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November ballot finally set after two extra days of counting in La Porte County

La PORTE — After several days of counting, La Porte County voters finally know which candidates seeking county office will be on the ballot this fall.

On Thursday, the La Porte County Election Board released final, uncertified results from Tuesday’s primary elections, in which several key contested county races were on the ballot.

Results had been delayed due to the high number of absentee ballots cast in this year’s contest due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the races on Tuesday’s ballot were the Democrat and GOP nominations for the three at-large seats on the La Porte County Council.

Incumbents Jeff Santana and Mike Mollenhauer were the top two vote-getters on the Democrat ticket, receiving 25 percent and 24 percent of the vote, respectively. Also earning a spot on the party’s ticket in November is former Councilman Matthew Bernacchi, who edged out incumbent Sean Quinn by 109 votes.

Mollenhauer, former La Porte County sheriff, is seeking his first full term on the council, having been caucused into the seat by the Democratic Party in March 2017. The La Porte resident currently serves as vice president of the council, elected to the position during the reorganizational meeting in January.

He is seeking re-election to “keep progress going in the county,” he said Thursday.

Mollenhauer pointed to several projects underway, such as the $22.5 million expansion and renovation of the Michigan City Courthouse, back in motion following a brief stoppage in the spring.

He’s also hoping to see progress on the long-discussed ambulance hanger on the east side of the county near Rolling Prairie. EMS has already purchased a vehicle that could service that region, with the county recently acquiring property off U.S. 20 to build the base on, he said.

“That is one of our goals, to get that project going soon.”

Santana, a retired member of the Michigan City Fire Department, will seek a third term in November.

Bernacchi, meanwhile, will seek to return to the council, on which he served from 2008-14.

Neither Santana nor Bernacchi responded to requests for comment as of press time.

On the GOP side, former County Councilman Earl Cunningham led the five-person pack, winning 26 percent of the vote. Joining him on the Republican ticket in November will be La Porte County Agriculture Association vice president Brett Kessler, who came in second with 23 percent, and former County Commissioner Connie Gramarossa, who came in third with 21 percent.

Cunningham, a lifelong resident of La Porte, represented District 2 on the council from 2007-14. The retired Michigan City Area Schools educator is currently serving his fourth year on the county Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning Commission.

“I’m just happy that voters in La Porte County put their confidence in me,” he said in reaction to the final results. “Now, the hard work begins.”

Cunningham, a fiscal conservative, is seeking to return to the council to continue his service to the community, he said. He is hoping to lend his knowledge and experience to the board as it navigates through the financial challenges presented by COVID-19.

Kessler, a farmer and truck driver, also thanked voters for their support, saying he was extremely excited to see people get behind his bid as a newcomer to the political arena.

A longtime supporter of agriculture in the county, the Fair Board member said he felt now was the time to throw his hat into county politics.

“I just felt that it was time for a new voice on the council,” he said on his decision to run.

Gramarossa, meanwhile, is seeking a return to county politics.

The Michigan City resident served for several months on the District 1 seat on the Board of Commissioners in 2018, replacing Michael Gonder following his resignation in April of that year. Gramarossa lost her bid for re-election that November to former Michigan City Mayor Sheila Matias.

Gramarossa did not return a call for comment as of press time.

Also emerging victorious on Tuesday was Democrat Joie Winski, who will serve as the party’s nominee for county treasurer. Winski edged out Ronald Hamilton Jr., for the nomination, capturing 58 percent of the vote.

The Michigan City resident has served the past four years as La Porte County Auditor, having previously served as a member of the Michigan City Common Council, Michigan City Redevelopment Commission, Michigan City Economic Development Commission, and La Porte County Property Tax Board of Appeals.

Winski will oppose Republican John Matwyshyn, who ran unopposed on Tuesday.

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Family says thank you to police for 'protecting our city'

MICHIGAN CITY — While Michigan City police and officers from other area departments stood watch during Sunday’s protest, one local family decided to say thanks.

Officers were sent to Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets where some protesters had gathered following a peaceful protest against the killing of George Floyd and police brutality at the MCPD.

While some windows were broken and graffiti sprayed, the second protest never devolved into the rioting that has dominated news reports for the past week.

On Monday night, reports that looting might occur in the area, a heavy police presence was once again visible at the mall and other businesses.

Kim Agemy said the officers deserved praise for their actions in not letting Sunday’s situation get out of control, and for not over-reacting.

“My husband (Samer Agemy) and I have been talking to our boys daily about the protest and potential riots in our town,” she said.

“They have seen on social media and the local news of other surrounding cities that are being destroyed by not-so-good citizens.”

She saw a chance to teach.

“We wanted to use this as a teaching lesson to our kids that it’s OK to peacefully march, but when you start destroying businesses and others’ property, that’s not OK.”

They decided to show their appreciation, and got some help from a local business.

“We decided to contact Ashley Holmes, the night manager at Dunkin’ Donuts, on Monday evening to see if she would assist us with donating coffee to our law enforcement that have been working tirelessly these last few nights,” Kim Agemy said.

“She was more than happy to help. A big thank you to Ashley and her staff for the coffee and supplies to keep these guys going again.”

So the couple took their boys – Amir, 10, and Mazin, 8 – with them to pick up the coffee and give it to the officers at the mall.

“We wanted a give a huge thank you for all our city, county, state and other officers: SWAT and the Chief of Police for all they have been doing ... We also wanted to demonstrate what’s right to our boys,” Kim Agemy said.

