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Local News Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

The real-life themes behind some of my most-read columns of 2017 are a mix of maddening, appalling and uplifting.

As New Year's Eve is a staple day of reflection, I'm left wondering what we all can learn from the topics — and perhaps what our Region as a whole can and should do differently.

A sitting Lake County councilman, who pleaded guilty just before Christmas 2016 to battering his wife, was arrested on new domestic violence charges just before Christmas 2017.

A disgraced former Lake County sheriff awaits sentencing next month after a 2017 conviction on federal felony bribery counts. Meanwhile, a Portage mayor awaits similar felony charges of self enrichment through epic violations of public trust.

A new Lake County sheriff seems to be making honest attempts at cleaning up a plethora of bad policy, hiring and personnel decisions, including firing a jail warden with a criminal record and attempting to curb runaway overtime issues in the jail.

Meanwhile, on a far more heartwarming note, a Wheatfield mother is preparing to fly to China to grow her family with the smile and heart of a little orphan named Selah.

Her trip comes in the wake of helping another little boy from a different Chinese orphanage find his forever home — one with a warm Region heartbeat.

Together, these topics represent the worst and best of Northwest Indiana in 2017.

I reference them all today, in part, because they account for the subjects behind some of my most-read columns of the past year in terms of online hits, social media posts and shares and emails or phone calls from print readers.

More importantly, reflecting on each of the topics provides natural inspiration and potential resolutions heading into the New Year.

Let's take them one at a time.

Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington

On the Thursday before Christmas, after a 13-day stay in the Lake County Jail, county Councilman Jamal Washington finally made bail and walked out of the lockup after posting a $5,000 cash bond.

His legal problems, however, are far from over, and all county taxpayers might as well buckle in for another embarrassing ride.

In December 2016, Washington pleaded guilty to battering his wife in a plea deal that reduced initial felony counts to a misdemeanor.

Now, in December 2017, Washington faces revocation of his probation in the 2016 case. He's now charged in a new case with an array of domestic violence-related counts against a female cousin, who reportedly was living under his Merrillville roof.

Lake County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Wieser, publicly, and several other sitting elected officials, both publicly and privately, have begun shunning Washington for his embarrassing and unacceptable cycle.

In 2017, it's a refreshing change from Region politicians who embraced Washington on the 2016 campaign trail, even though he faced criminal domestic violence charges at the time.

In 2018, Region leaders should resolve to put more distance between themselves and Washington's embarrassments.

If he ends up being re-jailed for alleged probation violations, which appears to be a distinct possibility in the New Year, Lake County Council members should resolve to use a state statute to remove Washington from the council for inability to perform his duties.

Former Sheriff John Buncich

Former sheriff, now federally convicted felon, John Buncich faces a potentially lengthy prison term in 2018. That term, which could amount to 10 years or more, is slated to be prescribed by federal Judge James Moody on Jan. 16.

It's hard to imagine a further fall from grace — from the county's top elected lawman to disgraced felon for enriching himself with bribes in exchange for awarding towing work.

Buncich is far below any moral high ground right now.

But it hasn't stopped his legal team and the head of the Lake County Bar Association from deeming me a bully for promising to publicly list the names of any public or elected officials or community leaders who file letters of support for Buncich with the court, seeking leniency for his sentence.

They've accused me of attempting to interfere with Buncich's right to a fair proceeding.

It's nonsense of the highest order.

The only bully in this narrative is John Buncich, and any other corrupt leaders who perpetuate a cycle of public corruption in Northwest Indiana, victimizing their constituents along the way.

Leaders who would stand in support of a convicted felon — one who violated the public trust — should be counted and outed. Perhaps such a promise will make them think twice about playing toady to a schoolyard bully like Buncich.

Anyone considering writing such letters should resolve not to.

Portage Mayor James Snyder

The antics and criminal charges of Portage Mayor James Snyder found their way into several of my 2017 columns.

Like Buncich, Snyder faces charges of accepting bribes in exchange for awarding towing work.

His trial has been delayed because his former defense attorney, Thomas Kirsch II, left to become the new Hammond-based U.S. attorney.

