Part III in a series

Calumet Twp. vendors receive $24M over 10 years

2013-01-08T00:00:00Z 2013-01-09T10:42:06Z Calumet Twp. vendors receive $24M over 10 yearsBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

GARY | The Calumet Township trustee's office kept more than just the poor housed and fed, 10 years of financial data analyzed by The Times show.

Its vendor records list nearly 1,000 businesses, consultants and community organizations that received at least $24 million in public money between 2001 and 2010.

Some of the township's vendors are as familiar as Ace Hardware or as formidable as Fortune 500 giants like Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield or Nextel Communications.

The Times requested a complete list of Calumet Township vendors for the years 2001 to 2010. It received multiple documents entitled, "Disbursements by Vendor and Appropriation" that contain a hodgepodge of payments to employees that include some payroll salaries, some travel reimbursements and lists of people doing business with the township.

Trustee Mary Elgin said the state required such comprehensive, if muddled, reporting that often double-counts some dollars. She insisted no employees were paid as vendors in addition to their authorized salaries, even though township employees appear in separate payroll and vendor data kept by the township.

The jumble of vendor payments over 10 years includes $6,498 to Sassy Salads & Things, $487.97 to the Pay Day Loan Store, $476.99 to Center Ring Costumes of Merrillville, $60 to Build-A-Bear, $219.90 to Ruffles, Balloons & Flowers aka Ruffles the Clown and $9.99 to to Sally's Beauty Shop.

The largest share of vendor payments, at least $2.4 million -- or 9 percent of the total -- was spent on insurance.

Much of that total went to liability insurance on the township's buildings and property, and health and life insurance for the township's employees, who numbered between 136 and 212 during that decade. The township also set aside $643,889 in pension benefits for those employees.

 

The big winner

Merrillville attorney Dock McDowell Jr. was the individual receiving the largest payout from Calumet Township in the 10 years analyzed by The Times.

McDowell raked in at least $860,000 between 2003 and 2010, acting as the trustee's legal adviser. He successfully defended Elgin against a number of litigants, including Elgin's own contentious Calumet Township Board seven years ago.

He also won the dismissal of more than 21 claims of wrongful termination by former township employees.

McDowell, a lawyer since 1976 and once a public defender in Lake Criminal Court, has represented some of the Democratic party's top elected officials, including former Calumet Township Assessor Booker Blumenberg Jr., state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, former Gary Mayor and Lake County Commissioner Rudy Clay and former county Assessor Paul Karras.

 

Security costs

The township also spent more than $1 million on security vendors during the 10 years -- in addition to at least five security guards working for the trustee as regular employees in 2010.

Security contractor, Numark International, which lists an office in Gary, was paid $484,825 between 2003 and 2007, township records show.

Numark started life as a struggling minority-owned company that grew with the help of the U.S. Small Business Development Administration.

The township replaced Numark in 2007 with B & W Security Agency, started by Charlie Boone, a 24-year veteran of Gary's police force.

Boone grew the company from just six employees to a 120-man private security firm that won a number of government contracts protecting a number of area businesses, schools and other public buildings.

Elgin said the security firms have been needed to protect women and children living at the township emergency shelters.

She said security also is needed to ensure safety in the township's main downtown Gary office -- where thousands of poor relief applicants leave the building rejected and often unhappy.

 

Keeping the lights and computers on

Utilities also accounted for a large portion of Calumet Township's vendor payments.

The trustee's office paid NIPSCO at least $387,000 over that decade to light, heat, cool and ventilate township buildings.

The township paid $411,000 between 2003 and 2010 to Winfo Data Systems for servicing computer software.

A testament to this vendor's efficiency is the unintentional role it played in the conviction of former township Trustee Dozier Allen and three of his former deputies.

State officials paid Calumet Township $143,000 to compensate Allen's employees for the time it would take them to dig through records to recover data pertaining to poor relief.

Law enforcement officials later discovered Winfo had written a computer program that allowed Allen to extract the data in less than a minute and pocket an unearned bounty that resulted in Allen and three other township employees being found guilty of fraud.

 

Charitable spending

The township's vendor index also records at least $39,000 in donations between 2001 and 2010 to a variety of churches, school alumni and sport organizations -- as well as social action coalitions and Gary community groups.

Elgin said donations were made to accredited nonprofit organizations. She said there was nothing wrong with the township's maintaining cooperative relationships with local organizations, such as the Little League.

"When I came in, early on, we were constantly called by groups supported by the previous trustee," Elgin said. "Children involved in a sports program were on their way to a tournament, and they would ask you for money. Three are agencies we will support as part of our volunteer community activity, and we do make small monetary donations when they have annual fundraisers."

Other local government units made such donations as well, but some critics complain such activity constitutes elected officials buying political good will at taxpayers' expense.

Several years ago, the Indiana State Board of Accounts began restricting public donations, banning government contributions to nonprofits unless the charities hold contracts with the township to provide services.

Elgin said she does have authority to support public-minded charities that provide services to the township's core mission, including the Sojourner Truth House and Brothers Keeper, two Gary-based homeless shelters.

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