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Portage City Hall

Portage City Hall

PORTAGE — The newly created Storm Water Management Board held its first meeting Tuesday afternoon.

It was quick and to the point, electing officers and appointing consultants.

However, its counterpart, the Sanitary Board did not meet. The two City Council-appointed members didn't attend, extending the squabble between Mayor James Snyder and most City Council members over the dissolution of the Utility Service Board and transitioning its responsibilities to the two new boards.

Both sides are accusing each other of violating a consent agreement reached in April which stayed a lawsuit filed by Snyder against the council, which also operates as the Utility Service Board.

"The reason why they are not at the meeting was they were told not to come," said Snyder, adding department employees were also told not to attend the meeting or the nearly two-hour workshop held before the meeting. "This is a clear violation of the agreed order."

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at-large, said both Sanitary Board members and employees were directed not to attend the workshop or meeting.

"I think he is jumping the gun. He can have his meetings with the boards. I'm just against it because he's not abiding by the court order," said Oprisko, adding he didn't want to waste employees' time attending the meetings.

Oprisko, who attended a portion of the workshop, said his understanding is that the transition between the boards should take place first. He said 40 minutes of the workshop was spent listening to Indianapolis attorney Michael Griffiths talk about the transition, but no transition plan has been presented to the council or USB.

One council member, John Cannon, R-4th, is siding with Snyder.

"I'm not in agreement with the two gentlemen," he said, referring to Oprisko and USB President Scott Williams. "The mayor is following the agreed order."

A meeting has been set for Thursday morning with Snyder, Oprisko, Williams, Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, City Attorney Gregg Sobkowski and City Council attorney Ken Elwood to begin negotiations for the transition.

Snyder contends the two new boards have authority to meet and act on certain items now.

He cited a portion of the agreement which states, "Once established, the Storm Water Board and Sanitary Board shall have all powers and duties authorized by applicable statute; provided, however, during the transition period, the exercise of said powers and duties by the Storm Water Board and Sanitary Board shall be subject to, and consistent with, the provisions, requirements and obligations of this stipulated order."

This is the latest in an 18-month battle between Snyder and the council who took over the USB from Snyder following questions of Snyder's alleged spending. Snyder said he learned afterwards that the USB was not operating under state code and after trying to negotiate with the council, filed a lawsuit in March.

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Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.