Hammond council places controls on 2nd District gaming funds

2013-01-14T20:22:00Z 2013-01-15T13:58:07Z Hammond council places controls on 2nd District gaming fundsChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Indicted Hammond City Councilman Al Salinas will no longer oversee gaming dollars allocated for the district he represents following the City Council's vote Monday to place additional controls on the funds.

The City Council voted, 8-0, with Salinas absent, to give the three-member Council Finance Committee authority over selecting and approving any projects using 2nd District gaming dollars.

The resolution comes as Salinas faces a federal charge of accepting at least $10,500 in bribes from a local tree company which received more than $300,000 in contracts authorized from the 2nd District's gaming funds. Salinas has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. asked council members to support the resolution. McDermott said state lawmakers are looking at all gaming communities with interest this Indiana General Assembly session.

“I think this makes the Hammond City Council look responsible,” McDermott said. “I think it makes the city look responsible.”

A letter from City Controller Bobby Lendi requesting additional controls be placed on the money prompted the resolution, Councilman Mark Kalwinski, D-1st, said. Kalwinski called the resolution a credible way to deal with the issue.

“I believe the trust of the public is going to be acquired through this process not only in the city of Hammond but also downstate,” Kalwinski said.

Under the resolution, the Finance Committee would function as the 2nd District council member in identifying projects to fund with the gaming dollars. The committee also would review the contracts, plans, studies and all appropriations of the funds this year. The City Council president reserves the right to dissolve the resolution if it's no longer needed.

Under normal procedure, Salinas would identify the projects and then the appropriate department head would obtain a cost for the work, according to city records.

Councilman Bob Markovich, D-at large, questioned why the Finance Committee wouldn't cover all district council members. This year the city's six district council members received $1.3 million in gaming money apiece for projects in their districts.

But McDermott said the 2nd District is a special situation because of the allegations.

David Johnson, the owner of Dave's Tree Service in Munster, has pleaded gulity in federal court to paying bribes to Salinas.

McDermott emphasized at Monday's City Council meeting the money will still benefit the 2nd District.

“We want the public to be assured that when the gaming money is being used by district council members it's being used properly,” McDermott said, “and if there's allegations of it not being used properly we should do something to fix that.”

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