Hammond city councilman sees conflict of interest in union hall project

2013-01-05T17:52:00Z 2013-01-05T22:28:04Z Hammond city councilman sees conflict of interest in union hall projectChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | A Hammond city councilman contends the architect who is helping United Steelworkers Local 1010 with the union's move to a new hall in the city has a conflict of interest in the project.

The union is planning to make the former Howard branch of the Hammond Public Library, at 7047 Grand Ave., its new hall. But City Council President Michael Opinker has questioned why the architect, Paul Taylor, of Hammond, took the job because he also serves as president of the Hammond Public Library Board.

“It's a conflict of interest as far as I'm concerned,” Opinker said. “That job should have been given to someone else.”

Taylor said he and Local 1010 did not make contact until after the Library Board voted to accept the union's offer on the building. Taylor said he contacted the library's attorney to look into the matter and would abstain from any future votes the board takes on the Howard building.

“I had no idea I'd be working on the project when I did vote on the sale for this one,” Taylor said. “So again, since it's after the fact, there's ... according to our lawyer, no conflict of interest.”

The Hammond Plan Commission, of which Opinker is a member, agreed to the union's request to rezone the property for its hall. The petition will now move to the City Council.

The union is planning to relocate from East Chicago, where it has been headquartered since the 1930s, because the building is aging and has serious structural problems. An estimated 15 people work full time at the hall.

Tom Hargrove, Local 1010 president, confirmed the union asked Taylor to lend his services after it had already started the process to move to Hammond. Hargrove said Taylor is working on the floor plan of the new building.

The union will use his drawings to give to contractors when the building is remodeled, Hargrove said.

“There was not anything going on. Paul ended up after the fact, not before the fact,” Hargrove said.

Yet, Opinker argued even if the work is with Local 1010, Taylor should have avoided involvement.

“He should have known right then and there that wasn't acceptable,” Opinker said. “I was at the planning and development meeting when he was there with the Steelworkers and I felt that was a conflict of interest.”

The Howard branch closed in 2011, along with the E.B. Hayward branch at 172nd Street and Columbia Avenue because of financial constraints.

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