CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council formally abandoned a policy meant to discourage politically motivated firings, but never used.
Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to repeal an ordinance the council passed in 1992 in reaction to a series of lawsuits by former county employees claiming they were fired for their political beliefs. It cost the county $880,000 to resolve.
It required officials planning to fire employees to document their reason and get approval from a county-hired attorney before taking action. Officials failing to do so would have their budgets cut by the amount of any court award granted for a wrongful termination.
However, Ray Szarmach, an attorney for the council, said Thursday the ordinance was never enforced and likely would have been judged unconstitutional if it had been, since the council doesn't possess the authority to defund an elected official who displeases them.
Szarmach said it also would have been bad strategy for officials to put their reasons for a firing into writing. "That record could be used against the county in court," Szarmach reasoned.
The council also voted 6-1 to approve pay raises for eight employees of St. John Township Assessor Melody Kikkert.
Kikkert presented the council with an office reorganization in which the $27,379 budgeted for a now-vacant staff position was divided up and distributed to eight other employees in the form of raises that ranged from $11,563 to one unidentified employee to $1,870 to another.
Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, cast a no vote, saying she couldn't approve giving a $11,563 salary increase to any one person. She said some of that money should be put in the county's general fund for an eventual across-the-board pay raise for employees who haven't seen one in many years.
Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, said the public does get a permanent saving in the cost of funding health insurance and pension benefits for the staff position that has now disappeared.
The council also voted to pay corrections officers $215,000 for recent overtime they worked.