Saturday, March 4, 2017

03042017 - Federally indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder: "Starting to fire scattershot"

Federally indicted Snyder's response to the recent resignations of city employees Joe Calhoun [Director of Administration] and Portage PD Sgt. Joe Mokol:

"I think we've done really well in two cases," Snyder said of Calhoun and Mokol, later adding, "It seems like we're starting to fire scattershot." [Post-Tribune-03032017]

Portage council limits Snyder's hiring powers, replaces board
March 03, 2017

Mayor James Snyder will continue to get his $30,000 salary as the former chairman of the Portage Utility Services Board, but the Common Council moved to replace that board and weaken Snyder's hiring powers in the city.

Snyder complained the council's move to prohibit him from choosing department heads from the fire and police departments — unless those appointments resign or retire from there respective departments — will "lock up" qualified candidates, and Snyder suggested at the city council meeting Thursday the moves were aimed at him but actually affected members of his administration.

Snyder cited the examples of former Director of Administration Joe Calhoun, who resigned last week, from the fire department and Sgt. Joe Mokol from the police department as his streets department superintendent.

"I think we've done really well in two cases," Snyder said of Calhoun and Mokol, later adding, "It seems like we're starting to fire scattershot."

Snyder, who normally is eager to speak to the media, declined to comment after the meeting, as did Mokol.

John Cannon, R-4th, voted against stripping Snyder of the hiring power, telling the council the move was the equivalent of "the council dictating to the executive branch," but he also declined comment after the meeting.

Councilman Scott Williams, D-3rd, said the council was "correcting a wrong that should've been corrected before.

"We're not targeting anyone," he said. "We're simply saying the individual, whoever that may be, has to make a choice" of job assignments.

Snyder can veto the ordinance, which the council can override, sign it or take no action, in effect passing the ordinance by "pocket veto."

The utility services board is a separate entity from the city, but the city council passes ordinances to determine the board's membership.

Two weeks ago, the council voted to prohibit mayors from sitting on the utility services board, which is made of four mayoral appointees and three from the council. The council also tried to strip Snyder of the $30,000 he gets as chair of the board, which is in addition to the $53,000 he makes as mayor.

Council members criticized Snyder's attempt last September to get the utility services board — and any resident or business that pays sewer rates — to pay more than $90,000 in legal fees he'd accumulated until then fighting a federal investigation.

Last November, Snyder was indicted on public corruption charges by federal prosecutors.

A week after the council tried to strip Snyder of his position and salary from the utility services board, Snyder convinced the board to hire Indianapolis-based law firm Faegre Baker and Daniels to represent the board against the city council, setting up what would have been an expensive legal battle for taxpayers throughout the city.

The council relented, passing an ordinance that adds $30,000 to Snyder's city salary. He now will receive one check every two weeks from the city, instead of two checks — one from the city and one from the utility services board.

But, the move to take over the utility services board means that the city council becomes the new board, and council members will not collect any additional wages for the new assignment.

Snyder still will have hiring power and some decision-making power in the utility department.

Portage administration director resigns over differences with mayor
February 17, 2017

PORTAGE — Director of Administration Joe Calhoun resigned this week over what he called differences in philosophies with Mayor James Snyder.

"It just came to a point where our leadership philosophies weren't meshing," Calhoun said. "It is my job to get on board or to get out of the way. I decided to get out of the way."

Calhoun added that he had recently been pulled into the investigation of Snyder by the FBI, saying he was interviewed by agents after Snyder was indicted in November. He wouldn't comment on the particulars of the interview.

Snyder appointed Calhoun to the position more than three years ago. A 17-year Portage firefighter, he was technically on special assignment from the department to take the job and could return to the department.

"It was a fantastic job. I do feel like a lot was accomplished to bring the departments together," he said, praising department heads for their efforts over the last three years to move the city forward.

"I can't say enough about their dedication. They came together and worked together. They were awesome to work with."

Calhoun was considered the second in command at City Hall, providing a link between departments and between departments and the mayor. He managed policies, aligned human resource policies and was involved in union negotiations with employee groups. He said those negotiations are not yet completed.

"Sometimes jobs in the public sector, especially the job Joe Calhoun had, can be more punishing than rewarding," Snyder said in an email statement. "Right now we are on the grueling end with five union negotiations, the federal intensity on myself, dozens of major projects and the council scrutiny."

"Joe is a great friend to me and Portage, his service has been relentless and he is one of the hardest working men I know. He is doing what is best for him and his family; what he has accomplished in Portage will change it for generations to come. All that I can say to Joe is 'thank you,'" Snyder said.

Calhoun said he wasn't sure of his future. He has had a conversation with Fire Chief Tom Fieffer about returning to the department. A merit lieutenant, Calhoun was serving as an assistant chief when he was appointed director of administration.

"I have resumes out throughout the country, and I am hoping something will come through," said Calhoun, adding it may be his time to retire from the department and to "move on" and leave Portage.

"Portage residents are receiving and will continue to receive the same high quality of service. All department heads are stepping it up a bit for now, and when the time is appropriate we will work on replacement," said Snyder.

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