Councilmembers say goodbye during final meeting of 2019

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COUNCILWOMAN LAVETTA SPARKS-WADE speaks during the last City Council meeting of 2019 as Councilman Ron Brewer looks on.

By Giavonni Nickson

The final Gary Common Council meeting of 2019 was bittersweet, as five councilmembers marked the end of their council membership. Councilmembers Michael Protho, LaVetta Sparks-Wade, Carolyn Rogers, Herbert Smith and Rebecca Wyatt will not return in 2020.

During the meeting held at the Art House: Social Kitchen in Gary, Smith said, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the citizens of Gary for allowing me to represent you on the council. I did my best, and I wish the city well.”

“It has been an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure to serve the people first of the sixth district, and then the rest of the citizens,” said Sparks-Wade of her service, as she mentioned that she represented residents who didn’t have a voice.

Gary resident Juana McLaurin honored Sparks-Wade and Rogers, who served on the council for 19 years. McLaurin called them her heroes.

Protho also called it an honor and privilege to serve over the past seven years.

Sparks-Wade complimented the citizens of Gary for being resilient and “hardcore” at times. “You all know when you put people in situations where there is pressure, poverty or barriers to overcome, we rise to the occasion here in the city.” After a series of farewell speeches, Sparks-Wade brazenly pushed the council to support an ordinance to ban portable basketball hoops in Gary. “I am a fighter, and that is the portion of me that is indistinguishable,” said Sparks-Wade. The ordinance, sponsored by Sparks-Wade, would ban portable basketball hoops and punish violators with fines ranging from $50 to $500.

Sparks Wade gave an overview of the ordinance, which she said is all about safety. She also addressed discussions in the community about her perceived disdain for Gary’s youth. She stated that her experience working with youth coaching volleyball at Lew Wallace and teaching children in Sunday School prove that she is committed to and concerned about all children in the city. She added that she does not want to be perceived as “the mean old lady” in the neighborhood.

According to Sparks-Wade, many youth play games in the street but do not move out of the way for oncoming cars, which presents a safety hazard and loose balls damage parked cars and/or neighborhood landscaping.

Sparks-Wade’s push for the ordinance came after a unanimous council approval of $15,000 from the mayor’s office donation fund to be used to replace broken and missing basketball hoops in neighborhood parks across the city to give Gary youth safe places to play.

Protho asked, “What happens to kids who don’t live near a park and don’t have a driveway or garage?”

Sparks-Wade said the portable basketball hoop ordinance helps balance the needs of homeowners, taxpayers and residents.

The proposed ordinance would be complaint-driven, with a warning issued before fines would be assessed.

Members of the council opposed Sparks-Wade’s ordinance and offered no support. Brewer expressed concerns that this ordinance may present more tension with the police. “A child’s first encounter with police would be the police taking their basketball hoop. It creates a bad first experience with law enforcement.”

Mike Brown said,” Kids just want to enjoy themselves. Some parents don’t want their kids to go to the park because of fears for their safety.” Brown suggests the ordinance go back to the committee. Mary Brown agreed, “I’m concerned about this ordinance, but I’m not prepared to vote tonight.”

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