CROWN POINT — A Lake County councilman and the sheriff are in a war of words over a perceived request for a patronage hire.
Sheriff Oscar Martinez said an angry exchange between himself and Councilman Charlie Brown, D-Gary, at Tuesday's County Council meeting was over the sheriff's refusal to hire the son of former county Surveyor George Van Til.
"Last year, he asked me to hire a particular political person. I refused to do so. Since then, he has been demanding our eligibility list and individuals' names, and we don't release that," Martinez said.
"The sheriff is a bare-faced liar. It has nothing to do with me giving him a hard time because he didn't hire someone," Brown responded after the meeting.
He said Martinez is upset Brown is investigating the fairness of the sheriff's hiring practices.
Brown said he asked Jan. 8 for the sheriff's eligibility list for employment and has yet to receive this public information.
"I am a county councilman, and if I'm treated that way, what can the general public expect? I just asked for the new listing, and if you have hired someone from it — transparency — did you pick from the top of the list?" Brown said.
The sheriff said the test score listing is posted on a public hallway in the sheriff's department, but Lake County Police Merit Board rules forbid him from identifying to Brown who received which score.
Brown said he didn't want to know the names of the other applicants. "I just want to know how things have been done."
The County Council voted their support for Brown by unanimously agreeing to send the sheriff a written request that he release his employment eligibility list to Brown.
Brown voted Tuesday against the sheriff's budget requests and added, "My vote will be consistent from this point forward until I get an indication from you that you respect me as a councilman."
The sheriff responded, "I expect the same respect of my hiring practices and who I hire."
Brown shot back, "What does that mean?"
"I don't know, you tell me," Martinez said.
Outside the meeting, the sheriff complained, "I think it was inappropriate for him to do that in that kind of setting, to vent on personnel matters. I'm not going to tolerate that."
The sheriff said he and Brown have been at odds since last year, before Brown was elected to the seven-member fiscal body.
Brown said he only asked the sheriff to consider hiring Ethan Van Til, a police officer in Florida for three years and a son of George Van Til, who served 20 years as county surveyor.
George Van Til resigned from office Dec. 5, 2013, and pleaded guilty to six counts of federal wire fraud for assigning political work to his public employees. Brown, then a state representative, accompanied Van Til from the courtroom that day, saying he wouldn't desert his friend.
"I did say, 'Sheriff there is a young man who wants to come back to this area. His dad is ill,'" Brown said.
Brown said Ethan Van Til posted one of the highest scores of applicants who took the physical and psychological tests required by the sheriff.
"I just asked him for consideration," Brown said.
That request, months ago, has nothing to do with his look into the sheriff's hiring, Brown said. He also has asked why the sheriff doesn't go through the county human resources director when hiring new employees.
"I and the Lake County Police Merit Board have sole authority to hire police officers; that is it by state law," Martinez said Tuesday.