RICH JAMES: South Shore CVA needs fiscal oversight

2014-03-02T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: South Shore CVA needs fiscal oversightBy Rich James
March 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It was about a month ago that state Rep. Charlie Brown had harsh words for Speros Batistatos.

“He’s like a cow that gives a bucket of good milk and then turns around and kicks it right over,” Brown said.

Batistatos is president of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. He’s outspoken, arrogant and very good at what he does.

While Brown called Batistatos a friend, he also suggested he’s a loose cannon who needs to be reined in.

Batistatos has a nice gig. He runs an agency with a multimillion-dollar budget. The money comes from casino and hotel/motel taxes. The staff of 20 is well-paid, as is Speros, who commands a salary into the six figures.

What eats at Brown is that Speros’ agency doesn’t have to answer to an elected body.

And Brown’s bill to have the Lake County Council approve Speros’ budget never got a hearing. Brown immediately vowed to return next year with the same bill.

Brown said Speros was boasting that he got the bill killed. I’m sure he did.

One of the members on Speros’ board is W.F. “Bill” Wellman, who might be the best visionary in Northwest Indiana. Wellman also works for Dean White, chairman of Whiteco Industries. He is a wealthy man and a quiet but strong Republican political force and a guy who benefits from Speros’ agency.

When the visitors bureau was created three decades ago, state law mandated the Lake County Council approve the agency’s budget.

Seemingly under the cover of darkness, that got changed years back. Today, there’s no oversight of the agency’s budget by an elected body.

So why all of a sudden does Brown want the County Council to approve where Speros and company spend millions of dollars each year?

That’s largely because Brown – like many others – is upset that Speros is moving the annual air show from Gary’s beaches to Fair Oaks Farms – 40 miles to the south.

The change was made, according to Speros, because Gary said it no longer can afford to provide security for the show, and no other suitable spot could be found along the lakeshore.

So is Brown right in saying the agency needs fiscal oversight by elected officials?

I tend to think he is, even though the agency doesn’t receive any property taxes.

One of the recommendations of the 2007 Kernan/Shepard report on improving local government said, “Too many appointed boards and individuals hold fiscal power, thus removing them from the direct control of voters.”

Bob Kuzman, a former Crown Point state representative who lobbies for Speros’ agency, said there’s no need for the County Council to review the budget because it has an appointment to the 20-member board.

I don’t think Brown is going to buy that argument – with or without a Gary air show.

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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