Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson

Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson.

John J. Watkins, The Times

A growing chorus is imploring Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson to repay some of the poorest Region taxpayers for a government-funded tropical junket.

She and her chief deputy, who took the collective $2,868.44 trip to an unjustifiable conference in Aruba late last year, should appeal to the better angels of reason and listen.

Add Calumet Township Board President Darren Washington to a slew of taxpayers and other public officials voicing disgust at Robinson's trip.

As I wrote in a previous column, the ridiculous expense is exacerbated by the status of Robinson's township as one of the poorest in the Region and state.

Township trustees are supposed to provide emergency poor relief to their economically struggling constituents.

With a median household income of $28,020, nearly $26,000 less than the national average, Calumet Township residents collectively represent one of the poorest populations in the Region and state. A gasping 37 percent of Gary residents, which make up most of the township population, live in poverty.

So Robinson and her chief deputy, Sherita Smith, who respectively earn $95,000 and $75,000 annual salaries, had no business attending an Aruba conference regarding how to "treat people of color."

Township board President Washington contacted me last week, noting neither he nor board member Clorius Lay agreed with Robinson's trip.

The board has no authority to make Robinson or her deputy repay the money, Washington said.

It approves the trustee's budget, but as the elected chief officer of the government body, Robinson decides how to spend that money.

But Washington is a Calumet Township taxpayer who expressed both disappointment and disgust at the misguided tropical junket.

He said he's heard from a growing number of taxpayers who are upset Robinson charged the trip to the township.

Washington is imploring Robinson to repay the money.

"What elected officials sometimes don't understand is it's not about us. It's about the people we represent," Washington told me Friday.

"There's nothing wrong with saying you made a mistake. Admitting you've done wrong doesn't make you look weak. We're human."

Those are sage words Robinson should heed.

Robinson was first elected trustee in 2014, campaigning as a reformer to the troubles of past township leadership.

"Troubles" is an understatement.

Previous trustee Mary Elgin, whom Robinson vanquished in the primary, recently pleaded guilty to federal felony charges for shaking down employees for campaign contributions.

Another previous trustee, Dozier Allen, also served federal prison time for siphoning money off a federal grant — money that was supposed to be spent for accurate counts of the township residents receiving poor relief.

The fiscal abuse of some of our poorest taxpayers — and of other state and federal taxpayers — must stop.

Robinson, who did not return my calls seeking comment Friday, has an opportunity to turn a page and repay her constituents for this ill-conceived conference.

Leaders know when to do the right thing and admit past wrongs.

Meanwhile, the bar is set tragically low from the past transgressions of Robinson's predecessors, so here's an easy opportunity for her to set herself apart.

We all await her decision.

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Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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Local News Editor

Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.