Rich James: The divorce of Gary and Griffith
Friday, September 09, 2016 5:22 PM
MERRILLVILLE – It is becoming increasingly clear that Griffith doesn’t want anything to do with Gary. Even though the two Lake County municipalities abut each other, Griffith seemingly wants to build one of those walls Donald Trump wants to erect along the Mexican border.
First it was Planned Parenthood. When the agency was about to lose its facility in Gary, it located property in Griffith for its new headquarters. But Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa led the charge and blocked Planned Parenthood from moving into his town. And then Ryfa and the rest of the town council, which is controlled by Republicans, launched a move to have Griffith pull out of Calumet Township.
The Griffith officials said they were tired of paying for public assistance to help the poor people in Gary. Calumet Township is made up of Gary, Griffith and unincorporated Calumet Township. With 39 percent of Gary residents below the poverty line, most of the township assistance money is going to Gary. Griffith residents at one point were paying about $3 million a year for public assistance. That now is down to about $1 million annually.
When Kimberly Robinson was elected township trustee in 2014, she inherited a financial mess. She set out to cut the budget and has been quite successful. But that hasn’t satisfied Ryfa and the other councilmen.Thanks to a law approved by the 2013 Legislature, Griffith residents will vote on a referendum Dec. 20 on whether to pull out of Calumet Township and join either St. John, North or Ross township. The three adjoin Griffith.
Although Ryfa contends “the township does nothing for us,” Robinson disagrees. Robinson said her office provides “tens of thousands of dollars” in assistance to Griffith residents. She said she will enlist those who received help to assist her in fighting the referendum. In fact, Robinson is vowing a fight to the finish, including the possibility of going to court to have the law to allow Griffith to secede declared unconstitutional.
Since people often vote their pocketbooks, chances are the referendum to allow Griffith to leave Calumet Township will be successful. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the state to take over payment of public assistance? It seems immensely unfair to put the financial burden on the backs of township residents because the residents of the township require a substantial amount of assistance.
Gary didn’t create most of its problems. The blame should go to the loss of steel jobs, white flight and the exodus of money from the city. Griffith should have focused its energies in getting the state to take over responsibility for public assistance, just as it did with welfare a few years back.
Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.