Redistricting cuts Rivas out of County Council seat

2013-12-17T16:19:00Z 2013-12-17T23:45:04Z Redistricting cuts Rivas out of County Council seatBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
December 17, 2013 4:19 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas said he will move -- if that what it takes -- to continue representing the 2nd District that he was removed from in a redistricting plan approved with bipartisan support Tuesday by the Porter County Board of Commissioners.

"This isn't how government is supposed to work," said Rivas, a Democrat.

The three commissioners suspended the rules to rush through two rounds of approval of the plan, which narrows the population gap among the four districts from 10.4 percent to 3.19 percent. Indiana law requires that districts have as equal populations as possible.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, defended the changes in a lengthy statement in which he recounted how he, as a lone Republican, sided with Democrats on the Board of Commissioners to approve the last redistricting in 2001 that cost his party a County Council seat in the following election.

"That board took their responsibilities seriously, and we will follow their example," he said.

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, who supported the redistricting as the lone member of her party, said Tuesday she was concerned to see the population differences grow from 2 percent in 2001 to 10.4 percent this year.

She said the only reason to vote against the changes would be political in nature.

Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy criticized the Board of Commissioners for not releasing the details of the redistricting ahead of Tuesday's public hearing so the public would know what to comment on.

He said the changes will have the biggest impact on the people of Portage Township. Clancy also said the timing of the redistricting, which comes just three weeks before candidate filings begin in the district County Council seats, is unprofessional and unethical.

Evans said the redistricting plan does not take away anyone's right to run for office, does not impede anyone's right to vote and does not change any polling places.

Voters affected by the changes will find different council races on their ballots next year.

The County Council held a special meeting Tuesday evening to act on a measure correcting a typographical error, and Rivas used the occasion to vent his anger at what he said was Evans's vengeful action against him.

"The commission president bragged about taking out the council president and said he was going to get that snide ass Rivas," Rivas said. "Something is fundamentally wrong with Porter County government. The fact the federal government is investigating, something is wrong."

Saying he had done nothing but do his job for his constituents, Rivas shouted several times, "What is going on in county government" until Councilwoman Karen Conover wondered if he was asking her. Rivas said he doesn't know why the federal government is investigating, and the county needs to join the shared ethics commission to do something about ethics in the county.

"I didn't think I would be attacked for doing my job," he said.

Councilman Jim Biggs said he's never worked with anyone in his 11 years in county government who worked harder than Rivas or was more well-intentioned.

"What happened to you was unnecessary and the timing was questionable," Biggs said. "If you want to be here (on the council), then run. Don't give up."

Rivas said he has to establish residence in the new district at least six months before the general election next fall, and he plans to do so and seek another term.

"I'm not going to listen to John Evans. I'm going to listen to my constituents," he said.

Staff writer Phil Wieland contributed to this report.

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