Source: Search of surveyor's office related to suspicion of campaigning on county time

2012-08-15T21:00:00Z 2012-08-16T13:52:05Z Source: Search of surveyor's office related to suspicion of campaigning on county timeBy Sarah Tompkins, (219) 836-3780

HAMMOND | A federal investigation into Lake County Surveyor George Van Til involves whether he engaged in campaigning activities while on the county clock, The Times has learned.

A grand jury was scheduled to convene Wednesday, and one of the cases it was slated to hear involved Van Til. The FBI removed a number of computers and containers full of documents from the surveyor's office in June.

Sources said Van Til also may have used county computers for those alleged campaigning activities. Van Til, who has held the surveyor's office since his first election in 1992, said he did not know what the FBI was investigating.

"From the beginning of this process, it seems to me that amongst some politicians and some media there hasn't been enough presumption of innocence," he said. "This is America, I thought."

Van Til said his goal in office always has been to make a positive impact, and that he felt bad that at least two of his approximately 30 employees were subpoenaed to testify Wednesday.

"I feel bad for anybody who's been questioned and anyone who will be questioned by the grand jury," he said. "I want to say for the record that I'm optimistic that when this journey is done it will be OK and things will turn out."

Marie Eisenstein, an IU Northwest associate professor of political science, said it can be difficult for elected officials to separate their political lives from their government jobs, as mayors and presidents don't stop holding their offices when the clock strikes 5 p.m.

While according to the law the two activities should be kept separate, there are times when the line blurs, Eisenstein said. For example, she said the president may use Air Force One to make a campaign stop while traveling for official business — but he is expected to reimburse the treasury for those campaign expenses.

"I don't know that there's a way of getting out of an overlap or intersection," Eisenstein said. "In practice, it becomes very difficult to track, and I think it's something that's easily seen as co-mingled."

She said elected officials have an obligation to keep track of what nongovernmental activities they should reimburse the public for, and if and when they don't, the public relies on watchdog journalists to keep them honest.

Van Til's attorney, Scott King, said his client had been cooperative with investigators and would continue to do so.

"We're very, very early in the process ... and there are many investigations that end up not resulting in evidence of any sort of wrongdoing," King said.

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