Oops! NIRPC calls off vote on transportation plan

2013-07-18T14:02:00Z 2013-07-18T17:39:31Z Oops! NIRPC calls off vote on transportation planBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on Thursday deferred action on a $724.8 million transportation plan after the disability-rights group Everybody Counts pointed out no public hearing had taken place.

The 2014-17 Transportation Improvement Plan will now be considered at a NIRPC full commission meeting Aug. 29.

Transportation Projects Manager Gary Evers delivered the news that approval would have to be delayed due to the oversight.

"We apologize for the apparent disorder," Evers said. "There were a number of factors that played into this."

A 30-day comment period and a public hearing on such four-year transportation plans is required by federal regulations. Without those, the plan would be invalid.

Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres said her agency's pointing out the omission is an example of how it is trying to play a positive role at NIRPC. She said her agency could have held off on saying anything and simply complained to the Federal Transit Administration, endangering NIRPC's funding.

The overlooking of the public hearing requirement came as NIRPC and Everybody Counts continue to wrangle over how to increase public participation in NIRPC's planning process.

That process continued Thursday with a 14-13 vote in favor of sending a letter to the city of Portage stating that police are not needed at NIRPC meetings. The motion to take that action was made by Lake County Surveyor George Van Til.

One Portage police officer sat outside Thursday's meeting. That was a comparatively light presence as compared to a May 23 meeting when six people with disabilities showed up to voice their displeasure with NIRPC's public participation and a small squad of Portage police showed up.

At least three police officers were there at any one time and six officers in all rotated in and out during a more than three-hour span that day. Those officers were requested by Portage Mayor James Snyder.

Snyder voted against Van Til's proposal and protested one commission member describing it as a "courtesy letter."

"It's not a courtesy letter," Snyder said. "It might sound nice to say it like that. But that's not what it is."

Later in the day, Snyder said he would respond to the NIRPC letter as directed by his police chief.

"My job is to keep people safe," Snyder said. "That's my job No. 1 in this city."

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