, but others such as Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Indiana Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Bob Alderman arrived under the impression the open meeting began at 9 a.m. Alderman waited patiently outside for the closed session to end but had to run to another appointment before the open meeting started.

People at the open meeting also expressed concern about the presence of three Portage police officers, who arrived after being requested by Portage Mayor James Snyder.

Leonard Sullivan, of Chesterton, said he had been coming to NIRPC meetings for more than 40 years and had never seen anything like it. Sullivan said he had nothing against the officers, but they didn't need to be there unless they anticipated a riot.

Snyder said it was standard procedure at some public meetings, including the Portage City Council meetings, especially when people came holding signs.

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