Monday, February 6, 2017

Sayeth federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder: "Any self-serving criticism of the mayor is not good for Portage"



Federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder, publicly made the following statement, after Portage Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham questioned Snyder about his trip to Washington D.C.:

"Snyder said some of the criticism "may be heartfelt," but he also said some of the criticism, especially from Stidham, was politically motivated Stidham also works for the law firm Rhame and Elwood, which holds a number of contracts throughout the city and the Portage schools...'Any self-serving criticism of the mayor is not good for Portage,' Snyder said Friday.."




If anyone is politically self-serving, it is Mayor Snyder, himself... take for instance, Snyder's dislike of former Portage Police Chief Mark Becker...
During Snyder's 2011 mayoral campaign - against Mayor Olga Velazquez. Snyder [incorrectly] claimed that he was backed by the Portage PD, for which he was called out on, when it was later reported that the Portage police were secure with Velazquez and Chief Becker - which thus began Snyder's war against Becker.

Upon winning the mayoral 2011 election, Snyder made it clear that he was uncertain he would retain Police Chief Becker, due to issues he had with Becker during his campaign.

I, was oblivious to the Snyder - Becker political war. Thus, when it was suggested by someone from Snyder's transition team that I contact Snyder about the unlawful police entry into my home and the resulting deaths of my beloved dogs, I readily agreed - believing I would finally receive justice and answers for the retaliation I was subjected to for reporting Magistrate James Johnson to State officials.



Was Mayor Snyder obligated at this point to report the information contained in this letter to state and federal authorities? You betcha! Did he contact the proper authorities? Did he launch an investigation into the matter? Nope.

Instead, following his own political agenda, on November 28th, Snyder informed Chief Becker that he was out the door. Snyder got what he wanted and he tossed my case to the side = thank you very much.

In 2012, when I brought to the attention of Portage council members my request for answers and justice in my case, Snyder failed to inform them of my 2011 letter to him, and LIED about my agenda, claiming I intended to sue the city.

Snyder is the one who is politically self-serving...














Mayor's Washington trip, security detail rile city officials
Post-Tribune
February 03, 2017
http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-portage-mayor-inauguration-st-0205-20170203-story.html


When President Donald Trump was swearing the oath of office at last month's inauguration in Washington, Portage Mayor James Snyder was in attendance, along with his family and a security detail that included the police chief and assistant chief, records and interviews show.

Snyder, a Republican who's facing federal public corruption charges, capped off a week-long trip to a national mayor's conference in Washington D.C. by attending the inauguration. So far, the mayor has billed taxpayers at least $2,692 for travel and hotel, according to records and interviews.

The charges included a rented suite at the Capitol Hilton for $539 a night for four nights to accommodate his family, instead of the standard room rate of $429 a night, a difference of $110 without taxes and fees, records show. Police Chief Troy Williams and Assistant Chief Ted Uzelac also billed the city $429 per night for four and five nights respectively, according to records and interviews.

The Portage Utility Services Board, which Snyder chairs, reimbursed Snyder $2,692 to cover four out of the five nights he and his family spent at the hotel at the $539 a night rate. Snyder paid for the fifth night on his own.

"It's no problem taking your family, and it's no problem if they stay in the same hotel room, but the city shouldn't bear the additional expense," Portage Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, a vocal opponent of the mayor's, said. "And, (staying for the inauguration), now it's gone from city business to personal business. Now, he was keeping security out there for his personal time, and that's where it really gets out of line."

A federal grand jury in November indicted Snyder on bribery and tax evasion charges.

Portage Council President Mark Oprisko and Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, recently visited Snyder in the mayor's office, where Oprisko asked Snyder to resign, claiming the mayor's federal indictment "cast a cloud" over the city, Oprisko said.

Snyder refused.

Stidham sent the City Council a letter criticizing Snyder for charging the city for the suite during the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting, which took place Jan. 16-19 in Washington, D.C. Stidham also criticized Snyder for billing taxpayers the costs surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration. The letter also questioned Snyder's decision to take along Williams and Uzelac as security.

Snyder's wife and four children accompanied him on what he called "a historic trip." On his Facebook page, Snyder said the "scrutiny of this trip is unwarranted and completely riddled with 'alternative facts' to paint a picture that is not accurate."

Stidham, the city's chief financial officer, combed through receipts from the January trip in his office, expressing frustration and calling on the council to pass ordinances that further clamp down on spending by city officials.

Stidham, a Democrat, insists Snyder should reimburse the city for the difference in his family's suite rate and for all of the police leaders' hotel expenses, with the latter costs totaling about $5,300. He also called the extra day for the inauguration "the mayor's personal business."

Snyder, however, said he did not intend to reimburse the city for the difference between his family's suite rental rate and the standard rate or for the officers' stay. Instead, he refused to charge the city a per diem, which would've come out more than that difference, he said.

Snyder also said a state agency can review the trip and decide what's right or wrong.

"If the State Board of Accounts sees it as a thing to be dealt with, we'll deal with it," he said.

Williams said he and Uzelac were following orders in attending the conference and inauguration, and they stayed close to the mayor and his family after coming up before the trip with a detailed operations plan on what they would do in Washington.

