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St. John Council acts to restructure town government citing last council's 'fiscal irresponsibility'

screenshot from Town of St. John, Indiana YouTube video

St. John's new town council members wasted little time overhauling the town government. During a pair of meetings Monday and Tuesday, the council replaced the town manager, town attorney and fire chief, along with a large number of board and commission members.

Newly-elected council president Mike Bouvat said the changes are designed to move the town forward and enhance residents' quality of life. "This town council or at least the majority have certain goals that we would like to achieve to get our town back on track and financially healthy," Bouvat explained Monday.

Former town council candidate Billy Manousopoulos was hired as town manager, replacing Joe Wiszowaty. Manousopoulos said he was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, and he has lived in St. John for the past 13 years.

"I'm looking forward to utilizing my 15 years of municipal experience as public works director to work through these challenges ahead," Manousopoulos said. "I'm excited to bring this council's vision to life, and thank you."

Joe Svetanoff, of the law firm Kopka Pinkus Dolin, was appointed town attorney, and Shane Adams was appointed fire chief.

The town council also approved changes to the personnel policy manual and the 2024 salary ordinance. Bouvat said that will eliminate or combine some positions, while also adding new ones.

"The changes being made will allow the town to undertake organizational restructuring that, quite honestly, is a direct result of the four years of fiscal irresponsibility, lack of a balanced budget and deficit spending," Bouvat said.

The new salary ordinance also seeks to correct what Bouvat called "the arbitrary and deliberate removal of pay raises of three employees" and create fair and equitable opportunities for advancement, among other changes.

Other ordinances change the "board of safety" back to a "board of metropolitan police commissioners" and disband the storm water management board altogether.

Bouvat felt the storm water board only existed to protect council members from backlash against storm water fees. "In the future, if the fee needs to be enacted, this town council will not hide from it, but rather, explain the necessity of same to the residents of our town," Bouvat added.

But Gerald Swets, one of the two returning council members, questioned whether the New Year's Day meeting was even legally called. "I never received any formal notice of this meeting," Swets said. "I never received any documentation for this meeting. I was never notified about any meeting. In fact, I found out about the meeting from a friend who heard a rumor. I had to drive here this morning to see the post on the board to make sure."

Svetanoff expressed confidence that town officials gave proper notice. Still, Swets voted against every action item Monday and didn't attend Tuesday's meeting at all.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.