It defies reality — again — in the city of Gary.
While the city crumbles and financial controversy abounds, the mayor prepares to assume a national leadership role.
The city is wrapped in a well-documented scandal over mishandled emergency services funds, embarrassing state audit findings, ethics violations by a top leader and crumbling infrastructure and schools.
A State Board of Accounts audit released earlier this week further backed the narrative of unauthorized poaching from an emergency services fund to make payroll and the inappropriate double-dipping of Gary Councilwoman Mary Brown, who now must reimburse $132,748 to the city's sanitary district for money she collected while serving as both a councilwoman and sanitary district employee. The double-dipping ran contrary to state law, the audit concluded.
That all was the backdrop to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson being elected earlier this month as 2019 president of the National League of Cities.
We could ask the league — a national advocacy organization for cities — what it was thinking in electing the Gary mayor to this post.
After all, generations of Gary leadership have done little to truly address the many problems plaguing the city.
But in a more local sense, we must ask what Mayor Freeman-Wilson is thinking by accepting this national role.
A Nov. 10 news release from the league notes Freeman-Wilson "will serve a one-year term as president of the nation’s largest and most representative membership and advocacy organization for cities and their leaders, will focus her presidential platform on creating communities for all generations, responding to the unique needs of legacy cities, uplifting and supporting civic engagement, and addressing our nation’s varied housing crisis."
This sounds like a worthy checklist for Freeman-Wilson to be carrying out on the home front, as Gary mayor — a position that pays her $142,277.72 in annual compensation for her mayoral and sanitary district duties.
An editorial earlier this year criticized the mayor for making headlines at the Mexican border at a time her city was experiencing a rash of shootings and street violence.
At that time, she was stumping for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, decrying the detention and separation of children from their undocumented immigrant parents. What happened at the border is a well-documented travesty, but so are the poverty and crime unfolding in Gary.
The same logic that applied in our editorial earlier this year is relevant now that she has become the league's president. How many more times will the mayor be stumping for outside issues while her own city crumbles?
Mayor, you were elected to serve one of the most struggling, impoverished, crumbling cities in the nation.
Your work is cut out for you here.
Consulting with the league on best practices is a great idea. Leading the national group when your own house lacks precious little order smacks of the ridiculous.