Williams also used the conference as a way to improve police operations back home, he said.

"We decided if we're going be there in this security capacity, let's also use the opportunity to network and find out what else other communities are doing," Williams said. "I think if somebody has a question about something, it's fair to ask that. From mine and the assistant chief's position, we were going there as a security detail."

Williams claimed he and Uzelac came in handy protecting the mayor while heading to an inaugural ball. As they approached an opening between two blockades and portable fencing, protesters began to envelop them, causing Williams to get physical with two of them while Uzelac ushered the mayor and his wife to safety, Williams said.

In his letter to the City Council, Stidham, who was sworn in as clerk-treasurer in 2012, the same time Snyder ascended to the mayor's office, called on the body to pass a travel policy ordinance that prohibits city officials' "use of police officers as personal bodyguards while traveling on city business," bans hiring private security firms for those trips, and clearly outlines policies for family travel and for extending travel past city business.

"It's sad we're to this point, but let's have an ordinance that makes it crystal clear our stance on these situations," Stidham said.

Snyder said some of the criticism "may be heartfelt," but he also said some of the criticism, especially from Stidham, was politically motivated Stidham also works for the law firm Rhame and Elwood, which holds a number of contracts throughout the city and the Portage schools.

Snyder said the "spat" with Stidham will not get in the way of city work.

"Any self-serving criticism of the mayor is not good for Portage," Snyder said Friday. "It's not good for its staff. I'm going to get through all this and I'm going to be a better person when I'm through all this."






Snyder says cops have his back
Post-Tribune (IN)
July 27, 2011
http://infoweb.newsbank.com

Jim Snyder strolled up to my front door last month accompanied by Portage police officer Ross Haynes, which surprised me a bit.

I heard that the city’s police officers backed Snyder for Portage mayor, and he also nabbed the official endorsement of the department’s Fraternal Order of Police — a rare accomplishment in my city for any mayoral candidate.

But it caught my attention for cops to actually go door to door with Snyder, the Republican candidate who lost by only 302 votes to incumbent Olga Velazquez in 2007.

“We’re behind him,” said Haynes, a longtime officer in the city.

Snyder also received an endorsement from the city’s firefighters, and he is confident of getting a similar endorsement soon from the city’s streets and sanitation workers.

“All 14 firefighters who live in the city are behind Jim Snyder,” he said confidently.

Snyder claims the city’s police officers are supporting him because they want respect from their administration and the ability to communicate openly with the mayor’s office, among other policy issues.

Portage Police Chief Mark Becker is at least one officer who is not supporting Snyder, and he believes the FOP endorsement vote is deceiving.

“If you review those in attendance at the FOP meeting when the endorsement vote was taken, you will find that approximately only a third of our active officers were present,” Becker said. “Also, plans to take the vote were not made known to all of the members, which may not have been in accordance with state FOP standards.”

“I am a member of the FOP and I was not told of the intended vote,” he added, noting that not all the officers in attendance voted in favor of the endorsement.

However, police officer Troy Williams, who’s been on the force for 15 years, said the FOP vote was indeed a unanimous vote.

Last Saturday, he too campaigned door to door with Snyder and confirmed that the overwhelming majority of his department is backing him.

“Jim Snyder has the type of leadership we’re looking for,” Williams said.

Another officer told me that “80 to 85 percent” of the police department is behind Snyder.

“It does say something if you are the current mayor and all the city departments are publicly endorsing another candidate,” the officer told me, asking for anonymity.

‘Public safety’ campaign cry

Regardless of exactly how many officers are behind Snyder, “public safety” has become his war cry during the campaign battle leading up to Election Day on Nov. 8.

He routinely reminds voters that the city’s police station was “closed” to the public on Jan. 1, 2010. What he means is that citizens must use a phone in the station lobby to talk with police or call 911.

“We should have a police station that has its doors open all the time,” Snyder said.

Becker said he has clerical personnel on duty from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on a more limited basis on Saturdays. Other police departments in the county also have a similar set up if not on a more limited basis.

“I fail to understand how a records clerk sitting behind a desk at 2 a.m. equates to increased public safety?” Becker asked. “Our crime rates are down (and) we consistently reach out to the public to help us identify problem areas.”

Snyder, a city resident since 2002, is a proud Republican who is pro-life regarding abortion, admires Ronald Reagan and believes in gun owners’ rights.

Although I never brought it up during our chat, he told me a few times that although he attended Fairhaven Bible College in Chesterton in his youth, he no longer is affiliated with the controversial church.

He’s also showed confidence in unseating Velazquez, citing several issues he has with the city under her reign. For starters, outsiders view the city as “anti-business” in regard to attracting and catering to new firms, eateries and factories.

“You don’t think that Olive Garden, Chili’s, and Chick-fil-A, for example, know how hard it is to do business in Portage?” he asked rhetorically. (Yet don’t be surprised by a pre-Election Day “surprise” of a Meier store coming to the city, he hinted.)

He also routinely reminds voters on his campaign trail that the city’s newest development project on Central Avenue is nothing more than a pricey unemployment office.

