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No changes yet to SSCVA board after new law

Members of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority board say it is up to the board’s appointing authorities whether the changes to who can serve codified in Senate Enrolled Act 37 apply to their appointees.

The board conducted its regular business meeting Wednesday, taking no action and having no public discussion about the impact of the legislation on the current members of the board. A request was made at a special meeting conducted on March 4 for an update. The board met in executive session prior to the meeting, citing pending or threatened litigation as the cause.

As many as nine members of the board as it now stands could be ineligible to serve based on the changes to the eligibility requirements. Board members serve three-year appointments. Appointments expire on a staggered basis. Two appointments from the Lake County Commissioners and one each from the Lt. Governor, East Chicago, Munster, Schererville and St. John all expire on June 30.

Board Chairman Andy Qunell is the Lt. Governor’s appointment; Fred Koegel and Elliot Segarra are the commissioners’ appointments; Terry Velligan is the East Chicago appointee; Matthew Maloney is Munster’s appointee; John Bushemi is Schererville’s appointment; and Peter Klidaris is St. John’s appointee.

Qunell Wednesday said the board is not taking any action at this time.

“We have nothing to decide,” Qunell said. He referred any further questions to board attorney Scott McClure.

McClure said what ultimately happens with the appointments is going to be up to the appointing authorities.

“We don’t appoint anyone, the individual authorities do. Ultimately, we are going to respect the appointing authorities. Ultimately, it’s their appointments,” McClure said.

Gary Mayor Eddie Melton said he did not have an opportunity to review SEA 37 in its entirety. He said he will be prepared to find qualified appointments if it is determined the city’s two appointees to the board are deemed ineligible for reappointment.

He said all the changes have come about because of the proposed convention center, which is legislation he originally authored when he served as state senator. He said Gary was supposed to be the site of the convention center, but that has since changed to open up all of Lake County to potential developers.

Melton said he will be working closely with the SSCVA, Lake Council Commissioners, the Lake County Council and Hard Rock to put forth the most solid and competitive proposal for the project.

State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, said as he read the law, there are two ways to remove a board member, the board can do it or the appointing authority can do it.

“So honestly, I didn’t expect them to start removing some of their own members. That’s their choice at this point in time,” Slager said. “When people come due, I think the appointing authority has an obligation — at that point in time — to appoint somebody qualified.”

If the board does not appoint an individual who meets the qualifications, Slager said he thinks the board has an obligation to deal with that or they are just avoiding the law.

“The time for the board to remove someone is at the time of appointment,” Slager said.

He said the language was changed to prevent some abuses that have been seen in the past. He said previously that an appointing authority named a dog groomer and nothing could be done because of three words that were removed in the amendment.

“There’s no enforcement action (in the legislation). There is certainly an obligation for elected officials to follow the law that they took an oath to do,” he said.

Slager finds a comment that all the women and minorities on the board are now not qualified interesting and called on the appointing authorities to seek out and place qualified minorities and women when the appropriate time comes.

“There may be a need for people in the hospitality industry to step up now that didn’t want to take the time before. If they want to have input on how the dollars are spent that they are collecting, this is their opportunity,” Slager said.

Commission President Michael Repay, D-Hammond, whose body will be among the first to evaluate its appointees for compliance with the law, said he has not had a chance to fully review the legislation but called the existing and new restrictions put on appointing bodies “ridiculous.”

He said the previous scheme for appointments was flawed and now legislators have made it even more cumbersome, “which is not good for the people of Lake County.”

According to the original legislation, the appointing authority shall give sole consideration to individuals who are knowledgeable about or employed 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.

“How are we going to accomplish getting proper representation on the board when it is rigged by state representatives to make it difficult to us,” Repay said, adding commissioners will comply and ensure their appointees meet the new requirements.

For example, the existing legislation requires one of the commissioners’ appointees to be a registered Democrat who lives in Dyer. SEA 37 takes out the phrase “knowledgeable about” and requires the member is a working executive or manager in the related industries.

“It’s a minority or a minority of a minority. It’s not fair. They should have thought more clearly or perhaps asked somebody,” Repay said. “They didn’t contemplate that.”

Repay said the legislation creating the tourism board in Lake County is different from legislation for every other tourism bureau in the state. When the original legislation defining the board was enacted, its aim was to create geographic diversity.

“You can implement diversity without prescribing individual appointments,” Repay said.

He said it is a shame one legislator gets to dictate who is or is not qualified by making changes to the legislation without any time for input.

“It’s offensive. It continues to be we are going to show you how to do it. The voters of the county need to understand that,” Repay said.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com