In February, I said the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission was letting the whole community down. Its historical lack of transparency and failure to engage residents in setting priorities and making decisions about taxpayer money was outrageous.
Unfortunately, NIRPC has adopted the mantra: If you don’t like it, sue us.
I questioned the recent decision to shift $500,000 in transportation dollars from Lake to Porter County. Surely, if my facts were wrong, NIRPC should have been willing to provide evidence to the contrary. Instead, its response has been to undertake extraordinary efforts to keep the topic from being raised any further.
First they moved the public comment section from the end of the meeting to the beginning. As The Times recently pointed out, that doesn't make sense.
Then they said people had to first identify which agenda item they wanted to talk about.
If a NIRPC-related topic wasn't specifically listed, it was off limits. That’s an effective way to avoid talking about things they don’t want to talk about.
But back to that misapplication of funds. The amount of public mass transit funds going to any particular community is determined by a formula used by the Indiana Department of Transportation. It involves the number of rides each system has provided.
When the Regional Bus Authority shut down in 2012, its riders had actually "earned" about a million dollars to serve the Hammond area for the next two years. When we found out NIRPC had re-directed those funds to Porter County and south Lake County agencies, we started asking questions nobody wanted to answer.
NIRPC would only give vague and misleading responses to direct questions about who had made that decision and how priorities had been determined.
The staff, which prepares the annual budget, just moved some numbers around and asked the Finance Committee to approve everything before it went to the full commission. There was no public hearing, no public input.
After all of this came out, INDOT directed NIRPC to divide the next batch of RBA-earned dollars between the Gary Public Transportation Corp. and East Chicago Transit. Soon thereafter, GPTC announced its plans to begin serving portions of Hammond.
Maybe NIRPC thought that by postponing GPTC’s ability to fill the gap, it could turn the tide of growing support for that system as the logical vehicle through which to establish a regional bus system.
Unfortunately, folks can’t ask NIRPC why they don’t back that approach, which would benefit the local economy, the environment and the people who so desperately need an adequate system, including senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Because it’s not on the agenda.