A movement is under way to change how the leadership of Porter County's foundation board is structured as the board gets ready to decide what to do with millions of dollars in proceeds.
The Board of Commissioners and the County Council make up the board of the foundation, which was created to handle much of the proceeds from the 2007 sale of the county hospital. County officials have said that after one year of investment, which comes up next month, they would begin serious discussion about what to do with funds it generated.
A legislative change in July 2015 allowed the county to move forward with creating the foundation, the first of its kind in the state, to hold about $148 million from the hospital sale. The goal of the foundation was to increase the yield from investing the hospital proceeds.
County Councilman Dan Whitten, D-At large, has led the foundation since its inception after being chosen to do so by the board but he and other board members will consider a bi-partisan approach for the foundation's leadership at a Tuesday meeting. Whitten was previously president of the County Council when Democrats had a majority on that board.
Not everyone is in favor of co-chairs for the foundation. Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, prefers the board continue to have one leader, though he said he appreciates the attempt to remove politics from the post.
"I don't see where that accomplishes anything. I am a fan of that chair rotating on a biennial basis," Biggs said, adding that rotation also could be between the council and commissioners.
Because Republicans dominate the council and commissioners, Biggs said, the foundation chair should be a Republican, as is done with other county boards that are led by the dominant party.
Under the proposal for bi-partisan leadership, one commissioner and one council member, representing both parties, would take the foundation's helm. The move would require a change in the foundation's bylaws, with a simple majority vote of its members to move forward.
"I am all for the board that oversees the investment of that money being non-partisan, particularly because Porter County is pretty close to being 50-50" in its split between Democrats and Republicans, he said.
Party politics weren't a factor in how he served as foundation chair, Whitten said, and shouldn't be involved in the oversight of a mechanism that is going to ensure the county's solvency for generations to come, he said.
With shared chairmanship of the board, "party politics never come into play, at least with the leadership," he said.
The political makeup of the County Council changed from a Democratic majority after the November election, County Councilwoman Karen Conover, R-3rd, said.
While Republicans maintained their majority on the Board of Commissioners, the leadership of the two boards shouldn't matter when the foundation is in play.
"I believe – and practice it – that when you get elected locally, politics goes in your back pocket and you do what's best for the constituents you serve," she said, adding foundation boards are "as sacred as they can be because they have a different purpose."
Bi-partisan leadership, she said, would bring better communication to and between the two elected bodies that comprise the foundation board.
"This foundation took special legislation and is such a wonderful thing, and preserves our proceeds for generations to come," she said. "I just want to keep politics out of the foundation."
The decision of who leads the foundation pales in comparison to the task at hand for the board, Biggs said, adding regardless of who chairs the board, any decisions on the funds will be made by all of its members.
"If we can't come to some sort of quick decision, God help us with the rest of it, which is infinitely more important," he said.