Four Dems, two GOP vying for 3rd District Lake Commissioners’ seat

Lake County’s Democrats and Republicans have a choice to make in May when they look to seat a candidate for the 3rd District Commissioners seat currently held by incumbent Micheal Repay, D-Hammond.

Repay is seeking reelection in a bid against three other Democrats including former Lake County Councilman Alfredo “Al” Menchaca, Matthew J. Celestin and Richard A. DeLeon. Neither Celestin or DeLeon responded to repeated attempts to reach them for this article.

On the Republican side, two candidates are looking to represent their party in November and wrest the seat from long-standing Democratic control. Former Hammond City Councilwoman Kimberly Poland and past Hammond mayoral candidate Humberto Prado are seeking the nomination. Both Republicans have spent time as the city’s party chair.

Repay said he has treated all of his service on the board of commissioners, as well as on the county council, as an agent for the people. He said he takes his decisions seriously and works hard on behalf of his constituents.

“I feel I have done a lot as far as management of assets and infrastructure,” Repay said.

Repay said he is well suited for the work which happens outside of the public meetings, helping to bring county projects to fruition.

The county is well into two large Septic Tank Elimination Projects he helped to champion — one in Calumet Township and one in Center Township.

“Both projects are big infrastructure projects that are going to change the face of the county and improve the county for generations to come,” Repay said.

Commissioners also implemented an asset management program for the county’s highways and roads. which is in its early stages.

In the future, Repay said he would like to look at the county’s green spaces and return what can be returned to native habitat. The move is better for the environment and can cut maintenance costs by reducing mowing.

“We are going to do that more and more,” Repay said.

Commissioners also are in the process of scoping out a project that would bring solar energy to the government center.

“Renewable energy is something we can safely say is on the horizon with the implementation coming in a year or two,” Repay said.

Menchaca said he is running against the incumbent because Repay didn’t keep his word on no county income tax and there are issues with some commissioners’ contracts and to whom they are being awarded. He did not elaborate on his concerns, except to say they have to do with lighting contracts.

He said the income tax could have been .5 or 1% instead of the 1.5% that was approved by commissioners in 2013. The vote to approve the tax was 2-1.

“There’s not much you can do about it now, but you have to keep your word. I can’t tell you I’m going to get rid of it. That would be a lie,” Menchaca said.

He said he would bring needed transparency and accountability to the office.

While on the county council, Menchaca said he visited with every county department and worked with elected officials to make sure he was available to them.

“I know people don’t like change. They are afraid of change. I know that. The way they get change is by coming out to vote to give the opportunity for change, and we need it. I wouldn’t be in this race if I didn’t think it was needed,” Menchaca said.

In seeking his party’s nomination, Prado said he is running because there needs to be more Republican representation in Lake County.

“We need elected officials with more conservative values,” Prado said.

Prado said he remains concerned about the 1.5% county option income tax imposed while the current commissioner was in office and the impact it has had on residents. He would work to repeal the tax.

“It has really impacted the lives of voters, both Democrat and Republican, especially those on fixed incomes,” Prado said.

While he could not provide any evidence regarding the allegation, Prado said it is “clear millions are being mismanaged. Why are we taxing people…if you’re not taking care of the county?

“I think people are seeing which party has created a lot of the mismanagement of tax dollars. If I’m frustrated as a small business owner…I’m sure other people feel the same way,” Prado said.

He said infrastructure and public safety are the top issues for his campaign.

He said commissioners are responsible for providing resources to address not only local crime but also deter crime coming from out of state.

He said commissioners also need to ensure the county’s infrastructure is in good shape and enact policies that help property values stay consistent. Prado said he would look for innovative new technologies for resurfacing roads. He said if the current commissioners are not looking for new solutions, that amounts to mismanagement.

Regardless the outcome of the race, Prado said he will throw his support behind the successful candidate if it is not him.

“My biggest motivation is just the change in Lake County. I want to keep pushing for conservative values,” Prado said.

Poland, who served on the Hammond City Council as its only elected Republican from 2008 to 2011, said she too would like to see more conservative voices in Lake County government,

She said her job on the city council when Hammond was dealing with an influx of crime from Illinois helped to prepare her for a potential job as commissioner.

She said her decision to unsuccessfully seek an at-large council seat as a Democrat in East Chicago “wasn’t the smartest thing I did as far as changing parties, but I felt the wrath of that too.”

Poland said she wants the chance to represent the party.

“I got into this race because I was very disappointed with the county option income tax. Numerous people are very disappointed with that. I would like to see that reduced,” Poland said. “(People) are feeling it with the economy the way it is. The county income tax is a drain.”

Poland said she would be a more responsible elected official who would show empathy and caring for people. She claimed people are not getting responses from their officials. As a Republican, when she contacts the Republican commissioner, she can get a response, but not so when she contacts his Democratic counterparts.

“I would like to have a better accounting for the people. I would like to see better meeting times so people can attend,” Poland said. She said some committees and boards, such as the health department that meets at 7:30 a.m., gather at times inconvenient to members of the public. She would like to see regularly scheduled town halls to keep the public informed.

“I really care about the people of Lake County. I’m here for the long haul. I’m available. I’ll answer my phone…I’ll do whatever I can for them and if I can’t, I will certainly find out how to help them,” Poland said.

She would work to ensure commissions have a good relationship with the sheriff’s department, which has been strained in recent years due to a lawsuit and disputes about who approves large purchases at the Sheriff’s Department.

“If we don’t have a safe community, we don’t have anything. We are literally under siege here…We need to have a good relationship with our Lake County Police,” she said.