Thursday, November 01, 2012

Northwest Indiana Times Does Reporting The Star Refuses To Do: Questions Officials' Use Of Contractor's Florida Home

It happens far more often than you would think. Our elected officials take trips to Florida and other vacation destinations on the dime of pay-to-play government contractors who help bankroll their campaigns. The Northwest Indiana Times questions the decision of Portage Mayor James Snyder and his brother, Porter Co. Assessor Jon Snyder, to travel to Florida for a golfing and fishing trip to Bonita Springs, Florida recently where they spent three nights at the home of Chuck Shields, an electrical contractor who does business with the city of Portage. From the Northwest Indiana Times:

Both Snyder and Shields said they believe nothing was inappropriate, but some city officials are calling for a further investigation.
Councilman Mark Oprisko, a Democrat, believes there should be an investigation and Snyder should produce receipts from the trip to show he did not accept any gifts from Shields beyond staying at his home.
"It's a definite conflict of interest. He used poor judgement. It's not like you are going out to lunch in Portage," Oprisko said.
Shields defended the mayor's action.
"He stayed at my home and rode in my vehicle," Shields said.
"He's a friend of mine, as well as his brother. He isn't the first mayor that stayed at my house," said Shields, who would not say what other mayors have also taken him up on his hospitality. Shields added he offered to pay for meals, golfing and other expenses.
"I didn't pay for anything. (James Snyder) wouldn't allow it," Shields noted.
Jon Snyder said he asked Shields if he could come to the annual golf outing and if his brother could come along.
"This trip was my idea," Jon Snyder said. "At the time I didn't think about any contractual relations with his office."
He said he has no contractual relationship with Shields in his position as Porter County assessor.
James Snyder issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon.
"Two weeks ago, I took a trip with three friends to Florida in which we all paid our personal expenses. We lodged in a home of a Portage contractor who does business in and for the City of Portage.
"After learning of the questions related to the lodging of the trip, I reviewed the state conflict of interest law and the city's ethics ordinance. Based on that review, no conflict of interest law or city ordinances have been violated. My department heads and I will be the first Portage administration to comply with the economic interest disclosure as stated in Sec. 2-177 of the city code since the ethics ordinance was passed by the city council in 1996," Snyder wrote.
The city's ethics ordinance requires officials to file an economic interest disclosure annually. It also prohibits the acceptance of gifts valued at $500 or more over the course of 12 consecutive months.
Oprisko said he authored the city's ethics ordinance and will review it to determine if it needs to be "tightened up."
"I'm holding final judgement until there is a full investigation," Clerk-treasurer Chris Stidham said, adding he does believe the mayor acted inappropriately by spending the night in the home of a businessman who has received no-bid work for the city.
"Just from a smell test, it just doesn't smell right. It is just something you should know better not to do," he said.
Far worse happens in Indianapolis with Mayor Greg Ballard all the time, and the Indianapolis Star refuses to investigate it. Ballard insists on taking useless all-expense paid junkets to overseas destinations all over the world accompanied by his wife that are funded by Develop Indy, which solicits contributions from pay-to-play contractors to help pay for the trips billed as "trade missions," even though they are nothing more than opportunities for a select group of pay-to-play contractors to travel overseas with Mayor Ballard to wine and dine him out of the view of Indianapolis residents. Ballard doesn't report the trips on his statement of economic interest that he files annually with the city despite the value of the more than a half dozen overseas trips he's taken since becoming mayor reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars. Ballard also doesn't disclose the value of the free country club memberships he has accepted since becoming mayor at private clubs where membership fees run into the tens of thousands of dollars or the tens of thousands of dollars in free tickets he has accepted to sporting events and concerts. It doesn't take much analyzing to figure out that Ballard actually receives as much value in gifts as he earns in salary as Indianapolis' mayor, and it certainly shows in the decisions he makes that screw over ordinary taxpayers in order to aid the people showering him with campaign contributions and gifts.

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