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A Multifaceted Conversation with Blair Milo and Bert Cook


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Last week I had the chance to sit down with two of the city of La Porte’s top decision makers and was able to learn a lot more about the city and many of their positive programs.

Mayor Blair Milo and Bert Cook, executive director of the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corporation covered a wide variety of topics from the ongoing property tax situation to a new summer event that is sure to make La Porte the place to be at the end of May.

What struck me the most about Milo is that right off the bat she pointed out that many of her staff members have been at City Hall for years, working for other Mayors of a variety of political backgrounds, Democrat and Republican.

“Everyone brings different ideas to the table in the spirit of deliberation,” she said, pointing out that Annette Loeffler is “a great asset,” bringing a historical perspective of knowing what’s worked and what has not worked through several other Mayoral administrations.

Loeffler could likely expand more on the city’s recent history of not re-electing sitting Mayors, as the executive role has alternated between Republic and Democratic hands every four years for some time now. For Milo to buck the trend, she will have to announce her desire to run for re-election in 2015, something she is not ready for, declaring that a decision on that matter should come later in the year.

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Milo did point out the recent improvements in the city’s health insurance program that changed in 2012 to offer “a more reasonable deductible.”

“Our policy is far and away better than some other communities. Some have even contacted us to see how we did it,” she said.

Cook has stressed the “retention and expansion” of business in La Porte and has seen more of that over the last few years.

“A lot happens with optimism,” he said, and Mayor Milo brings optimism every day through her transparency on social media and popular “Fitness Friday” program.

The two major economic development projects going on in La Porte are the expansion of Thomas Rose Industrial Park and NewPorte Landing. The mayor says these two projects are imperative to allow young La Porteans to “stay here and raise a family here.”

Having been attached to Michigan City for years, I know all about summer events that make La Porte County a tourist hotbed for Chicagoans. Now, La Porte is getting in on the game with the Maple City Grand Prix, a three-day event culminating with a race on Stone Lake. This year, the event will mark the beginning of the F1 season.

“I remember last year (the inaugural Maple City Grand Prix) seeing every parking lot filled and every hotel booked to capacity,” Cook said. “Over $1 million is pumped in to our local economy from that event alone.”

In this social media dominated age, it’s easy for the negative aspects of a community to be put on full blast, sometimes in a redundant manner. But serious issues like the heroin epidemic, not only in the city of La Porte but the entire County, are being dealt with in a pro-active way. Milo has been part of an organization team that has held “drug-free roundtables” and door-to-door campaigns to fight substance abuse. Drug-free task forces have been set up in fifth grade classrooms at the city’s schools. Bethany Lutheran Church has been paramount, the Mayor says, in promoting the D.A.R.E. program.

The mayor put it best, noting that the drug problem exists everywhere.

“The difference here is that we talk about it,” she said. “Other communities experience the same issues, but you can’t change things unless you talk about it. It takes an effort to make a change.”

 

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