The Crusader Newspaper Group

Gary city council took aim, landed blows on its leaders

The short emergency meeting accomplished its purpose Friday night on February 10 — to gain council approval of a voting map for the city’s 6 districts. The State of Indiana gave voting districts until December 31, 2022 to have maps completed.

The council let that deadline pass and has spent much of February jumping through hoops after a Gary resident filed a federal lawsuit against it for failure to submit the maps as required.

The council will present its map at a hearing on the case set for Tuesday morning, February 14 in Hammond’s federal district court.

Common Council attorney Rinzer Williams went into court today, Valentine’s Day, with the map and a settlement agreement between the parties. Judge Philip Simon will decide if the lawsuit will continue or end. The lawsuit was brought by Gary resident and Atty. Barbara Bolling against the Gary Common Council, the Lake County Board of Elections and Registrations and its director, Michelle Fajman.

In an election year, the issue has come with costs and stoked tensions within the council. All members are up for re-election.

Tempers flared and accusations flew at the Tuesday, February 7th regular council meeting when the map was introduced in Council Pending Ordinance 2023-03 with its implications for the lawsuit.

Councilman-at-Large Ron Brewer wanted to know why the full council had not been told of the court case. “I learned about it after the court date. Why are you just bringing this to us today?”

According to court documents, the case was filed on January 25th with summons on the same day sent to the defendants. All parties were in court for the first hearing on February 1. Judge Simon instructed the parties to seek a resolution among themselves and return in 10 days.

Brewer faulted the council leadership for the lawsuit. “I think an executive session should have been done. I am very displeased and unhappy with the leadership in this council, in the way that we have acted. We have never acted in this fashion. You should have called an executive session, had a committee meeting, and discussed it.”

“I stressed in December, the importance of this redistricting,” Brewer said. “We were going to take care of it after that first meeting. We never heard anything else about it.”

The council’s Redistricting Committee is chaired by council vice president Tai Adkins and includes council president William Godwin, and Councilwoman Mary Brown. The committee proposed redistricting maps in December but never presented an ordinance to the council for a vote.

“Councilman Brewer, you’re more seasoned than I am on this council,” Adkins responded. “You have been in this process before or were aware of the process before. You brought nothing to the table. You also asked no questions after the meeting. You didn’t contact me as the chair. Since December 5, I have received no questions from anybody else on this Council.”

Councilman-at-Large Darren Washington said he learned about the case in the newspaper. “An executive session should have been called. Pending litigation is one of the 5 reasons to have an executive session,” Washington said.

“To you Councilwoman Adkins, it is not our responsibility as councilmen to contact you with changes,” Washington said. “After you made your presentation at the beginning of December, we were told that there was going to be a second meeting, and this will be approved at the end of December. You were not at that meeting. I believe you may have been in Africa. I don’t know where you were, but you were not here.”

Councilman David Fossett asked Councilwoman Brown, “Why didn’t you give some guidance to Councilwoman Adkins on this map this time? Because you’ve been, as you say, the longest serving city councilperson.” Brown said she didn’t have anything to do with drawing the map.

CPO 2303-03 was new business and needed a majority vote to be added to Tuesday’s agenda. Sixth District Councilman Dwight Williams agreed with Brewer, Washington, and Fossett not to allow the ordinance to be presented to the council. A 5-4 vote added the ordinance to the agenda and for it to be held over for Friday night’s emergency meeting.

Councilman Williams, on Friday night, changed his vote to yes for passage.

“I didn’t like the first map, but I like this map and support it being submitted to the judge,” Councilman Williams said after Friday’s meeting. “I don’t think the lawsuit should be against the entire council. Tai and Godwin did something they shouldn’t have. The lawsuit should have been directed to the people on the committee, but I know you can’t separate the two.”

The map presented to the council Tuesday wasn’t the same map proposed in December. And a different map was presented at Friday’s meeting. The map even changed several times between the two meetings.

In the Redistricting Committee meeting held moments before Friday night’s emergency meeting, members of the public got a chance to speak.

David Gearman, a council candidate in the First District told the council, “All of this could have been avoided. The passing of the file date was, in my mind, grossly negligent. It exposed the council and city to federal lawsuits and potentially the loss of our ability to redistrict ourselves. That is inexcusable to me.”

Sondra Ford, also a First District council candidate, had a different view. “This map makes sense for the 1st District, although we lost 703 registered voters. I want to say great job. I’m proud of this council today. Tuesday, I was disappointed, but today I see you moving in the leadership I know you are capable of. Congratulations.”

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