The (Munster) Times. September 12, 2019

Tax sale success marred by scandal

Lake County should take both solace and discomfort in recent revelations about its government tax sale.

On one hand, the county took in $19 million in the sale of tax-delinquent properties in 2019.

That's 62% more than last year's efforts in a sale that seeks to collect unpaid property taxes by selling the delinquent properties.

Lake County Treasurer Peggy Katona rightly notes that the interest in county parcels from bidders shows Lake County is a good investment to real estate speculators. It's also good to see public coffers receive their due.

But the county shouldn't be taking too much of bow where tax sales are concerned.

An ongoing string of investigative reports by Times reporter Lauren Cross also shows the county's tax sale process has fallen victim to a sort of insider training, fraught with conflicts of interest and bids by at least one individual, who helped a political insider snatch up hundreds of parcels and should have been barred by state law from bidding on the tax-delinquent properties.

All county government officials and entities who are entrusted with the integrity of this process owe answers and solutions to Lake County taxpayers.

First, the good news: More than 12,000 buildings and lots, for which the property owners had fallen more than 18 months behind on taxes, sold at the county's annual tax sale this year.

That's crucial money back into public coffers.

Much of that previously uncollected tax money was tied to Gary properties.

So it should come as no surprise that the bad news also emanates from delinquent Gary properties.

For weeks, a number of ongoing exclusive Times reports have noted hundreds of Gary tax sale properties, some of which border the land for a major future casino development, were snatched up by Broadway Logistics Complex LLC, a company for which Region attorney Rinzer Williams III is the manager.

Meanwhile, Williams also is attorney for the Gary City Council and holds a legal contract for the Lake County commissioners. And he's a hired consultant in the casino project.

Those facts alone smack of conflict and bring an air of insider trading.

But the problems run even deeper.

Times reporting also has shown that tax-delinquent felon Thomas Wisniewski has personally directed the bidding for Broadway Logistics at a tax sale.

Wisniewski should have been barred by state law from bidding at the tax sale because county records show he is delinquent on taxes for some of his personal properties.

Further Times reporting is showing that county officials knew the scofflaw should have been barred from bidding but tolerated his participation in the process anyway. Now the county seeks to nullify the bids for hundreds of parcels snatched up by Broadway Logistics as a result.

There are more unacceptable story lines taking shape in relation to the Lake County tax sales than any resident of the county or state should be willing to tolerate.

Rather than celebrating an up year for tax sales, the county should be spending its time working to ensure the integrity of the process.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. September 11, 2019

License brandhes

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has thrown a wrench into what appears to have been an effort by two other state agencies to clear away a little red tape for transgender individuals seeking to obtain a driver's license. He declined to sign off on an administrative rule change that would formalize the way the Indiana Bureau of Motor vehicles handles applicants' requests to modify their gender on driver's licenses and IDs.

Applicants who have amended their birth certificate to reflect a new gender may present their certificate to the BMV when they apply for a driver's license. But amending a birth certificate involves a court procedure and legal costs. Thus, the BMV also offers applicants a form that can be filled out by their doctor affirming the applicant has been through the treatment required to change his or her gender designation.

As The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported Sunday, a court decision this spring required the bureau to offer an "X'' designation in addition to "male" or "female," which drew the attention of some legislators and apparently led to the bureau's request to formalize its procedure with an administrative rule change. The rule change also specified that the doctors' statements used to verify transgender treatment go through the Indiana State Department of Health, which is after all a more logical place to be handling sensitive medical information from physicians.

Kelly reported Hill's office has informed BMV officials it can't approve the rule change because of "their perception that public notice wasn't sufficient," according to BMV spokeswoman Susan Guyer. A statement from Hill's office said it is "duty-bound and prepared to work with state agencies" to see the rule-changing requirements are followed.

Now, all of this could be written off as some sort of bureaucratic fever dream, though it should be noted Hill's fastidious application of rule-making requirements may have real-world consequences for some Hoosiers.

In the interim, it's unclear what documentation a license applicant wanting to modify his or her gender will have to provide until the administrative tape is unraveled. It's also unclear how the Indiana State Department of Health's commendable plan to simplify the process for birth certificate modifications will be affected.

If at this point you're thinking, "the state has bigger problems to worry about than whether this particular piece of red tape is wound tightly enough," you are most indubitably correct.

Most of America seems to have moved on, but in Indiana, there seems to be an endless line of officeholders looking for new ways to gin up problems for gay or transgender people. Can things be straightened out - can the rights of a tiny minority be preserved - without the upcoming legislature turning this into another sideshow for intolerance?

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Kokomo Tribune. September 10, 2019

FEMA criteria too high for us

In April 2013, it was the 100-year flood.

In November 2013, it was the tornadoes.

In January 2014, it was the snowstorm.

During the past six years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied Howard County three separate requests for aid.

And when August 2016 tornadoes reared their heads once more, we didn't even bother applying.

What, exactly, is the problem here? Was it something we said? Do they just not like the looks of us?

It comes down to simple math. And we, apparently, just don't add up, according to FEMA.

"To receive funding through the Federal Reimbursement Program, the following thresholds must each be met in uninsured damage: the county's population multiplied by $3.57 (for instance, Howard County must have experienced $295,425 in uninsured damage) and Indiana's population multiplied by $1.41, which comes to a total of $9.2 million in uninsured costs," the Tribune's George Myers reported.

And it isn't just the hard figures. It's also the time frame, which is artificially constricted.

"A declaration of a major disaster must also be requested by the governor within 30 days of the incident, and it must then be declared by the president of the United States," Myers found. "To receive any funding from FEMA — which also requires meticulous record-keeping as specific as chainsaw horsepower during recovery efforts — each requirement must be fulfilled, no matter how bad the damage sustained by an individual county."

Something must be done before the next disaster. We are a resilient bunch, but these denials stung. After three separate refusals in less than 12 months, it can start to feel personal. Try telling those touched by these disasters that they weren't that bad. It hurts.

We hope our elected officials will hear this appeal and work to adjust these arbitrary standards. We rely on our federal government for protection and help recovering when the unexpected happens. In places across the country - like the Carolina coastline after Hurricane Dorian passed through - this year has proven Americans require this type of support.

We are the richest country in the history of the world. This is a promise we can keep if we set our minds to it.

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