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Portage City Hall

Portage City Hall

PORTAGE — This week's City Council and Utility Services Board meetings turned into grudge matches between council members and Mayor James Snyder.

While the two sides took turns blaming and criticizing each other for nearly four hours regarding several issues, Snyder spent a significant portion of the council meeting Tuesday night defending his filing of a lawsuit against the City Council last year for its take over, and alleged illegal operation, of the Utility Services Board.

In return, the Democrat-majority council pointed the finger at Snyder, telling him it was his own fault they took such action a year ago, only doing so because of his inappropriate spending of utility funds.

Snyder said he filed the lawsuit to protect the city and residents from what could be extreme financial ramifications of the council's decisions. He said he did not know the USB was illegally formed until after he was stripped of the chairmanship and spoke to others, including other municipalities and attorneys, about the situation.

Once he found out, he said he sought legal opinion and attempted to work with the council.

"We did everything possible to make this an amicable situation," Snyder said about the dispute between himself and the City Council that led to the filing of the lawsuit.

He proceeded to read a detailed list outlining when emails were sent or telephone calls were made between City Attorney Gregg Sobkowski and City Council Attorney Ken Elwood, or between himself and Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, to illustrate what he called attempts to get both sides together.

However, Elwood disputed Snyder's claims, saying he was never formally invited to a meeting in attempts to find a resolution. Elwood also said he and Sobkowski agreed upon a time frame to set a meeting for negotiations, but the lawsuit was filed two days before the agreed upon time was up.

"It came as a surprise," Elwood said the lawsuit.

Council member John Cannon, R-4th, who is named in the lawsuit but has defended Snyder's actions, submitted a motion that Indianapolis-based attorneys hired by both sides meet within 14 days to try to reach a settlement. That motion died for a lack of a second.

"If there weren't a lawsuit, we should meet," Elwood said, adding that now it would be inappropriate for the board to direct the two sides to meet because it could review legal strategies. Elwood predicted the two sides would sit down at the table when the time was appropriate.

"Your office, yourself, chose to file the suit and asked for the emergency injunction," said council member Scott Williams, D-3rd, adding that changed the situation "immensely."


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.