“You can call it a university center, and Ivy Tech has its name on the sign and will be there someday, but right now it’s a $6.1 million unemployment office,” he said, referring to the Workforce One building being built downtown. “Is that the best way to spend taxpayer dollars?”

Since meeting Snyder on my driveway last month, I’ve talked to dozens of Portage residents. Many are still on the fence regarding their choice for mayor, so next week I will talk to Velazquez for a follow-up column on these issues. Stay tuned.







Portage police secure with Velazquez, Becker
Post-Tribune (IN) 
August 26, 2011

Jim Snyder is slick.

Most people who run mortgage companies are.

But he’s also wrong and needs to be told.

Snyder is the Republican candidate for Portage mayor.

He’s facing Mayor Olga Velazquez, just as he did four years ago when he narrowly lost.

Snyder is trying to make the Police Department and public safety one of the key issues of his campaign.

You get the impression that Velazquez has let the Police Department go to hell and that crime is running rampant. Just the opposite.

And, unfortunately for Portage, Snyder has put city police officers at center stage of his campaign.

Snyder is walking arm-in-arm with members of the Police Department as he goes door-to-door around the city stumping for votes.

That’s the last thing any candidate for mayor should do.

Injecting police officers into the frontline of politics compromises those cops and jeopardizes the city.

Snyder says he received the unanimous endorsement of the Portage Fraternal Order of Police, although there is a question as to how many of the members were invited to the endorsement vote.

So bent is Snyder on ripping Velazquez on public safety that he talks about the Police Department being closed to the public at times, including New Year’s Day of 2010.

Snyder said that there are times when residents must use a phone in the station lobby to talk to police.

That is in the wee hours of the morning when it would make little sense to have a clerk on duty.

My gosh. Petty things like that shouldn’t even be a campaign issue.

What’s really confusing about the cops backing Snyder is that they don’t really say why, other than they think Snyder would be a better leader and they want the ability to communicate openly with the mayor’s office.

Given that a Police Department is a quasi-military operation, you go through the chain of command to talk to the boss.

Snyder is a bright guy but he doesn’t know a lick about law enforcement. Maybe that’s because he is in the mortgage business. Maybe because he’s still wet behind the ears.

While Snyder is trying to make public safety a cornerstone of his campaign, it also is the very reason he shouldn’t be mayor.

The most important thing Velazquez did after being elected mayor was to appoint Mark Becker as police chief.

Becker was a career FBI agent who retired from the federal agency to take the police chief’s job.

I know I’ll step on somebody’s toes, but it needs to be said. Becker is the best police chief in Northwest Indiana. There aren’t many better around the state.

Becker is extremely bright, strong and driven, yet compassionate.

He has a locker full of recognitions from his FBI days.

He was one of the best at pursuing white-collar crime and later tracked down and helped send Gary gangs to prison. That’s the kind of guy you ought to like as your chief in an ever-changing world.

Velazquez in her campaign literature says that burglary is down 28 percent, vehicle theft is down 41 percent and stolen property is down 46 percent.

Those numbers are attributable to the men and women of the Police Department. The same ones who call Becker “chief” every day.

So, if Snyder is elected mayor, he will dump Becker as the police chief because, well, because he can.

It doesn’t matter that it would be a terribly wrong thing to do.

I don’t know that I could vote for someone for mayor who had judgment that poor.

Rich James’ column appears on Fridays.







Portage mayoral candidates weigh in on public safety
By Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 
NWI Times
Oct 23, 2011 


PORTAGE | One thing the two candidates for mayor can agree on is that public safety is a top issue in this year's campaign.

Democratic incumbent Mayor Olga Velazquez said she's made great strides in protecting Portage residents. It started, she said, with the hiring of former FBI agent Mark Becker as the city's police chief nearly four years ago.

"The things Chief Becker has implemented are working. Crime is down in Portage. It was one of the best decisions I made to bring this professional to our community," Velazquez said.

Velazquez said Becker has stepped up traffic stops as a crime prevention method, improved communication through his chief's email, increased continuing education for officers and teamed with various drug- and gang-prevention agencies.

Republican mayoral challenger James Snyder disputes the crime statistics.

"The mayor talks about crime decreasing during that time, but it is the way crime was logged that has changed. Ask any police officer in the city and none believe crime is down. At the same time, I believe our police officers are doing a great job and I don't believe crime is rampant," Snyder said.

Velazquez said the crime statistics Snyder is doubting are those reported to the FBI each year. Those statistics indicate the city's crime rate has decreased 22 percent since 2008.

"She's correct on her numbers, but it is a fudge job," said Snyder, contending that during her administration, the department has changed systems on the way crime is logged and that has affected the numbers.

The two also disagree on 911 dispatching.

During her term, the city's dispatch center was consolidated with that of Porter County. The effort, Velazquez said, was mandated by the state and has saved the city money.

State law requires each county to consolidate to no more than two dispatch centers by 2014.

"We were very conscientious in taking our time in making the decision. We did not take it lightly. We did our due diligence in looking at all the aspects and considered the 2014 state mandate for consolidation," said Velazquez, adding the city also worked to make sure the city dispatch employees were hired by the county.

