VALPARAISO | The Porter County Council has a new president and vice president, after members voted 4-3 on Monday to oust their current leaders and elect new officers.
Councilman Bob Poparad, D-at large, replaces Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, as council president, and Karen Conover, R-3rd, will serve as vice president instead of Jim Polarek, R-4th.
Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at large, made the motion to reorganize and elect Poparad and Conover, saying he was “uncomfortable” with the state of the board. His motion was seconded by Sylvia Graham, D-at large.
Whitten, Graham, Poparad and Conover voted for the change, while Rivas, Polarek and Jim Biggs, R-1st, sought to keep the status quo.
Biggs said Rivas and Polarek had not been given enough time, as they were only elected two months ago.
Conover said she voted for the change with a “heavy heart,” but did so because she was tired of constant controversy and bullying. The council needs to do a better job of working with the Porter County Board of Commissioners, she said.
Graham said she was elected to help county government run smoothly and efficiently and she felt the change would help that.
The council also voted 5-2 to transfer more than $606,000 in Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski's nonreverting fund to unallocated, which would require Wichlinski to come before the board to request permission to spend the money.
Polarek and Biggs voted against the move, with Biggs urging the council not to “strip the officeholder of his dignity.”
“If it's about accountability, why are we starting tonight?” Biggs asked.
Whitten shouted back, “We are the fiscal body of this county, and we've got to start somewhere.”
Wichlinski said after the meeting that he didn't think the council's action was legal and he will take up the issue with the State Board of Accounts and Department of Local Government Finance.
The fund is associated with homestead credits. Wichlinski has collected about $1.6 million from taxpayers improperly receiving a homestead deduction.
The success of the effort has allowed him to team up with the Porter County assessor's and treasurer's offices in a total quality management program to collect nearly $1 million in back taxes, usher in e-government, help assure tax bills are in compliance with the recently adopted tax caps and reduce the backlog of tax assessment appeals.
Wichlinski said the council's action creates a “dangerous precedent” and the total quality management program is “dead” despite its success.