The Town of St. John has come to a critical point where we must reexamine our leadership. Our voice in the development of this town is critical to our future growth and sustainability and needs to be heard without delay. Consider carefully the impact your vote has on our future.
As a 28 year resident of St. John, Indiana, I am wholly invested in this community and will make decisions based on what is best for the health and well-being of the residents now and for the future.
Leadership positions such as the town councilman is a leap of faith for the voter and earning and maintaining a high level of trust once elected is paramount in stewarding confidence in the office held. That means accountability and responsibility to those that elect you. Selecting a candidate is a very personal choice. If those you have chosen to represent you fail your expectations the relationship is compromised. I know you want to put failed expectations behind us and support a candidate that is fair and equitable with some skin in the game to represent OUR town.
In 1991, as a newly married couple, my husband and I moved to this quaint and idyllic town with a population of 5,000 to establish roots as we envisioned our future together in a beautiful home and a growing a family in St. John, Indiana, with seemingly so much potential. We happily added a daughter to our family and she attended all the town schools – Kolling Elementary; Hal E. Clark Middle School, a brand-new school at the onset of her 5th grade year; and of course, the mega-school Lake Central High where she graduated alongside over 990 classmates.
We happily planted our hope here with the vision of stability and longevity for us and a planned and intentional community for everyone to grow. We invested in this town. The Town of St. John that I proudly have called my hometown of 28 years. Our home was one of our biggest financial investments, but more importantly, we invested life and time in this town. What drew us here was the quaint landscape, the hometown feel and a sense of possibility that easily enveloped us. The sense of community and belonging is still within our reach.
For those relatively new to town, here is a bit of history why some of the current town council members are occupying those fancy leather seats.
So, you are wondering how did Mike Forbes and Mark Barenie come to occupy seats on the Town Council? Well they are the remaining members of the Citizen’s Party slate that was won in 2004. The other 2 elected officials were Michael Fryzel that assumed the position of Council President and their outlier Jerri Teibel that has long since moved away. Tiebel was quoted in an article as saying, “The town is starving for a change.” And change it did.
The Grass is Greener Initiative is a project led by the current Town Council in an effort to entice Illinois residents over the line to enjoy some of our state amenities like lower taxes and housing. Councilman Libby Popovic and Rose Hejl invited a consultant to recap a campaign that seemingly is already underway as the website cited www.movetoindiana.com has included videos of new St. John residents. Rose Hejl opens the discussion by prefacing the campaign by saying, “it is a really, really great program.”
This is yet another attempt by the Council to swell the population, like in years past. A similar program the Council pushed to attract new residents about a decade ago was the purchase of billboards strategically placed throughout the south Chicago “collar towns” to encourage potential homeowners to the area. At the 3-19-2019 Council meeting (Click below for full meeting recording), the invited consultant touts these potential homeowners from Chicago’s “collar towns” (south side suburbs) and labels them as a “better quality population” that the town is interested in attracting. Who is vetting these families and classifying them as “better?” What are the parameters that must be met in order to be considered a “better” person or family welcome to move to our town? Why is this a focus in their marketing plan? A Councilman in attendance asked why he hasn’t heard of this elaborate marketing strategy and the consultants reply was that “it is not aimed at St. John residents so you would not have heard of it.” The Councilman is obvious confused and has been misled about the campaign. He has to ask if the marketing plan is for residential or commercial growth. Another telling comment by the consultant was that this campaign is aimed at “trying to change the perception of Indiana.” What is the perception of Indiana that the campaign is addressing? Transparency is totally void from this entire conversation and leaves more questions than answers per usual. I think that all the activities of the town should be an open book and not some covert operation begging for clarification.
Additionally, there are a few questions to be answered and a few observations that need to be considered. First is why? Why are these 3 town councilmen hell bent on pushing this agenda since the first election of the “Citizen’s Party” in 2004? Why do they want to continue the rapid residential building pace? Are we paying any of this marketing cost? Data collection indicates that St. John has outpaced other Indiana towns by 91% population growth since the year 2000!
