Two county leaders on the offensive
BY BILL DOLAN
CROWN POINT | Some Lake County officials aren't thankful for the Good Government Initiative.
A push by leaders of Northwest Indiana's academic and private industry sector to impose their vision of efficiency on local government was the subject of a pre-Thanksgiving news conference by County Councilman Don Potrebic, D-Hobart, and County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Schererville.
Potrebic, who is a member of the county's fiscal and legislative body, said he is leery of Maximus Inc., a Reston, Va., consulting firm that would do the investigative work that is likely to result in pressure to cut political patronage jobs in county government.
Scheub said he has sharp questions for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., who is spearheading the initiative and will meet with local officials Monday to answer questions and urge their participation in the effort.
"Has Pete signed up for it yet? Pete's office should be the first to submit to this. We should find out if Mr. Charbonneau's job is necessary," Scheub said.
Edward Charbonneau is executive director of the Indiana University Northwest's Local Government Academy, which helped arrange funding for the initiative.
Potrebic and Scheub raised concerns the initiative will fail as a cost-cutting mission, but succeed in damaging the Democratic incumbents running for re-election next year.
"This could hurt us tremendously. It could give us another black eye," Scheub said, acknowledging the media and the public have put pressure on officeholders to bow to the efficient "mandate."
Neither Charbonneau nor Visclosky could be reached Wednesday for comment.
Visclosky helped launch the study in the wake of public corruption scandals.
The first phase of the Good Government Initiative currently is focused on municipal, school and library operations in East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Hobart and Whiting. It is scheduled for completion in January.
Charbonneau and Visclosky invited all county government agencies to join the second phase next year. County Sheriff Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez and County Assessor Paul Karras already have volunteered. Both men are running for re-election.
Potrebic and Scheub said they are suspicious of the initiative's financial backers, which include Dean White, a prominent GOP activist, BP, Mittal Steel and NiSource. They said the industry giants want a tax reduction at the cost of government services for local residents.
The two men said they support greater efficiency.
"I've wanted to reduce for years," Potrebic said.
Scheub said he wants to lengthen the work day, reduce the number of paid holidays and cut staffing by 50 percent at county satellite offices in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.
"If you are only one of seven people on the County Council," Scheub said, "you can have the greatest ideas in the world, but if you don't have three other votes, it doesn't go anywhere. With county commissioners you need two votes.
"They don't know county government and yet they are trying to dictate policy for county government," Scheub said.
Potrebic said he has no problem with anyone looking at the county's financial books, which are public documents, but is concerned about the integrity of the Good Government Initiative's consultants, who would do the financial analysis.
"I'm not sold on Maximus. Until I get the details of what their intent is, I want to find out why they are being investigated," Potrebic said.
Maximus announced earlier this year the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia is investigating the company's work in the area of federal Medicaid reimbursement claims. There have been questions about its compliance with federal health care.