RICH JAMES: Niemeyer following in father's footsteps?

2013-02-03T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Niemeyer following in father's footsteps?By Rich James nwitimes.com
February 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

You've got to get up pretty early to stay ahead of those boys down in south Lake County. They are smooth operators.

Take state Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, for example.

I just couldn't make sense of his proposal to strip the Lake County Solid Waste Management District of its powers. It came out of the blue.

Just three weeks into his first legislative session, Niemeyer has authored a bill that would take away the 27-member board’s ability to adopt contracts, construct or operate solid waste facilities or enter into lease agreements for the rental of solid waste facilities.

And the bill would shift all that power to the Lake County commissioners.

Niemeyer and fellow Republican Hal Slager, of Schererville, were members of the waste board before moving to the Legislature in November.

Niemeyer said his proposal was inspired, in part, by the trash-to-ethanol contract approved by the board four years ago. Despite the contract, the facility hasn’t been built.

Niemeyer and Slager voted in November to end the contract for the ethanol plant. They lost.

Now, all of a sudden, the two want to take the power from 27 people and give it to the three county commissioners. Go figure.

Niemeyer’s reasoning is that board decisions can encumber county taxpayers and that such authority should rest with the county executive branch — the commissioners.

That essentially would put the waste district out of business.

With waste disposal being a multimillion-dollar business, it makes sense to have more voices, rather than fewer, decide how the county’s towns and cities get rid of their garbage. Despite Niemeyer’s reasoning, the municipalities have a huge financial stake in all of this.

Given that Niemeyer and Slager are bright guys, why have they come up with this cockamamie scheme? Then the fog lifted.

This isn't a good government kind of thing. Nope, this is a looking out for Niemeyer kind of deal. It doesn't make it right, but it happens all the time in the Legislature.

Four years from now, don’t be surprised if you see Niemeyer running for county commissioner. That’s when Commissioner Gerry Scheub, who happens to be a supporter of the trash-to-ethanol plant, has said he will retire.

And it won’t be Niemeyer's first run for commissioner. He lost to Scheub in 1996. Niemeyer was attempting to replace his father, Ernie Niemeyer, who didn't seek re-election.

Rick would be following the same political path as his dad. Ernie was a county councilman, then state legislator and finally commissioner.

Ernie did it over three decades. Rick would do it over six years. And he could keep landfills out of south county.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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