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Mayor uses city vehicles, security for family transport, raises council eyebrows

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Mayor Jerome Prince

Gary Mayor Jerome Prince is seen inside his office in January 2020 as he answers questions during an interview with The Times of Northwest Indiana. 

GARY — The city council president said he has requested GPS records for Mayor Jerome Prince's security detail amid revelations the mayor's immediate family is being escorted to work and school in city-owned vehicles.

“I want to know the facts. I’ve heard the rumors. I’ve heard people are being taken to work, I’ve heard about kids being dropped off at school. I’ve heard all kinds of stuff. But I prefer to deal with facts," Council President William Godwin said during Tuesday night's council meeting.  

Prince said during a Times interview this week he believes his immediate family's protection through his city security detail is justified.

"I've had a pretty good run of being an honest, elected official, and I would never try to do anything to compromise the integrity I've built over the last 20 years," said Prince, formerly a Gary city councilman and county assessor. "Maybe Godwin believes this will become the attention of the media and resonate with residents, but as mayor, I have serious security concerns for myself and my family." 

Prince pointed to his swearing-in ceremony at the Genesis Convention Center in January. While Prince was speaking at the podium, there was a disruptive outburst by family members of a man shot and killed by police last year.

Prince said in another instance, bricks were thrown through the glass doors at Gary City Hall. He said he perceived that incident as a threat to him and his staff. 

Godwin argues that the mayor's security detail should be limited to transporting the mayor to and from City Hall, community events, work-related meetings and the airport for conferences.

"Not for family and other personal uses for people present without the mayor," Godwin said.

Prince said before he took office, City Hall was "wide open" with security risks. Now employees feel safe with officers stationed at 401 Broadway at his administration's request, Prince said. 

'Absolutely not'

Trent A. McCain, corporation counsel for the city, told The Times Wednesday that the city intends to comply with Godwin's information request, except for the historical GPS data and other sensitive information that could pose a safety risk.

"We're not turning that over. The mayor's safety, and his family's safety and security, is paramount. And Godwin is using it as a political football," McCain said. "The GPS data is way out of bounds. Ask any law enforcement expert in the country: Should you give GPS data of a chief executive ... and have it publicly disclosed? They'll tell you absolutely not."

McCain said he would inquire whether there was a way to confirm instances of travel with the mayor's vehicles without publicly disclosing specific GPS coordinates, such as with a travel/mileage log. 

On numerous occasions now, Godwin has publicly questioned Prince's use and purchase of new vehicles this year using city funds — a Ford Expedition and Ford Explorer — along with the use of former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's city-owned Yukon SUV.

Godwin said he is seeking the travel records of Prince's vehicle use in response to citizen complaints and concerns. Godwin said Prince complains about the city of Gary being in financial "shambles" and yet uses public resources to escort his family. 

Prince declined to confirm whether the Ford Explorer and Expedition are in use by his security detail and how they are being used, citing safety concerns. 

Oct. 20 deadline

Godwin submitted the formal request in writing to the Prince administration last Friday, following verbal requests with Prince's chief of staff at council meetings in the last few weeks.

"It has come to my attention from several sources that a city-owned vehicle with city personnel has been used inappropriately. I’m also aware that there’s been chatter on WLTH Radio this morning regarding my questions," Godwin wrote, according to email records. 

Godwin's request seeks to know under whose authority Freeman-Wilson's former Yukon XL is operating, and if the vehicle has police plates, email records show. He also requested GPS records of said vehicle and a list of Gary employees, including reserve officers, who have driven the Yukon XL since Jan. 1. 

"Are relevant personnel who’ve operated the vehicle prepared to submit sworn affidavits that they have not driven the vehicle for purposes beyond your immediate and direct and singular function as Mayor of the city?" Godwin asked.

Godwin said if the information is not furnished before the Oct. 20 council meeting, he will ask the council to open an investigation and subpoena the records. 

McCain said he informed Godwin the mayor is required to furnish information if the request comes from the city's legislative body as a whole, but that Godwin, as a lone member, can't expect the records "to be turned over on a dime." 

"This is a lot of info to get in two weeks. Some of that info he's not entitled to receive. If a judge sees differently, that's fine, and I will comply with a court order. It's my responsibility that we follow the law and we also make sure we aren't jeopardizing security and safety because of a political motive," McCain said. 

He said the Gary Common Council has investigatory capabilities under state statute, but the council would have to vote to open an investigation. 

McCain also told The Times the city is treating Godwin's request as if he were a private citizen seeking records under Indiana's public access law and will respond within a "reasonable period of time" under the law.

Prince said his four-member, rotating security detail includes two reserve officers and two sworn officers, including one who works security at City Hall and another who is on-call for 911 emergencies.

McCain argued Godwin's claim that Prince's security detail significantly takes away from the police department's patrol manpower is "political fodder" and simply "incorrect." 

Godwin, a frequent critic of the Prince administration, said Tuesday night: "Our job is oversight. And so I intend to do that, and it’s not personal. It’s not about ambition. People want to get on the radio and say that. I have a great career I enjoy." 

How much do mayors get paid in Northwest Indiana?

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North Lake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting from UIS. Contact her at lauren.cross@nwi.com or 219-933-3206.

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