"State law said they would have paid for a study. She didn't ask for a study," said Snyder, adding that he would work to see dispatchers return to the city and, if that were not possible, would work with the county to make sure Portage dispatchers man the Portage consoles at the county center.

Snyder said the closing of the dispatch center also has left the police station closed to the public at night and on weekends. He said he would work to reverse that.

Velazquez disputes Snyder's accusation.

"The police station is not closed. It is a 24/7 operation," she said, adding that a telephone system is available to residents who may come to the police station when clerical staff is not available. "If the dispatch center were still there, they would still have to call 911."

Another issue is police efforts within private residential developments.

The city has signed agreements with two private developments to allow police to patrol on private streets, a crime prevention effort, Velazquez said.

Snyder said he believes that is the wrong approach. If elected, he said, he would like to see the private developments -- apartment complexes and mobile home parks -- charged a special assessment for public safety protection or, at least, have them hire their own security to patrol the streets within the developments.







Snyder needs to say if he would replace qualified police chief
Post-Tribune (IN) 
November 4, 2011

It’s time for Jim Snyder to man-up.

Snyder is the Republican candidate for Portage mayor.

And he and his followers are becoming more obsessed with Portage Police Chief Mark Becker by the day.

A month or so ago, I wrote that Becker — who retired from the FBI to take the chief’s job in Portage — would be ousted if Snyder won the mayor’s race.

I went on to say that it would be a shame because Becker has more law enforcement knowledge than any chief in Northwest Indiana — perhaps even the entire state.

Becker, quite simply, is that good at what he does, except for the fact he is a Green Bay Packers fan.

Snyder had a fit, saying he had never said he would fire Becker if elected mayor.

Well, then, I said, if that is the case, tell me that you will keep Becker as your chief if elected mayor.

Nope, can’t do that, Snyder said.

So that means you are going to fire him, I said.

Nope, it doesn’t mean that at all, Snyder roared back.

If you won’t say that you will fire Becker and you won’t say that you will keep him, then how are you going to select a police chief, I asked.

By committee, Snyder said.

By committee, I wondered to myself. Just what Portage needs is a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker picking the city’s police chief.

OK, so there will be one former law enforcement guy on the committee.

Then it made me think about that sign that read, “God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee.”

Anyway, Snyder reiterated the fact that he thought I was a fairly despicable person because I said he would fire Becker, and he said he hadn’t said that. But yet, he couldn’t say he would keep him either.

Then Snyder said something that almost tipped his hand.

He said there are rumors that Becker is going to run for Porter County sheriff and that he would have to start campaigning for that at the first of this coming year.

The point being that he’d be campaigning almost full-time and wouldn’t be much of a police chief.

I don’t know if Snyder made that up or someone whispered in his ear.

The point is that he was off by a couple of years. Porter County won’t elect a new sheriff until 2014, with the winner taking office in 2015.

But, what the heck, there’s no sense in letting the facts get in the way.

But now the worm has turned.

Now the Snyder supporters are the ones saying their candidate never has said he would oust Becker.

Some of those Snyder folks are writing letters and telling anyone who will listen that he won’t fire Becker.

Nope, he won’t have to. What the backers now are saying is that Snyder has said the police chief will have to be a resident of Portage.

I guess the thinking is that if you don’t wake up in Portage you wouldn’t have a clue about Portage crime, or how to go about fighting it.

I guess that means burglaries in Portage are totally different from, say, burglaries in Chesterton.

And, I guess it doesn’t matter that the chief doesn’t have the best crime-fighting mind available, as long as he or she lives in Portage.

There’s no light at the end of that tunnel.

You’ve probably figured it out by now. Becker doesn’t live in Portage.

Apparently that hasn’t been a handicap over the last four years.

Man-up, Snyder.

Just admit you don’t want Becker as police chief.

It’s really not that hard to say.

And if Mayor Olga Velazquez is re-elected, Snyder won’t have to say anything.

Rich James’ column appears on Friday.







EDITORIAL - ELECTION 2011 ENDORSEMENT: 
We pick Velazquez in close call
NWI Times
Nov 6, 2011 


The slugfest between Portage mayoral candidates Olga Velazquez and Jim Snyder has given validity to the term "grudge match" for a second contest between political candidates. The bitter campaigns made our decision in this race difficult — much more so than any other mayoral race in Northwest Indiana.

Democrat Velazquez, the incumbent, has made campaign fundraising blunders that caused us to question her judgment. When the first fundraising controversy arose, she should have immediately addressed it by saying she was returning the money inappropriately given by the nonprofit donor — on whose board she sits — and that she was giving extra scrutiny to other donations to make sure any other money given inappropriately was returned to the donors. Instead, the public endured waves of criticism against her.

But we have to give Velazquez credit, too, for results. It is under her watch that Fronius announced it would relocate to Portage, bringing vital jobs with it.

And while the Stone Avenue reconstruction project was rocky, she brought not just repaving but entirely new infrastructure to a part of the city that needed it most.

Republican Snyder, who was narrowly defeated four years ago, promises department heads will not campaign or raise money on his behalf. He also said the right things about supporting regional efforts involving other communities.