“While driving to Lighthouse mall, my husband and I spoke to them about why we are doing what we are doing.

“They both understood and already knew this was the ‘right thing’ to do. We feel it’s a small way of saying thank you for protecting our city,” she said.

“Thank you for your dedication,” she said to the officers. “And the fist bumps to our boys. They talked about it all the way home and this will be in their heads for a lifetime.

“Keep safe and many prayers are sent for you and your families.”

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MCPD Records Division to reopen to public Monday for in-person transactions three days a week

MICHIGAN CITY — After months of being closed to the public, the Michigan City Police Department will be reopening to the public on Monday, though services will still be limited.

“The past several months have been very difficult times for all of us,” Sgt. Francisco Rodriguez, commander of the Division of Professional Standards, said.

“In light of the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, MCPD made the very difficult decision to close their Records Division for any in-person business in March.”

The decision was made to protect the health of employees and the citizens, Rodriguez said.

“Although the Records Division has been open for non-contact business, we understand the stress and inconveniences our closing has had on our community.”

The Records Division will reopen Monday with some “notable restrictions,” he said.

“The restrictions are necessary as we had to restructure civilian personnel within the department to accommodate the re-opening of the Records Division, considering the employee furloughs enacted within city government.”

The MCPD Records Division will re-open with adjusted dates and hours: Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and closed Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends.

“On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, citizens can come into the police station and conduct business in person with our Records Division staff,” Rodriguez said.

The division will be open and staffed to accommodate Indiana handgun permits, animal license tags, records requests, parking ticket payments, animal ordinance violation payments, VIN check forms, and all other regular business, he said.

But MCPD will only be processing handgun permit applications on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Fridays from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Anyone who had already begun the process of obtaining a handgun permit through the Indiana State Police website prior to the COVID-19 restrictions can reactivate their application online to complete the process, according to Rodriguez.

If you have already completed your fingerprinting, just bring in your receipt from Morpho Trust USA, a valid photo ID, and your appropriate fees to complete the handgun permit process. MCPD accepts cash, credit and money orders for payment.

On Tuesday and Thursday, the Records Division will be closed for in-person business. During this time, it will still be available via phone, email and fax.

“We will not be processing handgun or animal license tags on these dates,” Rodriguez said. “You may still make payments for any parking or animal ordinance violation citations via mail or over the phone any day, Monday-Friday.”

Anyone with questions in reference to the handgun permit process or any of the services provided by the Records Division can call a Records Division administrative assistant at 219-874-3221, ext. 1021 or 1022.

Questions will also be answered via Facebook Messenger.

Black Lives Matter to march in La Porte by invitation of residents
Organizers, city committed to maintaining peace during demonstration

La PORTE — A group of La Porte citizens will host a demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Friday – a protest that both organizers and city officials are committed to keeping peaceful.

The rally will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. downtown on the grounds of the La Porte County Courthouse at 813 Lincoln Way. It will feature several speakers, followed by a march through downtown, according to La Porte resident Jessica VanHook, one of the organizers.

The protest will call for better policing policies and a demand for more equitable treatment of minorities, in particular African Americans, in light of the death of George Floyd, who was killed while being detained by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

Floyd’s death has sparked massive demonstrations across the country – including one in Michigan City this past Sunday – many of which have broken out into vandalism, looting and violence between protestors and law enforcement.

VanHook and her co-organizers are determined to prevent such chaos Friday – and are working with the city to make sure of it, she said.

“We are not coming here to destroy anything,” she said. “We are coming here to build up voices that are going unheard. We’re not against La Porte – we are here with La Porte.”

The city will have law enforcement officers stationed at the protest to keep the peace, protecting both protesters and businesses from harm. Organizers have pledged to do their part, promising to swiftly remove anyone who causes trouble and turn them over to police, if necessary, VanHook said.

Several organizers met with Mayor Tom Dermody, La Porte Police Chief Paul Brettin and other officials on Thursday to discuss the protest.

The discussion was quite productive, with organizers agreeing to push back the planned time from noon to 4 p.m., and to clean up following the event, scheduled to end at 6 p.m., Dermody said.

Although La Porte police are committed to preventing looting or violence, the city fully supports the protesters’ First Amendment right to gather and demonstrate, the mayor said.

“This is what America is about,” Dermody said. “It’s about people sharing their voices, sharing their concerns. We want more involvement in the community – as long as it’s peaceful.”

Dermody – who protest organizers have invited to speak at the event – said he and the La Porte Police Department find the actions of Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death “atrocious.”

“That will never be acceptable here in La Porte,” he said.

“The mayor’s proactive approach led to a very productive discussion with the protest organizers,” Brettin said.

“They have assured us that they want their demonstration to remain civil and will do what they can to ensure that is the case. Our officers will be there for them to help protect their right to assemble, while also protecting the people and properties throughout our community.”

With all the strife occurring throughout the country right now, the mayor hopes locals will recognize the importance of uniting during these uncertain times.

“La Porte is such a great community,” Dermody said. “We need people of all races, of all colors, to come together.”

Nearly 100 people have committed online to attending Friday’s event, with hundreds more possibly joining them, VanHook said.

“It will be a good time to come together, to see how many people in your own town are with you,” she said of the protest.

For more information, visit the protest’s Facebook page at facebook.com/events/2611767759105629.