We all can take solace in Kirsch doing the right thing by recusing himself of any and all ties to the Snyder prosecution. Kirsch also has a sterling record of prosecuting public corruption during a previous job as assistant U.S. attorney in Hammond, so the office is in good hands.

The executive office of Portage government, however, remains in the hands of a mayor who continues to degrade the reputation of city government with his presence.

In 2017, a number of people — including some fellow Portage elected officials, this columnist and The Times Editorial Board — called on Snyder to spare his city the embarrassment of his ongoing criminal prosecution and resign.

He's chosen, instead, to continue the charade into 2018.

Other Portage elected leaders should resolve to do all they can to heal the reputation of the scourge Sndyer is leaving in his wake.

A new sheriff in town

We all should be hoping the Lake County Sheriff's Department and jail, plagued by scandal and revelations of administrative disaster, will see transformative change in 2018.

We're seeing hints of improvement in the policies of new Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, who was elected by Democratic caucus to fulfill what remained of Buncich's term.

In a summer column, I published the results of my computer-assisted probe into Lake County Jail payroll — specifically overtime.

The investigation revealed jailers rang up $1.6 million per year in overtime expenses. Five corrections officers earned as much or more than the jail warden in 2016 on the strength of staggering amounts of overtime.

Some jailers averaged work weeks of 100 hours or more, and the problem exploded under Buncich, with overtime growing by 168 percent during his most recent two-term tenure.

In the latter months of 2017, Martinez has made rectifying the jail overtime issue a top priority.

He weeded out a past Buncich practice in which jailers were being promoted to positions — prompting a glut of overtime hours — that weren't authorized in the labor agreement between the jail union and the Lake County Council.

Martinez also fired longtime Buncich jail warden, Ed Davies, whose 1999 misdemeanor theft conviction — for stealing a fur coat from sheriff's police evidence — should have disqualified Davies from ever being hired. But it didn't stop Buncich.

As it turns out, Davies also was holding the jail back from compliance with federal mandates because his qualifications weren't up to federal standards, Martinez revealed.

We all should resolve to embolden Martinez to continue his quest to clean up the sheriff's department and jail.

And we must remind all of our leaders that the poor — and in some cases criminal — decisions that perennially dog our Region will not be tolerated in 2018.

Wheatfield mom's enormous heart

We all should resolve to end 2017 — and begin 2018 — on a positive note.

The tireless efforts of a Wheatfield mother to provide, or in one case help find, loving homes for Chinese orphans should help us with this endeavor.

Despite our Region's worst headlines of the past year, my heart continued to be touched by Jill Terborg, a Region nurse and mother of two young girls — soon to be three.

If you follow her social media posts, Terborg is slated to fly to China Wednesday for the third time in her young family's iteration.

Regular readers of my column and The Times features section will remember Terborg is on the cusp of adopting her third daughter, Selah, from a Chinese orphanage.

Her two other daughters, Lexie, 9, and Ella, 11, also were adopted from the same country.

Terborg hosted Selah, whose Chinese name is Yunlian, during a July 2016 stay in the Region through a program aimed at raising awareness and finding homes for Chinese orphans.

Terborg and her girls ended up falling in love with the little girl, who flew back to China later that summer but never left their hearts.

Since then, Terborg has been on a long journey of diplomatic approvals, paperwork and anxious anticipation in a quest to adopt Selah as her third daughter.

Those approvals are now in hand, and Terborg is slated to fly to her new daughter's side this week.

It's an amazing punctuation mark on Terborg's legacy.

Many of you also will remember Terborg hosted another Chinese orphan in 2015 — then 7-year-old Bobo. Terborg's daughter Lexie was best friends with Bobo during her earliest years in a Chinese orphanage.

Terborg hosted the little boy to allow a reunion between friends and hoping the exercise would help find Bobo his forever home.

It worked.

In 2017, Bobo, now named Andrew, joined a new family in Ohio. The family has Region ties and learned about the little boy because of Terborg's efforts.

This New Year's Eve, I resolve to find more stories like Terborg's in 2018 — inspirational accounts reminding us of the better angels who live among us, many unnoticed, doing good works for humanity.

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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