Full time on the public dime?

2012-10-27T20:00:00Z 2012-10-29T00:11:06Z Full time on the public dime?By Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
October 27, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

Lake County Surveyor George Van Til was so annoyed at his Republican challenger recently, he unleashed the worst insult he could think of.

"Eric Krieg will not commit to giving up his high paying, full-time, regular-hours job to work for the taxpayers," Van Til said. "This is an outrage because I love this job. I live and breath it night and day. Every night I take homework."

And Van Til isn't the only incumbent Lake County official who has criticized an opponent recently for planning to split public duties with private employment if elected.

The issue has created a debate in Lake County political circles centering on whether local elected officials should be full-time public servants or maintain jobs outside of the public sector.

Krieg, an engineer at the BP Whiting Refinery who has hammered Van Til for failing to properly oversee his office's drainage projects, said voters need not worry about his dedication to the surveyor's office should he be elected.

"Obviously, I can't say that I'm going to leave BP if elected ... but I can assure everyone that I will be a full-time surveyor and put the hours in that are necessary to do the job."

Krieg's answer wasn't good enough for Van Til. Nor would it be for several incumbent elected officials facing the voters in the Nov. 6 election who proclaim they are married to their public careers.

However, other area officials and candidates argue public service and private sector careers are not incompatible.

"I think the people by and large expect their officials to be full-time -- especially if they are paid a decent amount of money," said Rich James, a Region columnist for Howey Politics Indiana said. "I see nothing wrong with being a career politician."

Most Lake County elected officials are paid $56,000 a year -- a full-time salary by most standards.

Lake Coroner Merrilee Frey said she has been working weekdays and weekends since taking office last month and intends to continue doing so if elected to a full four-year term next month.

But her Republican opponent, Munster dentist Andy Koultourides, has no plans of giving up his full-time private gig if elected to public office.

"I'm not quitting dentistry, which I love," Koultourides said.

He said he already has successfully juggled his career with his public duties as a Munster town councilman for more than two years.

Lake Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, running for re-election to his 2nd District seat, said he is either in his office full-time, at an official meeting or on a county government worksite from morning to evening.

Scheub said dismissively of his opponent, Republican Jerry Tippy, "He won't quit his (private sector) job."

Tippy is a general manager of a Lansing steel fabricator.

"I've got to win first," Tippy said. "Then I have a six-week window to make plans and adjustments. It's not something new to me. I'm currently a (Schererville) town councilman, so I'm wearing multiple hats right now."

Tippy said his private career, which includes having owned a steel fabricating business, would pay dividends for him and the public as a commissioner.

"The problem with career politicians is that they aren't experienced managers," Tippy said. "I see that with Gerry (Scheub) when he talks about him going out to every job. A good manager provides their people with the resources and freedom to work a job."

Tippy said he will be accessible by cellphone and in person outside of business hours.

Mark Leyva, the Republican candidate for 3rd District Lake County commissioner and a carpenter by trade, said, "The major issue is having the best person do the best job for the taxpayers. If a part-time person can do a better job, then so be it."

Leyva's Democratic opponent, Mike Repay, has managed a Hammond bar and real estate business while serving on the Lake County Council.

Repay said he will hand over active management of those businesses to others to devote more time to being a 3rd District commissioner if elected.

"I feel you need to be more available. You do a better job," Repay said.

Lake Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, whose office doesn't come up for election until 2014, has been owner of a Gary funeral home for decades and has been in public office almost 30 years.

"I don't think being an elected official should be your sole source of income," Allen said. "If you go back in history, many officials were also businessmen, and being an official was more or less a community service."

Allen concludes, "I understand there are many elected officials who went to college and majored in political fields, and I don't discount them. But you should not be penalized as a candidate because you are successful in private industry."

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