Portage mayor loses $30K board chairmanship salary in City Council vote

The Portage City Council late Thursday capped off a tumultuous week by passing an ordinance that strips Mayor James Snyder of his $30,000 salary as the Utility Services Board's chairman just hours after an Indianapolis law firm advised the council that doing...

Portage mayor loses $30K board chairmanship salary in City Council vote

The Portage City Council late Thursday capped off a tumultuous week by passing an ordinance that strips Mayor James Snyder of his $30,000 salary as the Utility Services Board's chairman just hours after an Indianapolis law firm advised the council that doing so could be a violation of state law.

Council President Mark Oprisko, D-at large, who also is the vice chair of the Utility Services Board, also said the council may invoke the "nuclear option" — passing an ordinance eliminating the current Utility Services Board — and added that "we're not going to waste taxpayer dollars" on a potential lawsuit between the board and the city.

The salary amendment ordinance passed on a 6-0 vote, with Councilman John Cannon, R-4th, absent.

The advice from Faegre Baker and Daniels did not go over well with the council or Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, who countered the law firm point by point, defending the council's decision to also strip Snyder of his position on the board.

The Utility Services Board, under Snyder's direction, voted to hire Faegre Baker and Daniels to represent the board against the council's moves to change the board's leadership. The law firm sent a two-page, double-sided letter to council members Thursday afternoon describing the controversial ordinances as violations of state law.

Council members claimed that hiring the law firm could cost the Utility Services Board more than $500 an hour, but Snyder said he had not yet signed the contract and did not know how much Faegre Baker and Daniels' work will cost the businesses and residents that use sewer service.

Legal help hired to sort out Portage ordinance to remove mayor from board Michael Gonzalez

A day after the Portage City Council voted to remove Mayor James Snyder from the chairman's position on the Utility Services Board, the board on Wednesday hired Chicago-based law firm Faegre, Baker and Daniels to look into the matter.

Snyder later said he did not know how much the legal work will...

A day after the Portage City Council voted to remove Mayor James Snyder from the chairman's position on the Utility Services Board, the board on Wednesday hired Chicago-based law firm Faegre, Baker and Daniels to look into the matter.

Snyder later said he did not know how much the legal work will...

(Michael Gonzalez)

In a written statement he issued coinciding with the meeting, Snyder wrote that "the Council action sets the stage for further legal battles which could be very costly and burdensome for the city," but he also left the door open for a compromise and an opportunity to "reach a more workable agreement."

After the meeting, Snyder said he likely will veto the ordinance firing him and the other stripping him of the chair's salary "if they are invalid."

"If (the ordinances) are valid, then I have some decisions to make," he said.

Snyder has the option to veto the ordinances.

Earlier this week, the council passed a string of ordinances that appeared aimed at Snyder and his administration.

One ordinance prohibits Portage mayors from naming themselves to the Utility Services Board and moves the board's finances and budget responsibilities to the Portage clerk-treasurer.

By state law, mayors appoint the majority of utility services board members, with local councils, or legislative bodies, appointing a minority of board members. In Portage's case, a local ordinance calls for the mayor to appoint two Democrats and two Republicans.

Mayor's meeting absence brings critics, defenders Michael Gonzalez

Residents voiced a mixed bag of reactions for the City Council and for embattled Mayor James Snyder, who skipped the Tuesday council meeting.

Snyder later said he was visiting a friend in a hospital during the meeting, but immediately after the meeting, one of his staffers passed out written statements...

Residents voiced a mixed bag of reactions for the City Council and for embattled Mayor James Snyder, who skipped the Tuesday council meeting.

Snyder later said he was visiting a friend in a hospital during the meeting, but immediately after the meeting, one of his staffers passed out written statements...

(Michael Gonzalez)

Following tradition, Snyder appointed himself and three others to the board, and the board elected Snyder its chairman. The chairman earns a $30,000 salary, also by ordinance.

In September, a Utility Services Board employee sent two checks totaling $93,000 to two law firms, Dogan and Dogan of Portage and Winston and Strawn of Chicago, for representing Snyder in a federal investigation, but both firms returned the checks, insisting they represented Snyder as an individual and not the board.

The move riled Oprisko and other city officials, who claimed Snyder never consulted them on the payments.

City officials also have complained bitterly of Snyder's use of Utility Services Board funds.

While not illegal, many of those moves were inappropriate, Stidham insisted Thursday night, calling Snyder's actions "a pattern of disrespect for the taxpayers of Portage."

"It has nothing to do with legal or illegal, but it's just wrong," Stidham said.

Snyder tied the council's actions to his indictment last November on federal corruption charges, something the council has vehemently denied.

"I think you can imagine this isn't easy," Snyder told the audience. "I'm looking forward, and my family is looking forward — but hopefully things are dropped before we get to that point — to our day in court."

Michael Gonzalez is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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