Former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez is calling on Portage Mayor James Snyder to apologize for calling police when half a dozen people with disabilities showed up May 23 at a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission meeting.
"Using that kind of intimidation to discourage people from expressing their concerns in a public setting was downright un-American, and completely uncalled for," Dominguez states in his May 29 letter to Snyder.
Dominguez pointed out among the half a dozen people who came to participate in the NIRPC meeting, three were in wheelchairs and one is blind. Almost all were older, with one being 84. The former sheriff wrote on behalf of the disability rights group Everybody Counts, where he is a board member.
When contacted Thursday, Mayor Snyder said he had not seen Dominguez's letter. When a copy was e-mailed to him he responded that he had no intention of responding to the letter, stating the City of Portage never commented on how Dominguez ran the sheriff's department.
"We have a police presence at all City Council meetings (as do most municipalities) as a preventative safety measure," Snyder stated in his email. "NIRPC has dozens of leaders: mayors, commissioners, councilpeople and state legislators all in one facility, all at one time, and all in one place. The people of Portage have elected me to make decisions to keep them safe from harm and to take preventative measures when necessary as well."
The small group of people had shown up at the NIRPC meeting to hear about and comment on a public participation plan that was scheduled for a vote that day. Some carried signs protesting the proposed plan. Those people waited in the front foyer of NIRPC headquarters for three hours under the watchful eyes of three Portage police officers before being admitted to the NIRPC meeting around noon.
In all, six officers rotated in and out of NIRPC headquarters during the day, with at least three always stationed there.
The long wait was due mainly to confusion over the meeting start time. That came about in part because of an email sent by NIRPC to the disability rights group Everybody Counts stating the meeting would start at the regular time of 9 a.m. The meeting time was subsequently changed to 11 a.m. so a closed session could take place at 9 a.m. to consider lease proposals for NIRPC's headquarters. A notice was posted and sent out about the change.
However, many people, including Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., Indiana Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Bob Alderman and others showed up expecting the open meeting to start at 9 a.m.
Just after 9 a.m., with members of the public gathered in the meeting room, NIRPC Chairman and Crown Point Mayor David Uran apologized for the confusion and asked the public to leave so the closed session could be conducted. After receiving assurances they would be heard later, all members of the public exited the room.
A few minutes later the police officers showed up.
When the public was readmitted to the meeting room after noon, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland made the motion to postpone the vote on the public participation plan due to what he said were valid concerns brought forth by the advocacy group Everybody Counts. A number of the people who were there are members of the group.
When contacted Thursday, NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner said he was not aware if that meeting had yet been scheduled yet. He affirmed the meeting will be held.