Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Officials in Portage Indiana need to grow some balls, when dealing with Mayor James Snyder

So, Mayor Snyder directs the Portage Utility Board secretary to cut a check for over $90,000 for his criminal attorney fees during an FBI investigation - And, it's considered a skipped propriety - a mistake? Ahem! Not even a slap on the wrist for either the Mayor or the secretary? No investigation? And most importantly, apparently no phone calls to the FBI by any of the city officials.

The major reason that former Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist and Deborah Soderquist were recently indicted and convicted on federal charges, were because officials had the integrity and courage to talk to the FBI during their investigation, and to testify against the Soderquists at trial.

Grow some balls, Portage City officials. You have the FBI in the palm of your hand... 

EDITORIAL: Snyder skipped propriety in legal fees matter
The Times Editorial Board
Updated October 17, 2016

It’s the type of mistake, innocent or not, that paints an undesirable portrait of local government.

Portage Mayor James Snyder and other city officials owe their ratepayers an apology for putting the cart before the public discussion horse while attempting to pay his legal bills following an FBI probe of Snyder’s practices.

At issue are checks cut from the funds of the Portage Utility Service Board, of which Snyder is chairman, to pay for Snyder’s legal fees in the long-running federal probe.

On Sept. 26, Snyder directed the board’s secretary/treasurer to cut two checks totaling more than $93,000 to two law firms that represented him during the probe.

The mayor did so even though the payments weren’t discussed, much less voted upon in a public forum, by the Portage Utility Service Board.

In fact, the board didn’t vote to approve those payments until Oct. 12 — after the law firms already had returned the money, having determined they were improperly paid by a public utility rather than their actual client, Snyder.

Snyder seeking to have the board cover his legal expenses isn’t what’s wrong in this situation.

State law allows for a government body to cover such expenses if an official involved in a possible criminal probe isn’t indicted by a grand jury or if “the acts investigated by the grand jury were within the scope of official duties of the officer or employee.”

In short, if there’s proof the federal probe uncovered no wrongdoing by Snyder, his fees should be covered by the utility board under state law.

However, the public deserved an appropriate procedure to be followed before those checks were cut.

A discussion and vote in a public meeting should have occurred first, and that didn’t happen.

Snyder, and any public official, should realize the sacred confidence they must keep with voters regarding fiscal propriety. Northwest Indiana has seen too many cases of abuse over the years, and we’re frankly sick of flippant handling of public money.

Factor into that history that Snyder’s checks were cut because of a federal probe into his activities, and it’s not hard to see why a public discussion and board vote should have occurred prior to release of these payments.

Snyder is now doing the right thing.

He’s asking for the board to consider reimbursing him for legal expenses following a future public discussion and vote.

It’s unfortunate a course correction was necessary.