2014 Indiana General Assembly

Lake County Council won't get say on tourism spending

2014-01-25T18:00:00Z 2014-01-26T09:05:12Z Lake County Council won't get say on tourism spendingDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
January 25, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | A proposal to require the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority have its budget approved by the Lake County Council will not advance out of a House committee prior to Tuesday's deadline.

But state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, the sponsor of House Bill 1359, has three words for Speros Batistatos, president of the county tourism agency: "I shall return."

"I have not spoken directly to Mr. Batistatos, but he, in his usual debonair, charismatic manner, is going around saying how he killed the bill," Brown said. "I've still got something for Mr. Batistatos."  

Brown's legislation mirrors similar review requirements that apply to nearly all county tourism boards and most appointed governing bodies in the state. He said the House Republican majority should enthusiastically be backing his proposal.

"This is their philosophy, that an appointed body should not have the autonomy to spend taxpayer money or to raise taxes without some oversight by an elected body," Brown said.

The Gary lawmaker said the decision by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to send his proposal to the Ways and Means Committee meant it got bogged down amid a proposed tax cut and other legislation Bosma and Republican Gov. Mike Pence have identified as top priorities.

He said if Batistatos doesn't improve "his style," which "gets him in hot water more times than not," Brown will see to it the measure becomes law next year.

Brown's ire with Batistatos stems in part from the controversial decision to move the South Shore Air Show from its traditional location at Gary's Miller Beach to Fair Oaks Farms, 40 miles away in Newton County.

In addition, Brown said Batistatos' squabbles with the Porter and LaPorte County tourism boards have made it more difficult for region lawmakers to work together at the Statehouse. Brown is chairman of the Northwest Indiana legislative delegation.

"He's like a cow that gives a bucket of good milk and then turns around and kicks it right over," Brown said. "He's very bright, I consider him a friend, but he has to be accountable, and in several respects I don't think he is accountable to the residents of Lake County that he is supposed to be enhancing business and tourism for."

Batistatos did not personally return a message left Friday seeking comment in response to Brown's remarks.

Bob Kuzman, a former Crown Point state representative who now lobbies for the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority at the Statehouse, said he is preparing to defuse the tensions between Brown and Batistatos.

"There's several of us that are going to be working together to try to resolve this issue, and hopefully it will be resolved to the liking of Rep. Brown," Kuzman said.

He doesn't think there's any need for the Lake County Council, which appoints a member to the 20-person tourism board, to review and approve the tourism agency budget.

"The County Council does have the right to know, and they have a representative on the board," Kuzman said. "I think education is the way to handle these things in the future, and getting people in a room and discussing issues before things happen is probably the best way to handle things."

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