Snyder has a strong focus on making Portage a business-friendly environment. At the same time, he is sensitive to Portage's union-heavy population and has bucked his party in opposing right-to-work legislation in Indianapolis.

But then he seems to undermine the leadership of the city's highly respected Police Chief Mark Becker by siding with rank-and-file police officers from whom he is getting support.

Snyder raised the possibility of undoing the 911 dispatch consolidation Velazquez accomplished. Despite the state law that forces consolidation, Snyder said Portage could serve as a backup to the county and vice versa. But Porter County already has backup, in a neighboring county.

That stance on 911 consolidation is a red flag. But Snyder's position on patrolling apartment complexes and mobile home parks, which have private roads but high population density, is appalling.

Velazquez's administration has made arrangements for police to patrol two of those private areas. That effort should continue.

Snyder wants those developments to hire private security to patrol those areas. Portage police still would respond to reports of emergencies.

Since when does the Portage Police Department not serve and protect apartment dwellers and mobile home residents, often low-income areas, as well as as it does residents in single-family homes?

What is that saying to the drug dealers and other criminals? Come here. That's the wrong message.

Embracing the police union's desires and going against Becker's leadership is a fatal flaw.

If Snyder is elected, we hope he reconsiders his position on this issue.

It is a close call, but we endorse Velazquez. Snyder's position on the police issues was the tipping point for us.

We urge the voters to re-elect Velazquez.







Snyder picks transition team, begins evaluations
By Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 
NWI Times
Nov 12, 2011 

PORTAGE | Just days after his victory in the Portage mayoral race, James Snyder has begun to put together a transition team he says will help him evaluate and offer advice in decision making prior to taking office Jan. 1.

Snyder, a Republican, defeated incumbent Democratic Mayor Olga Velazquez last week by 238 votes in a sometimes contentious race for the city's top seat.

Jim Fitzer, a retired NIPSCO official, will head the transition team, Snyder said. Additional members will be Dave Fagan, a former Republican Portage City Council member and financial secretary for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150; Susan Kelly-Johnson, a local attorney and member of the city's Redevelopment Commission; and Dave Kasarda, director of the Portage Township YMCA.

Snyder said he intends to appoint a fifth member to the committee, but the individual has not yet committed.

He said he also is drawing on advice from Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, former Portage Mayor Doug Olson and Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold.

"They will help me evaluate each department head and each department," adding it is not his intention at this point to "clean house" of present city employees.

"It is my priority not to be emotional, but to also be firm," he said.

Police Chief Mark Becker became an issue during the election. Snyder said he has not decided whether he will ask Becker to continue to serve.

He does, however, believe the police chief should be a resident of the city. Becker lives in Union Township.

"The police chief should go through what we go through on a daily basis," he said.

The same residency requirement may not have to be met for other department heads. Portage Fire Chief Tom Fieffer lives in Chesterton.

"We will take it on a case-by-case basis," Snyder said.

He did not hint last week as to which department heads may be asked to stay or leave. He said those department heads who will not be asked to remain with his administration will be notified by Thanksgiving.

Snyder said he also hopes to meet with the City Council to review goals and learn what residents told them during the campaign.

"I want to create a plan of what we can do quickly, and they will be a part of that," he said, adding he also hopes to sit down with Velazquez at some point to facilitate a smooth transition.

One top priority, he said, will be to begin discussions on modernizing city trash collection. Snyder proposed mechanizing trash pickup to make it more efficient and save money.

He also pledged last week to "do everything we can to make the University Center a success." The building under construction on Central Avenue was an issue of debate during the mayoral race. 

Snyder said, once in office, he will conduct a survey of the community about City Hall operations and to evaluate customer service. He has not determined how the survey will be conducted.

He also added that he plans on being a full-time mayor with no plans of hiring a deputy mayor.

"My office has run well for the last six months (while running for the mayor's office) and it will do well when I take office," he said of his mortgage business.

"No city in Indiana has the opportunities that we have here. There is so much we can do here to have a direct effect on jobs recovery," Snyder said.

"I will be the mayor for everybody. I want to make the people who worked so hard to elect me proud. I am not perfect. I will make mistakes. I am a listener. I want to listen to people," he said.







New Portage mayor-elect begins transition on the fly
Post-Tribune (IN) 
November 13, 2011

Jim Snyder’s life has gone from super busy to crazy super busy, literally overnight.

The new Portage mayor-elect had a roller-coaster, bittersweet Election Day on Tuesday, eventually ending in jubilation with his close victory over incumbent Mayor Olga Velazquez.

But hours earlier, Snyder was stunned to hear of the death of 19-year-old Ashley Burbee of Portage, who was killed that morning in a traffic crash on Indiana 49. Burbee was a volunteer in his campaign, and Snyder was asked to break the news to members of her family who were working at Portage polling sites for his election.

“It was very rough for them,” Snyder told me Friday morning at his Central Avenue office during a brief break in his busy schedule.

There, his phone is constantly buzzing or ringing. His list of office guests is growing. He’s already leaning on his mayor mentors for guidance. His receptionist, Amanda Lakie, is swamped with coordinating his future. And prayers are welcome, he often tells supporters.

