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Lake commissioners ask judge to reconsider ruling transferring purchasing authority to county council
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Lake commissioners ask judge to reconsider ruling transferring purchasing authority to county council

Lake County Government Center aerial

The Lake County Government Center is seen from above in Crown Point.

HAMMOND — The Lake County commissioners are asking Lake Superior Judge John Sedia to reconsider his April 16 ruling transferring control of the county's purchasing and data processing departments to the Lake County Council.

In its motion to correct errors, the commissioners say the 1981 Indiana law Sedia relied on as the basis for his decision expired in 1983, but mistakenly remains in the Indiana Code to this day.

The commissioners argue, however, that error does not authorize the council to use the expired provisions of the statute to now claim control of purchasing and data processing, since the opportunity for the council to potentially operate the departments expired Sept. 1, 1983.

In any case, the commissioners say Sedia also erred by failing to recognize authority over county purchasing must rest solely with the commissioners because Indiana law specifies only the commissioners have the power to enter into contracts.

Moreover, the commissioners said a court ruling allowing the Lake County Council to both appropriate county funds and control the purchases made with that money, in effect, establishes a new form of local government in Indiana, which is a power reserved to the General Assembly under the Indiana Constitution.

The commissioners also argue it's contrary to an 1899 Indiana law, and the principles of good government, to have a single entity in charge of raising money through tax dollars, deciding how the money should be spent, and actually contracting to spend the funds.

"In 1899, the Indiana General Assembly clearly thought it was a bad idea to give both the power to raise the money for the budget and the power to contract to spend the money raised to the same county body. There was too great an opportunity to abuse these two powers. So, they were separated," the commissioners said.

"The decision of the trial court returns Lake County government to a position that the Indiana General Assembly abolished in 1899 .... Lake County would be the only county in the state of Indiana which would give the fiscal body such overwhelming power."

The county council now has until the end of the month to respond to the commissioners' motion to correct errors.

The commissioners also have requested Sedia's earlier decision be stayed until he rules on the motion and any appeals are concluded.

Sedia has scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m. July 22 in Lake County Superior Court in Hammond to hear oral arguments on those issues.

Ride along with LaPorte Police Specialist Justin Dyer as he patrols the streets of LaPorte.

The purchasing dispute originated in part with the council objecting to the commissioners repeatedly declining to award contracts to buy costly law enforcement equipment requested by Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr., despite the council appropriating money for the purchases.

The parties headed to court after officials discovered the 2019 General Assembly inadvertently deleted the process for the Lake County commissioners to veto an ordinance approved by the council, and for the council to override the commissioners veto and enact a policy notwithstanding their objection.

That process since has been restored — retroactive to the moment of its deletion — by Senate Enrolled Act 35, which Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law April 8.

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