GARY — The City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing the city to activate a port authority.
The ordinance approving the appointment of board members was approved by a 6-2 vote, with Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher, D-at large, absent.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson named four of the five members Monday. They included previously announced candidates Delta Walker, a financial adviser, and businessman Ken Stalling. The other two named by Freeman-Wilson Monday were businessman Gene Champion and real estate agent William Godwin. She said she will name the fifth member at a later date.
Freeman-Wilson said the authority provides another economic development tool for the city.
Council members LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6th, and Rebecca Wyatt, D-1st, voted no. They expressed concern in such an expansive board being controlled by members appointed by the mayor.
Council President Ron Brewer, D-at large, and Herb Smith Jr., D-at large, pointed out the council could dissolve the board if it didn't like the way it was operating. Brewer also noted the council had the opportunity to vote on the mayor's appointments. Freeman-Wilson said she consulted with council members before making the appointments.
According to City Council attorney Rinzer Williams, the city long has had a port authority that encompasses the city limit. Williams said the port authority was created by an ordinance adopted in 1977, but it has remained dormant with no board appointed to run it.
According to Bo Kemp, executive director of Gary's Economic Development Corp., the city is not really looking to attract barge traffic that is served by ports found in Chicago or Burns Harbor.
Freeman-Wilson noted the city already sees some barge traffic.
"We are talking about whether or not there are companies, like logistics and distribution companies, that have a keen interest in locating in the city of Gary and taking advantage of the tax exempt status that the port authority can provide," Kemp explained at a council finance committee held last week.
Kemp said that is not to say that some additional maritime activity could take place, but the emphasis for the city is trying to provide another economic incentive for companies — like warehousing, distribution and logistics firms, which could include trucking firms — to locate in Gary.
Kemp said city officials saw other communities using their ports for such purposes and "figured out a way to apply it here."