But he loves it all, and he appears giddy at the task ahead of running this region’s third-largest city, beginning Jan. 1.

These days, Snyder is reassessing the city’s strengths, weaknesses and employees. By Thanksgiving, he plans on notifying any city employees who may not be retained after he officially gets into the mayor’s office.

“Otherwise, it’s not fair to them to drag it out for a long time,” he explained.

After months of rumors that Police Chief Mark Becker will be one of those fired or demoted employees, Snyder still maintains that Becker’s position is up for review along with other city workers.

A transition team has already been created, and no one on this team has a financial interest in city business, Snyder said.

“Each person is each going to be assigned a different department to help me make those important decisions regarding the evaluation of all department heads,” said Snyder, who has hit the ground running.

“(Former) Mayor (Doug) Olson brought me to reality, telling me the day after election that he had five months to plan his transition and I have only six weeks,” he said. “But we’re humbled and excited.”

His broad goal over the next four years is to get as many Portage residents into city government as possible.

“There’s no city in Indiana with the opportunities as this city,” he said while donning a suit jacket to leave his office. “I feel we have a good plan in place.”

All of Snyder’s efforts and energy were focused on getting elected, he said, up until Wednesday morning when he started looking to Jan. 1.

“Hopefully in the next couple of years, people of this city are going to say that I meant what I said and I did what I said I would do.”

He has his critics, and they will surely keep close watch of his actions, decisions and campaign promises. And so will I.

And across the county line ...

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay routinely calls the mayoral position in his city the “toughest mayor’s job in the country,” and I don’t doubt it.

But regardless of what you think about the city, its leaders and its past reputation, you have to admire and appreciate the new buzz since Karen Freeman-Wilson was elected mayor.

Yes, she faces a daunting task. And yes, that buzz may fade when things settle down. But I find it refreshing for my hometown’s residents to once again have an opportunity to believe in something more tangible than rusted promises.

From a columnist’s standpoint, I’m looking forward to writing about this renewed attempt to change the city’s reality and, almost as important, its perception from outsiders.

I certainly don’t wear rose-colored glasses with this issue, but it would be nice to focus on a new vision for realistic change.

Listen to Jerry’s new radio show “Casual Fridays” on Fridays at noon on WLPR 89.1-FM or www.thelakeshorefm.com.







Snyder picks transition team, begins evaluations
Times, The (Munster, IN) 
November 13, 2011

PORTAGE -- Just days after his victory in the Portage mayoral race, James Snyder has begun to put together a transition team he says will help him evaluate and offer advice in decision making prior to taking office Jan. 1.

Snyder, a Republican, defeated incumbent Democratic Mayor Olga Velazquez last week by 238 votes in a sometimes contentious race for the city's top seat.

Jim Fitzer, a retired NIPSCO official, will head the transition team, Snyder said. Additional members will be Dave Fagan, a former Republican Portage City Council member and financial secretary for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150; Susan Kelly-Johnson, a local attorney and member of the city's Redevelopment Commission; and Dave Kasarda, director of the Portage Township YMCA. Snyder said he intends to appoint a fifth member to the committee, but the individual has not yet committed.

He said he also is drawing on advice from Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, former Portage Mayor Doug Olson and Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold.

"They will help me evaluate each department head and each department," adding it is not his intention at this point to "clean house" of present city employees.

"It is my priority not to be emotional, but to also be firm," he said.

Police Chief Mark Becker became an issue during the election. Snyder said he has not decided whether he will ask Becker to continue to serve.

He does, however, believe the police chief should be a resident of the city. Becker lives in Union Township.

"The police chief should go through what we go through on a daily basis," he said.

The same residency requirement may not have to be met for other department heads. Portage Fire Chief Tom Fieffer lives in Chesterton.

"We will take it on a case-by-case basis," Snyder said.

He did not hint last week as to which department heads may be asked to stay or leave. He said those department heads who will not be asked to remain with his administration will be notified by Thanksgiving. Snyder said he also hopes to meet with the City Council to review goals and learn what residents told them during the campaign.

"I want to create a plan of what we can do quickly, and they will be a part of that," he said, adding he also hopes to sit down with Velazquez at some point to facilitate a smooth transition.

One top priority, he said, will be to begin discussions on modernizing city trash collection. Snyder proposed mechanizing trash pickup to make it more efficient and save money.

He also pledged last week to "do everything we can to make the University Center a success." The building under construction on Central Avenue was an issue of debate during the mayoral race. Snyder said, once in office, he will conduct a survey of the community about City Hall operations and to evaluate customer service. He has not determined how the survey will be conducted.

He also added that he plans on being a full-time mayor with no plans of hiring a deputy mayor.

"My office has run well for the last six months (while running for the mayor's office) and it will do well when I take office," he said of his mortgage business.

"No city in Indiana has the opportunities that we have here. There is so much we can do here to have a direct effect on jobs recovery," Snyder said.

"I will be the mayor for everybody. I want to make the people who worked so hard to elect me proud. I am not perfect. I will make mistakes. I am a listener. I want to listen to people," he said.






