(La Porte County, IN) - The race for one open seat on the board of the La Porte County Commissioners is a rematch from a close election four years ago.
Sheila Matias, a Democrat, is seeking a second term as District 1 Commissioner against Republican Connie Gramarossa, a La Porte County Council member.
In 2018, Gramarossa was serving the remaining eight months of the four-year term of Mike Gonder when she lost to Matias by close to 800 votes or two-percentage points.
Matias, 67, of Michigan City, is President of the three-member commission.
The former public school English teacher served two terms on the city council in Michigan City before serving as mayor in that community from 1996 to 2003. Currently, Matias is also Executive Director of the Leadership Institute and the Society of Innovators at Purdue University Northwest.
Matias said her primary reason for running again is to complete projects she began, primarily extending broadband access. She said over $11 million in state and private dollars had been secured locally for providing greater access to high-speed internet since she formed the La Porte County Broadband Task Force soon after taking office.
What Matias described as a "heavy lift" is now up off the floor with efforts continuing to secure the other $70 million or more needed to fill all remaining broadband service gaps in the county.
“I am determined that we are going to make lots of headway in that regard. It’s just too important for children, for families, for small businesses, and for being the place where remote workers can come and have a great quality of life and have a business out of their home,” Matias said.
Matias said she's also running because she enjoys using her problem-solving abilities to serve the public.
“It’s something I get great pleasure out of. I think it’s a skill set that I’m blessed with,” Matias said.
Matias' other long-term goals include job growth and creating more new housing for all income levels.
A recent study by Vibrant Communities showed La Porte County has a glut of older housing, which many believe works against efforts to attract and retain more young professionals.
"We've had a couple of housing developers we've been working with that are coming to La Porte County and beginning to look at places that are appropriate for them to build neighborhoods. That's a really good sign, but we need to keep pressing forward on that," Matias said.
Gramarossa, 58, and her husband, Rich, recently purchased a Bruno's Pizzeria franchise opening soon in Michigan City. The Michigan City couple has also previously run other construction and real estate businesses.
Gramarossa said she's running to provide a different style of leadership aimed at getting more things accomplished in areas like maintenance from the executive branch of county government. She vowed to dedicate more time to what the position receives now from Matias and the other two commissioners; Rich Mrozinski and Joe Haney.
As a result, Gramarossa said the declining condition of the courthouse in La Porte is among things getting overlooked or put off.
“You have trees growing out of the gutters. This is all lack of maintenance, I believe, from a commission that doesn’t work on day-to-day activities,” Gramarossa said.
Gramarossa said her other goals include making sure the La Porte County Sheriff's Office has enough "seasoned officers" well into the future to combat a rise in crime.
Gramarossa said the council raising the local income tax earlier this year to boost the salaries of all emergency responders was a step toward eliminating major problems with turnover. She said the next step is making sure salaries, once they're competitive enough, remain that way to avoid employees leaving again for higher pay.
Gramarossa also wants the La Porte County Office of Economic and Community Development to provide more assistance to small communities by creating jobs and improving their quality of life.
“You see small towns struggling to try to bring economic development in for themselves. We need to restructure it and really work with the towns that we have in the county,” Gramarossa said.
Gramarossa is in her second year on the county council.