David Hoppe

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:: State does right by Dunes State Park

by David Hoppe

Buddhists refer to what they call “the Eightfold Path,” or the way by which we humans may achieve enlightenment. One aspect of the Eightfold Path is known as Right Action. What constitutes Right Action is open to interpretation, though it seems fair to say that if you’re paying attention, you’ll know it when you see it.
                                 
On Oct. 6, the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission was asked to rule on whether to grant a permit to sell alcoholic beverages in Indiana Dunes State Park.

The permit was requested by a development group, Pavilion Partners, working in what’s come to be known as a public-private partnership with the state’s DNR. The problem here — one of them, anyway — is that scrutiny revealed that, in this case, “public-private partnership” may be code for “sweetheart deal.”

Several hundred folks who have showed up at public meetings in Porter County, where the park is located, take a dim view of this deal. They adamantly oppose the new development, especially the proposed liquor permit.

The local alcoholic beverage commission listened to their complaints and finally denied the permit. But then that ruling went to Indianapolis, where the state board reserves the right to overturn a local ruling.

Up north, state government is seen as Republican owned and operated. And since one of the leading partners in Pavilion Partners is a Republican big wig, there was some concern about how the state commission would deal with this issue.

But the state commission did the right thing. After checking to make sure Porter County had followed due process, David Cook, the state chair, declared, “There is no reason to overturn the local board’s ruling.”

Cook said it was not the state board’s job to judge whether the board in Porter County had made a good or bad decision, but to determine whether it followed the rules according to the state statute.

This affirmation of local control was not a foregone conclusion. In the past, the Republican-dominated state legislature has acted to change the configuration of Indianapolis’s City-County Council to better suit the agenda of the city’s Republican mayor. Earlier this year, Republican-sponsored legislation tried to make it impossible for local communities to bar the creation of industrial-scale livestock operations within their town limits.

When you have what amounts to one-party rule, politicians have a way of confusing what they want with what people actually need. This is what politicians like to call “getting things done.” In the case of Indiana Dunes State Park, an architectural treasure — the park’s Art Deco pavilion — had been allowed to fall into deplorable shape due to state negligence.

Then someone got the bright idea to save this gem by using it as leverage for a much larger, profit-making operation run by cronies of the party in power. Or in political parlance, what’s called a “win-win.”

Except it’s not what was needed, nor what most people who love the park wanted.

The Porter County Alcoholic Beverage Commission listened and got the message. The state backed them up. Right Action like this should never be taken for granted.