This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More interesting than the agenda suggested

The County Council had its first meeting of the new year and from the agenda it seemed that it would be short and simple. The first order of business was election of officers. Rein Bontreger was unanimously elected as chair, but the vote was split 3-3 for vice chair, with Gerrit H. DeVries, John T. Price and newly elected Paul Norwine voting for Price and Stephen R. Jordan, Andrew Andree and newly-elected Gary Fritts voting for Andree. Bontreger broke the tie, electing Andree. (The previous vice chairman was Dan Stalbaum, who was defeated in November by Fritts.) I am not sure what the significance of the vote was, but I am sure there was some meaning to it.

On the agenda were requests for some additional appropriations. The Recorder's office needed an extra $709 for some reason, and the Jasper County Drug-Free Community Fund needed the Council to approve release of fines and fees of $33,000 for funding. Rensselaer Police Chief Jeff Phillips is the new head of the Drug-Free group.

The Council then made appointments to eight different groups. Most were re-appointments--only when someone could not serve was there a new appointment.

Councilman Price then stated he liked the recent Rensselaer Republican article about Representative Gutwein's bill to increase penalties for dealing in stolen scrap metal. This is an issue that has been discussed in both the Council and in Commissioners meetings.

Three people associated with county government gave progress reports to the Council. The Coroner reported that the new facility near DeMotte had been completed and was getting constant use. His office had 83 calls last year and six so far this year. He expressed concern that the Fase Center next to the Sheriff's Annex did not have an automatic defibrillator. The Airport manager said that the new vehicle used for plowing was very helpful.  Then Brian Overstreet told the Council that the County Extension will need to make some adjustments to its budget for electronic equipment. This item will be on a future agenda.

The most interesting bit of the evening, though, was the concern of a citizen from the northern part of the county. He gave the Council an 11 page handout that argued that the Board of Zoning Appeals was not acting appropriately. He had a couple of concerns. He thought that they gave variances when they should be rezoning. A variance is a special exception to the zoning regulations and is not as visible. People who are moving into an area can more readily see what the zoning is than what the variances are, and if there are a lot of variances, they may face unpleasant surprises. The citizen said that a neighbor had been given a variance for an at-home business and during its peak times there could be up to 50 union workers using the site--a lot for an at-home business. He also thought that BZA did not do the findings of fact properly. Before the BZA approves changes, it votes on a series of findings of facts, and having attended a bunch of these meetings, I can attest that the votes are formalities--there are no real findings of facts presented. Finally, he faulted the BZA for not opening the meetings to public comments--though they have at times. The Council members seemed unwilling to do anything about his complaint other than suggest that he talk to the lawyer for the BZA. (However, see the comment.)

Kevin Kelly of JCEDO told the Council that he wanted to raise the salary for the second person in his office, which is presently vacant. With the addition of tourism promotion that his office now does, he thought that the position should no longer be an entry-level position but rather something that would attract more experienced applicants. Also, the last two hires each lasted a bit over a year before they moved on to more attractive opportunities elsewhere.

After the meeting, the Council members posed for a picture. Can you match the names given in the first paragraph above to the people in this picture?

After the meeting one of the people who attended mentioned to me that he had never seen the leadership at SJC in such disarray. The search for the next president is still on-going and the interim president announced this week that he is leaving next week for health reasons.  The vice president for business announced a week or two ago that he is leaving in February for a job at another college. The vice president for development position is still open, and the vice president for academic affairs is also an interim appointment. The only senior administration position that is properly filled is the vice president for student affairs.

Today was a gloomy, wet, snowy day here in Rensselaer. It was nice further south. I met a man this afternoon who said he had come from sunny Indianapolis where it was 45 degrees. The lousy weather did not start until past Lafayette.


Gerrit DeVries said...

It's not that the Council is "unwilling", but rather "unable" as this is an area that the County Commissioners oversee. I feel for this citizen, but the Council deals with the purse, where the Commissioners deal with the policies. I appreciate your report on this and your insight.

John D Groppe said...

You added an irrelevant comment about personnel and administrative changes at St. Joseph’s College to your post on the county council and in doing so violated established journalistic standards. If the Rensselaer Adventurer had been adventurous enough, he would have talked with people at the college before engaging in rumor mongering. What he would have found out is that the plan of the board of trustees is first to hire a president so that the new president can play a lead role in the search for the new vice presidents. That adventurous reporter would have found out that this week the college has interviewed three candidates for the presidency. He might have been able to report something about the concerns of the staff and faculty, how they are meeting the needs of students, and what hopes they have for the future. Had he ventured to attend some of the interview sessions in which students, staff, and faculty questioned and assessed the candidates, he might have discovered a strong commitment on the part of the people of the college to meet the present challenge and to emerge stronger as a result. It is the function of a reporter—especially one claiming to be venturesome—to investigate.

RoadRunner1117 said...

I love your blog, Rensselaer Adventures! Please don't let John's comments discourage you. I know you try very hard not to offend anyone. LOTS of people follow you and enjoy reading your posts. Please keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

That is a gratuitously nasty comment by JDG. Moreover, the charge that you “violated established journalistic standards” by putting “an irrelevant comment” in your blog post is pure rubbish. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is great! Definitely appreciate your perspective. Your long-time reporting of local affairs has been a huge benefit to the community.