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Rich James: A bad week for Lake Democrats
MERRILLVILLE - It was one of those weeks for Lake County Democrats.
And it wasn’t necessarily a very good one. Internal fighting, an indictment and a Supreme Court ruling all left Democrats reeling.
The high court ruled that Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli cannot take over the Juvenile Division bench.
Schiralli announced that he was taking over the Juvenile Court after Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura left the bench to become director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
But three Juvenile Court magistrates filed suit with the Supreme Court saying Schiralli was ineligible to transfer because he never had gone through the Judicial Nominating Commission process, a requirement according to state law.
Schiralli was appointed to a County Division judgeship in the 1970s when the Lake County court system was reorganized as a result of legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Adam Benjamin Jr.
If another sitting judge who had gone through the Nominating Commission process doesn’t want the Juvenile Court job, the commission will begin accepting applications.
The second black eye for Democrats was the indictment of longtime Lake County Surveyor George Van Til. The allegation is that one of his employees did political work on county time for a month.
Van Til has been involved in Lake County and Indiana politics for 40 years and previously served on the Highland Town Council and County Council.Van Til also is recognized as one of the best political minds in the county and state. Several local and county officials currently are holding public office thanks to the strategies provided by Van Til for their campaigns. Former Gary Mayor Scott L. King is Van Til’s attorney.
And finally, Lake County Democrats continue to reel from the fallout of the adoption of a 1.5% county income tax. County Commissioner Gerry Scheub attempted to veto the tax last week, but was stunned to learn at the 11th hour that new Commissioner Mike Repay, who had publicly opposed the tax, would now support it.
Scheub had counted on Repay to cast the second vote needed for a veto. It was pretty well known that county Councilwoman Christine Cid, the lone Democratic councilperson to oppose the tax, wouldn’t change her mind and vote to override the veto. The two Republicans on the council – Dan Dernulc and Eldon Strong – embraced the national party line and voted against the income tax.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who also is county Democratic chairman, and Scheub knocked heads over the tax. Scheub accused McDermott of convincing Repay, a Hammond resident, to change his mind and back the tax. McDermott campaigned for the tax to provide money the city sorely has needed, especially since the legislature froze all levies in Lake County in 2007 when the County Council refused to adopt an income tax.
Scheub said the state mandate was unconstitutional. While Scheub was right, it was time the county enacted the tax.
For more than two decades, the legislature – particularly Republicans – had been telling Lake County that it shouldn’t expect help from the state if it refused to help itself. As a result, the county has suffered.
But the Scheub and McDermott confrontation turned out to be more than a shouting match. Scheub promptly resigned as a member of the party’s inner circle that McDermott drew up when he became chairman.
It may not matter much. Scheub, who was re-elected last year, has said this will be his last term.
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.
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