New law could remake SSCVA board

Members of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority board named in lawsuits against the agency will retain legal protection provided by the bureau until the suit is concluded — whether or not they currently still serve on the board.

The board in a special meeting Monday approved the amendment to a resolution passed in January 2023 originally enacted to provide legal representation to board members named in litigation due to their involvement with the bureau. The amendment extends that protection to board members named in litigation initiated while they were on the board but who no longer serve.

Attorney Scott McClure said the amendment clarifies the original resolution and extends indemnification to individuals who may not be reappointed or who are no longer on the board. McClure said the threat of exposure to litigation could impact people who are willing to serve on the volunteer board.

The initial resolution was approved on the heels of a wrongful termination lawsuit by former President and CEO Speros Batistatos. Batistatos sued the bureau and individual board members including Chairman Andy Qunell and board members Matt Maloney, Brent Brashier, Matt Shuffert and Tom Dabertin. Dabertin is no longer on the board. The suit also names Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., and Attorney Kevin Smith.

The amendment appears to come in anticipation of the potential impact Senate Enrolled Act 37 — a bill that shifts oversight of the SSCVA’s budget — would have on board members if Gov. Eric Holcomb signs the measure into law.

Changes to the qualifications for board members as outlined in the statute could potentially disqualify nearly half of the board’s existing members from serving.

According to the original legislation, the appointing authority shall give sole consideration to individuals who are knowledgeable about or employes as executives or managers in one of the following businesses: hotel, motel, restaurant, travel, transportation, convention, trade show, certain licensed riverboats, banking, real estate and construction.

SEA 37 takes out the phrase “knowledgeable about” and makes the requirement more stringent, so a board member must be working as an executive or manager in the related industries.

Board member Matt Maloney, who served as chair during the meeting for Qunell who unable to attend, said about nine board members could be impacted by the legislation.

McClure said via email Wednesday the meeting he does not believe the board has determined what members may be in jeopardy as a result of the legislation.

“Mr. Maloney sounds as if he has determined that six to nine members may be in jeopardy, but I am unaware of who he believes those members to be at this time,” McClure said.

After the meeting, Maloney would not elaborate on who he thought might be impacted. Current board members include Qunell, who is the lieutenant governor’s appointment; Maloney, Munster’s appointee; Brashier, Dyer’s appointment; Shuffert, Griffith; Chareice White, Crown Point’s appointee; Taryl Bonds and Darnail Lyles, Gary’s appointees; John Bushemi, Schererville’s appointee; Christine Cash, Highland’s appointee; Salvador “Sal” Espino and Doug Spencer, the Lake County Council’s appointees; Shane Evans, Hobart’s appointee; Bernard Grisolia and Kymberli Roberts, Hammond’s appointees; Peter Klideris, St. John’s appointee; Fred Goegel, Lake County Commissioners’ appointee; Deann Patena, Merrillville’s appointee; and Terry Velligan, East Chicago’s appointee.

Lake County Council President Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, said she is not sure how the legislation impacts the council’s two appointments and will be working with the council attorney in anticipation of the measure becoming law.

The special meeting also gave officials a chance to approve claims for March, as well as the amendment. While officials appeared to downplay the impact SEA 37 might have later in the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Nicole Wolverton said early on claims needed to be approved “in case we don’t have a meeting in the next week or two.”