EDITORIAL: Extend protection to other Hammond districts

2013-01-22T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Extend protection to other Hammond districts nwitimes.com
January 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Hammond has a history of spending its casino revenue well, putting it toward infrastructure improvements rather than committing it for operating costs. Some additional controls are in order, however.

With Councilman Al Salinas under indictment, the Hammond City Council voted 8-0 last week, with Salinas absent, to give the three-member Finance Committee authority over selecting and approving any projects using the 2nd District's share of the city's casino revenue.

Salinas faces a federal charge of accepting bribes from a local tree removal company that received more than $300,000 in contracts using the 2nd District's casino revenue. Salinas has pleaded not guilty.

The reform regarding 2nd District funds is urgent, of course, but why stop there?

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., citing increased interest in casino funds this year at the Indiana General Assembly, asked for this reform.

"I think this makes the Hammond City Council look responsible," McDermott said. "I think it makes the city look responsible."

McDermott said the money will still benefit the 2nd District.

"We want the public to be assured that when the gaming money is being used by district council members it's being used properly, and if there's allegations of it not being used properly we should do something to fix that," McDermott said.

This year the council's six council districts each received $1.3 million to be spent at the district council member's discretion.

That ensures that money is spent throughout the district, but there are drawbacks as well. That formula can prevent making targeted investments where they are needed most.

It also means incumbents get to be Santa Claus, distributing money in their district that didn't cost the council members anything. That gives the incumbents an unfair edge in elections.

Now that the Finance Committee has oversight over the 2nd District funds, extend that protection to other districts as well.

Make sure the needs of the entire city, not just individual parts of the city, are met.

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