You've gotta love it: Porter County Commissioners refused to negotiate a plan to partner with Portage Mayor James Snyder for a combined city/county building in Portage - because of Snyder's federal indictment. That's what you call standing by your convictions.
Commissioner: Porter County won't negotiate with indicted Portage mayor
August 29, 2017
The Porter County Commissioners will not negotiate with indicted Portage Mayor James Snyder over a plan to partner for a combined city/county building in the city's new downtown district, an official said.
Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, said in the days after the county council approved a $30 million bond for capital upgrades in the county, including expansion and renovation of the existing North County Annex on Willowcreek Road, that commissioners won't consider Portage's proposal for two reasons: financial feasibility and the November indictment of Snyder on federal charges of allegedly violating federal bribery statutes and obstructing Internal Revenue Service laws. Snyder has pleaded not guilty and is expected to go to trial early next year.
Snyder deferred comment on the matter to Economic Development Director Andy Maletta and Portage City Council President Mark Oprisko, D-At large.
Biggs, who pointed out that he is a Portage native, said county officials met with Portage officials about the proposal and determined that the most financially feasible option was for the county to upgrade the building it already owns in Portage.
He also said commissioners won't negotiate with a public official under indictment.
"The proposal cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of that city's mayor, and I'm not going to do it," Biggs said, adding the county's relationship with Snyder has been riddled with controversies, including over placement of the county's new animal shelter, and county officials have learned "that there is no negotiating with him."
"I am totally sympathetic to Portage officials that they have this shroud of uncertainty having over city government but it's there nonetheless," he continued.
City and county officials have been talking for three years about the possibility of a new county annex along Central Avenue, Oprisko said, calling the commissioners' response "pretty sad and pretty pathetic."
"Obviously I've wasted a lot of energy and dialogue," he said, adding city officials wanted to bring more development to the emerging downtown. "Portage has never had a downtown. This is a big thing for us."
City officials aren't asking for a handout from the county, he said, but for county officials to listen to them.
"It's all about Snyder," he said. "It comes down to Snyder but it's really sad because the city of Portage has more than 40,000 residents."
The County Council approved the bond issue on Aug. 22, and it includes spending $10 million to renovate and expand the North County Annex.
"I think it's at least worth vetting," said Maletta.
Portage would have committed $5 million intended for remodeling of its city hall to the project and the city's redevelopment commission would have purchased the county's building on Willowcreek, officials said. The city also offered to build a parking garage, and the redevelopment commission proposed donating the land for the combined building.
Commissioners and council members received an outline of the proposal and a letter supporting it from Maletta the evening before the council meeting.
"It wasn't malicious. It wasn't mean to anybody," Maletta said of the letter. "I even said in there that we are in support of them passing the bond."
The city of Portage paid the consulting firm SEH to put together the proposal at the request of the council, Maletta said, adding that Snyder purposefully removed himself from the matter so it wouldn't be volatile.
Portage officials were dismayed by video of the segment of the meeting on the bond issue, which is available on YouTube, and the reaction of commissioners, Maletta said, adding he didn't know if Snyder's indictment was a good enough excuse not to pursue a partnership.
"It's not fair to all of us working here to make (Portage) a better place," he said.
During the council meeting, Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said he understood the pause among commissioners about dealing with Snyder, given the mayor's legal concerns.
Rivas said his fellow elected officials know how he feels about Snyder; in the weeks after Snyder's indictment, Rivas issued a statement requesting the mayor's resignation.
Still, he wanted commissioners to at least consider Portage officials' request for a partnership because good things could come out of it.
"The entire population of Portage has not been indicted," Rivas said.