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What is the biggest deterrent to economic development in Northwest Indiana?

Taxes? Crime? A poor transportation system? The lack of a single, strong leader?

None of the above. At least that is what Thomas M. McDermott, the former Hammond mayor, told me when he was president of the Northwest Indiana Forum Inc. – the organization whose mission is economic development.

McDermott said public corruption was the region’s biggest problem. He suggested too many people had their hands out when a company was looking to relocate here.

Things are better today, but far from perfect. That’s why the work of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission is so important.

Cal Bellamy, the former chairman of Bank Calumet and now a partner with the Krieg DeVault law firm, heads the commission.

Bellamy has been at it for several years and reports that Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Highland, Munster, Schererville, Whiting, Hobart, Lowell and LaPorte County are commission members.

Apparently those folks in Porter County think they are holier than thou. Not one political entity there is a commission member.

And half of Lake County is sitting on the sidelines.

What’s with Hammond Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr., the son of the man who talked about corruption?

Gary is talking about getting in. Let’s get with it. This isn’t rocket science.

And what about Griffith, St. John, Cedar Lake, Lake Station and Merrillville? Are they beyond reproach?

If anyone should be a member, it is Lake County government, which has its own wing at the federal prison in southeast Wisconsin.

Lake County voted to join a good while back but held up when its lawyers haggled about wording in the Code of Shared Ethics and Values. Gerry Scheub, the dean of the county commissioners, ought to be ashamed.

The most interesting response came from a New Chicago official who said the town wouldn’t be joining because it only hires people with common sense.

What can you say about New Chicago? During the federal trial of its police chief years back, U.S. District Judge Michael Kanne called the town the “most corrupt square mile in America.”

But what about common sense?

While some think common sense is running rampant in Northwest Indiana, Bellamy differs.

Bellamy, a short time back, told me, “Of course, common sense is not really so common and (besides) common sense doesn’t cover all the shades of gray that municipal employees face in everyday circumstances.”

Ethics, which ought to be a byproduct of common sense, seemingly ought to be innate.

Nope, says Bellamy, it is a learned skill.

Those not part of the Ethics Advisory Commission have a lot of learning to do or, God forbid, take the risk of becoming another New Chicago.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.