MERRILLVILLE – Griffith’s effort to pull out of Calumet Township and join either St. John or North Township has become a three-ring circus.

Griffith residents – with a state law clearing the way – voted in September to leave Calumet Township. The Griffith folks made the decision because they said they were paying too much to support the township’s poor relief operation and getting few benefits back. And, a very smug Griffith Town Council said they planned to join either St. John or North Township. Whatever they wanted, they would have, the council suggested.

So, they turned to St. John Township because it would be the least expensive option. Instead of rolling out the red carpet – which is what Griffith expected – St. John told Griffith to back off. St. John said it had much to think about before welcoming Griffith. And St. John said it didn’t think it could get things done before Griffith’s self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.

If Griffith doesn’t find a new home before the end of this year, it will remain in Calumet Township during 2019 and continue paying a high tax rate for poor relief. That wouldn’t look good for the Republicans who control the Griffith Town Council. So, Griffith decided St. John Township wasn’t the only rodeo in town. The town went knocking on the door of North Township, which includes a number of political heavyweights, including Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.

Griffith figured the move to North Township wouldn’t be a problem. After all, Griffith is one of the so-called three Ridge communities. Munster and Highland are the other two and already are part of North Township. The North Township Board, which would have to approve the inclusion of Griffith, threw up a stop sign, saying “not so fast.” Each of the board members and township Trustee Frank Mrvan Jr. said accepting Griffith would be a major move. And, if it was going to happen at all, they needed a considerable amount of time to gather information about the pros and cons.

McDermott, whose city is the largest of the five municipalities in North Township, decided he wasn’t going to sit out this fight. McDermott said he wants no part of Griffith joining North Township. McDermott made reference to two sportsmanship issues involving Hammond High School and Griffith High School basketball teams. Griffith since has said it won’t play Hammond in regular season games.

“They don’t want our kids in Griffith and that’s a big deal to me,” McDermott said. “They’re saying things about my kids, my residents, my city and now you want our help and this was self-inflicted by Griffith. Now they want us to bail them out. No way.”

McDermott also said Griffith should have gone to North Township first rather than doing so after St. John Township gave them a cool reception. As long as McDermott isn’t warm to the idea of North Township taking Griffith under its wing, it likely isn’t going to happen. 

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.