In May of 2017 the Town Council proposed a resolution to enroll the council in a Public Employees Retirement Fund “PENSION” that would be retroactive for prior service putting the town on the hook for “financially significant” contributions providing the council “pension benefits without a 3-percent contribution required of every full-time employee.” (Reported by Clerk-Treasurer Beth Hernandez). The proposed resolution is recorded in the April 2017 meeting minutes available for public review upon request. Interestingly, isn’t this one of the reasons that Illinois residents, the very ones that the town council is courting, is fleeing their state because of bankruptcy due in part because of broken mismanaged PENSION system? How does the community as a whole benefit from this maneuver that will cash strap the town for a generation? Costs V. Benefit for the average town resident?
After all the discussion, it is unclear what council member initiated this strategy. When asked point blank by an attending resident, “Who contacted the Indiana Public Retirement System to initiate this benefit package,” no one admitted their involvement, even though it was indicated that the party was present, and at that very meeting! Void of Transparency – Integrity – Character.
The town still has a number of pending lawsuits that we continue to pay exorbitant legal fees, one of which is that of former “Citizen Party” leader Michael Fryzel that was slated with Baranie and Forbes in 2004. How many more years will the tax payers have to foot the bill for this litigation to drag through the legal system because of unethical decisions while representing the town? Additionally, the town is entangled with a 4-million-dollar lawsuit - David Guzzo, et.al. V. Town of St. John, Lake County, Indiana disputing eminent domain rights and the determination of an agricultural property dispute and 2 others costing the town vast amounts of money.
A few examples of how entrusted public funds are being squandered because of poor decision-making and lack of critical thinking skills. We need transparency and accountability from our elected officials. We need answers not more questions.
As a small farming town, it made sense that St. John’s connectivity was limited and the 5,000 people that lived here made due with what they had. Most likely they were busy farming and relied on their family and neighbors to fulfill their need for human contact. Afterall, the gigantic grain elevator that doubled as a feed and seed store located behind what is now the Town Hall was the hub for the men to gather. As a matter of fact, when we moved here in 1991, that is where we purchased the grass seed for our yard. Well, humans have the need to gather and that is an integral part of the human experience. Our population of 17,000 residents deserve exceptional public space not limited spaces that are merely an afterthought.
And the decades from 1991 when Mr. Tuley and the Town Council led the Town in their humble and conservative fashion to the time where Mr. Steve Kil became Town Manager and the Citizen Party came in like a wrecking ball a lot has changed. If Mr. Tuley was here to see his Town, I’m guessing he would be extremely disappointed. We have failed miserably with a planned community that would connect us with each other. The human component is what we are missing in the equation. We do not have the ability to walk or ride our bikes from neighborhood to neighborhood because in many places there are no sidewalks. There is no choice but to take your car or get annihilated on the roadway. Each neighborhood is remote with no way to connect to the next subdivision. Not only are neighborhoods isolated from each other, the entire Tri-Town area and beyond our boundaries is inaccessible by any other mode of transportation but a motorized vehicle.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we had creative forward thinkers in leadership positions, we would be able to increase our quality of life just by adopting better design policies and practices for community planning. I encourage you to cast your vote for me for Town Councilman – At-Large and I will make the necessary changes we so desperately need.
Let me just be clear. Certainly, there are many things that I love about St. John and I would never consider voting with me feet, however, it is time to create a more inviting and distinguishable town.
Let’s insist on a concerted effort to provide the amenities that are desired and appealing to our residents in a well planned and sustainable town. Elect Pelc to the Town Council as an At-Large Representative.
How do we increase a sense of community and connectiveness, reduce sprawl, revitalize mature neighborhoods while increasing the quality of life?
SUPPORT SUBURBAN PLANNING BEST PRACTICES
Reduce Suburban Sprawl
• There is no such thing as a free lunch and continuing to build out the town at break neck speed will eventually cost you money, livability and security.
• To maintain the burgeoning development pace, we will need additional infrastructure, public works maintenance, public safety payrolls, and increased school enrollment. (See school enrollment charts) Tax increases are inevitable.
MAINTAIN MATURE NEIGHBORHOODS
Repair crumbling and unsafe roadways and residential areas, consider street sweeper to remove debris, replace signage, enforce ordinances, increased police presence
ANCHOR NEIGHBORHOODS WITH PUBLIC SPACES
Walkability – Standard Community Planning Test
• A reason to walk; A safe place to walk; A comfortable place to walk; An interesting place to walk
Pathways and Infrastructure for movement and connectivity
Public Art for visual appeal
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