Redevelopment panel payments spawn dispute
Times, The (Munster, IN)
December 1, 2011
http://infoweb.newsbank.com

PORTAGE -- What is normally a quiet meeting turned contentious Wednesday as a Portage Redevelopment Commission member balked at funding the Portage Economic Development Corp. and paying for a marketing flier.

Member Susan Kelly-Johnson, former president of the PEDCO board who resigned from the organization about a year ago, criticized PEDCO's operations and proposed budget for 2012.

The Redevelopment Commission annually supports the economic development group. This year, PEDCO requested a $73,975 contribution, the same level as in two previous years.

Kelly-Johnson said she would only support providing funding for the first quarter of the year because executive director Bert Cook is leaving the post after serving less than a year.

Kelly-Johnson said PEDCO should come back in January after the new city administration is in place and request additional funding. Kelly-Johnson is also a member of Mayor-elect James Snyder's transition team.

"I have a lot of concerns," Kelly-Johnson said about the group's proposed budget and operations.

PEDCO President Diane Thalmann said it was important to have full funding in place to attract a new director. Thalmann said an interim director will be chosen quickly and a search for a new director will begin soon.

Cook said he is leaving PEDCO to return to his old job as director of the Greater LaPorte Economic Development Corp.

The full budget request was approved 3-1 with Mayor Olga Velazquez and members Allen Ekdahl and Ed Gottschling voting in favor.

Kelly-Johnson also objected to spending $2,505 of commission money on a marketing piece involving the University Center. The piece was mailed shortly before the mayoral election in November and became an issue in the election.

Kelly-Johnson said the commission never saw or approved the document before it was sent and that the document was not an advertising piece for the higher education facility.

Velazquez said the marketing piece was requested by the universities who will offer classes in the center next year in an effort to attract students.

The claim eventually was approved by the same 3-1 vote.







Portage mayor-elect begins forming administration
By Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 
NWI Times
Dec 3, 2011 


PORTAGE | With four weeks to go before taking office, Mayor-elect James Snyder is beginning to put his new administration in place.

There are some old names that will be returning to City Hall.

A.J. Monroe, who served as the city's planner under the Sammie Maletta and Doug Olson administrations, will remain to work with Snyder. The mayor-elect has chosen Monroe to serve as the city's director of public works, replacing Craig Hendrix.

"A.J. oversaw, from the planning side, some of the greatest expansion in the city of Portage. It is a privilege to have him," Snyder said.

Gregg Sobkowski, who serves on the Board of Works and as attorney for the Redevelopment Commission, was named as city attorney, replacing Ken Elwood. Sobkowski also served as city attorney for the Olson administration.

Amanda Lakie, Snyder's secretary at his mortgage business, will be Snyder's administrative assistant, replacing Norma Laboy.

Snyder said he also has decided to retain Don Slawnikowski as the plant division superintendent for the Utility Service Department.

Snyder said he has not made any other decisions concerning personnel but hopes to have his administration put in place by the time he takes office Jan. 1.

"My goal is not to make rash decisions but to make strategic decisions," he said, adding he is looking at a balance of "continuity and change" when making personnel decisions.

"We are also looking at the city budget and finding savings where we can. We are making sure we are fiscally sound next year," he said.

Snyder said he is working with a committee to choose a new police chief. Thus far, he said, he has received between six and nine applications for the position. Those applications have come from within the department's ranks. Police Chief Mark Becker is not among the applicants.

Snyder said he is looking at all other city departments but has not made any decisions.

"We are not going to trade quality for speed," Snyder said, adding that personnel changes will give him an opportunity to restructure City Hall.

"The first part is finding out who is going to be where. The second part is finding how to structure City Hall to be the most efficient and responsive to meet residents needs," he said.

He and his staff have adopted a motto — "Excellence and Efficiency" — for city employees for 2012, he said, and signs will be posted in City Hall and "every police car and firetruck" to remind employees of their responsibilities.







Becker resigns top police post
By Joyce Russell 
NWI Times
Dec 7, 2011 


PORTAGE | What likely would have been a routine City Council meeting Tuesday night gave way to farewells.

In a letter read by Mayor Olga Velazquez, Police Chief Mark Becker announced he would resign his post effective Dec. 17.

Becker told Velazquez in the letter that incoming Mayor James Snyder had informed him Nov. 28 that Becker would not be a candidate for police chief in Snyder's administration.

Becker, a former FBI agent, was out of town Tuesday and did not attend the meeting. Assistant Chief Larry Jolley was appointed interim chief effective Dec. 17.

Tuesday likely was the final council meeting for Velazquez, longtime City Council members Ed Gottschling and Richard Turnak and one-term councilman Steve Sonaty. Gottschling and Turnak were defeated in the May primary, and Sonaty was defeated last month in the general election.

"I want to thank the residents and citizens," Velazquez said. "We accomplished some great things."

Velazquez, who presented plaques to outgoing councilmen and outgoing Clerk-Treasurer Donna Pappas, said the job as mayor has been "extremely rewarding." Velazquez defeated Pappas in the May mayoral primary.

