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Settlement deal deadlocked for former Indiana Dunes Tourism leader

Lorelei Weimer, the longtime executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, was in the first year of a three-year contract when she stepped back in January to pursue other interests.

The tourism board approved a settlement agreement of about $220,000 for the remaining two years of his contract, along with a retirement fund and other benefits, according to tourism board chairman Mitch Peters.

Peters had hoped to put the agreement on the agenda for the Porter County Council’s next meeting on March 26, requesting a $225,000 appropriation, but that plan was stalled because county officials felt the issue warranted an executive session, which was not postponed. Anyway, let’s put it on the council agenda.

Peters said actual demand will be slightly higher to make sure all expenses are covered. Regardless, “this is the number unanimously approved by our board,” he said, and he would not recommend anything that is not in the best interest of tourism and Porter County.

Council Vice President Red Stone, R-1, who replaced Chairman Mike Brickner, R-At-large, was tasked with setting up the meeting as interim council president.

“I don’t put it on my meeting agenda, so that means,” Stone said, “that it’s not confiscated.”

Weimer took the nine-week vacation while IDT vice president Christine Livingston took over as the agency’s interim president and CEO on Jan. 19, the day after the board approved her as interim director.

Weimer had been with the agency for 33 years and worked there as an intern after college. He ran the agency for 22 years.

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Kyle Telechan / Post Tribune

Christine Livingston, vice president of Indiana Dunes Tourism, speaks during the Native Culture Trail celebration at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center on Sept. 27, 2023. He was appointed as the organization’s interim president and CEO.

Stating that the tourism board put the cart before the horse by approving the amount, Stone added that the agreement was subject to the confidentiality agreement between Weimer and the tourism board.

“If they can’t discuss this with us, I won’t put it on the agenda and vote,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a golden parachute or a settlement. “I don’t know what the agreement was for, and if I did, maybe he would change my mind.”

He said approving the funds wasn’t fair to taxpayers, adding that they would likely agree with him.

“If he had two years left, he would have left it (in the role) and said, ‘What’s going on here?’ “They could have said,” he said, adding that he objected to paying Weimer a maximum of a quarter of a million dollars. At the last council meeting, members were unable to agree on a $14,500 rent. new one For the coroner’s office.

At this point, the agreement is scheduled for an executive session, which officials say is the best place to address the issue.

“I think the solution would be to hold an executive session before our regular meeting,” said Assemblyman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, who served as chairman until Stone replaced him in January.

As for the transparency of the agreement, Rivas said Stone, a former longtime member of the Duneland School Board, should have understood the terms of confidentiality agreements regarding personnel matters. “There will be some things we can’t discuss,” Rivas said.

The council needs to take into account the unanimous decision of the tourism board for a solution.

“We have to consider that, and I’m not sure what the alternative would be. Not supporting the board’s agreement could lead to litigation,” Rivas said.

Rivas said after the executive session, the council could determine whether to put the deal on the meeting agenda and decide whether to fund it.

“Not funding the settlement basically tells the board and the county that we are letting this go to litigation that could cost a lot more,” he said.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, points out the measures the visitor center put in place to fulfill the Hoosier Hospitality Promise during the COVID-19 pandemic on July 23, 2020.  Weimer stepped back from his leadership role.

Kyle Telechan / Post Tribune

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, points out the measures the visitor center put in place to fulfill the Hoosier Hospitality Promise during the COVID-19 pandemic on July 23, 2020. Weimer stepped back from his leadership role in January.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Biggs, R-North, said he spoke with two members of the tourism board about what to do.

“I made the recommendation that you need to hold an executive session with the county council. The reason for that is there is so much misinformation out there,” he said.

His understanding is that the tourism board will arrange a closed-door meeting and invite the council.

“From my chair I think it’s a terrible mess,” Biggs said.

He told tourism board members they were asking the council for $225,000 to buy out the contract of an employee he learned had resigned because of a story in the Post-Tribune after the board approved a confidential settlement with him.

“Who in their right mind would do that?” He added that an executive meeting with county officials should come first, “before they agree to do anything, because at the end of the day, it’s not their decision.” “This is the council’s decision.”

“This is a huge red flag for me; very big. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”

Biggs said the tourism board should have provided justification for the council to accept the deal, adding that Weimer’s decision to resign “came as a huge surprise” to him and other elected officials who had no knowledge of the matter.

Additionally, Biggs said Weimer is the only department head with an employment contract and the others work by appointment. He said he sought a contract a few years ago after the then-manager of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority made a move to take over Porter County’s tourism bureau as well.

“One thing I’m sure of is that between the commissioners and the council, we don’t know the whole story here,” he said, adding that the tourism board agreed to pay the settlement without consulting the council first. “I think this is extremely unfair.”

alavalley@chicagotribune.com

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