Director of Public Works Craig Hendrix, who will not continue with the Snyder administration, also gave his goodbye.

"I'm really proud of what we've done and what this administration has done," he said.

Velazquez, who choked back tears, said, "I commend you for the dedication to this city. I thank you for the partnership. It has been wonderful."

Turnak, who served 20 years on the council, and Gottschling, who served 16 years, said their tenure and service to residents had been a privilege.

"Mayor Olga has done more for this city than we had done in a long, long time," said Turnak, adding he will be back.

"I may stop by once in a while because I'm a citizen now," he said.







Portage Police Chief Becker resigns
Post-Tribune (IN) 
December 7, 2011

PORTAGE — City Police Chief Mark Becker will resign his post effective Dec. 17. Last week, Becker was informed by Mayor-elect Jim Snyder that he will not be considered for the position in Snyder’s administration.

On Nov. 28, Snyder informed Becker he was starting to interview candidates for the chief position and Becker would not be granted an interview.

Becker submitted a letter of resignation to Mayor Olga Velazquez that will go into effect at midnight Dec. 17. Assistant Police Chief Larry Jolley will serve as interim chief for the rest of the year.

Becker became chief of police after 32 years at the FBI, including serving as an original member of the Gary Response Investigative Team.

In preparation for the selection of a new chief, Becker provided a summary of department activity over the past four years, including goals and accomplishments.

Becker thanked Velazquez for her leadership and for the opportunity to serve as chief.

“I thank you and those I worked with for all the support that I have received, and I wish the city of Portage continued success,” Becker said in a statement.







Snyder continues to make administrative appointments in Portage
By Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 
NWI Times
Dec 16, 2011 


PORTAGE | Mayor-elect James Snyder continues to make appointments to his administration, announcing Friday the retention of two department heads and the return of two others.

Steve Charnetzky will return as street and sanitation department superintendent. Charnetzky served in the position for 16 years. He left the post in December 2007 after losing to Mayor Olga Velazquez in that year's May mayoral primary.

"Steve was there for 16 years and had done a good job. He has been most efficient in the role of superintendent," Snyder said about the appointment.

Charnetzky will replace street superintendent Chuck Haskell.

Also returning to the city will be Sherry Smolar as superintendent of the utility service department's billing office. Smolar served in that position under former Mayor Doug Olson. She is replacing Joan Sobczak.

"When she was at the water reclamation job, she did very good work," Snyder said of Smolar.

Snyder said he is retaining Utility Department Field Superintendent Bob Dixon and Fire Chief Tom Fieffer.

"I am very grateful to have all four of them agree to serve in my administration," Snyder said.

Snyder said no decisions have been made about police chief and parks department superintendent.

Previous appointments made by Snyder were A.J. Monroe as director of public works, Don Slawnikowski as utility department plant superintendent, Gregg Sobkowski as city attorney and Amanda Lakie as his administrative assistant.







Snyder recounts first 100 days as Portage mayor
By Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 
NWI Times
Apr 14, 2012 


PORTAGE | Portage Mayor James Snyder was told before he threw his hat in the ring last year to take over leadership of the city that the campaign was the easy part and his work would really begin when he took over the post.

After serving his first 100 days at the helm, Snyder said he is finding it the opposite.

"The campaign was the difficult part. This has been the rewarding part because Portage residents have been a part of it every step of the way. They helped me pick the department heads, they've shown up in record numbers at city council meetings and they've offered ideas on how to save the city money," he said this past week.

"It's a blast. I love it," he said of his first three months in office.

Snyder, only the second Republican mayor elected in the city's history, hit the ground running, with a few disappointments and some accomplishments already under his belt.

"My biggest disappointment was not getting the (COPS) grant to add three new officers on the street," he said. In January, the Democrat-controlled council voted against accepting the grant, citing financial concerns.

However, Snyder added, he believes he's found a way to add a second school resource officer to the schools and plans on hiring two additional officers soon. He said the hours at the police station have been expanded and he intends to reopen the station full-time soon.

In addition, he said, the department has been active in conducting raids, making arrests and a putting a dent in illegal drug activity in the city. They've also ordered five new vehicles, two new sniper rifles and two ATVs. The latter will be used to slow down traffic in neighborhoods this summer as part of his city safety initiative.

"We are polishing our reputations so that everyone knows that Portage is safe," he said.

He's also made progress in his jobs initiative, working with Portage Economic Development Corp. director Jim Fitzer.

Working together, the city and Fitzer helped shepherd Ratner Steel Supply Co.'s location in the city in record time, said Snyder, adding his administration is fulfilling is promise to be business-friendly.

Making the city fiscally responsible, Snyder said, was his third goal and he believes they are making strides in the effort.

"I was surprised that there were bills that hadn't got paid when I came into office. I knew it was going to be a challenge and we'd have to cut bills, but that added to our challenge," he said.

"But, it is what it is and we are taking the necessary steps to get the budget under control," he said, adding those steps include changing the trash and recycling collection in the city and having an outside review of health insurance to save money.

He said he's also challenged department heads to cut staff through attrition, removed several city official cars from the street, hired an actuary to find cost-cutting measures and made energy efficiency improvements to city hall.

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