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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

December 18, 2018

The Munster Times. December 14, 2018

Judge should stop coddling convicted thief, send him to prison

Criminal court judges shouldn’t coddle and enable convicted criminals.

But that seems to be what’s happening in a particularly egregious case of an admitted thief whose victims were some of the Region’s most vulnerable citizens.

Lake County Judge Salvador Vasquez needs to stop offering second chances to admitted thief John F. Kmetz, who stole from a special needs charity for children, and send the defendant to prison.

This shouldn’t be a hard conclusion for Vasquez to reach.

He all but promised to do so when Kmetz was sentenced for his admitted crimes if certain conditions weren’t met.

As Vasquez sentenced Kmetz to probation and ordered the defendant to pay restitution in September 2017, the judge said:

“And I really do want to emphasize to you, Mr. Kmetz, that if you fail to make significant payments towards this amount in this one-year period, your probation will be revoked. And in the worst-case scenario to you, you’ll go to prison for four years. That’s possible. I want to make sure that you’re perfectly clear on this.”

That worst-case scenario should clearly be upon Kmetz.

Kmetz, 81, stole the money from Hunky Hollow Athletic Club and Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Indiana while while serving as treasurer of the club.

When he was sentenced for his crimes last year, Kmetz assured the judge he could pay the $12,693 in restitution he owed the charity within a year of his sentencing date.

Based on that assurance, Vasquez sentenced Kmetz to four years of probation.

Kmetz appeared in court in September 2018, accused of violating terms of his probation by only paying a scant $545 in restitution in the past year.

He should have been sent to prison then and there.

But in a subsequent November hearing, Vasquez agreed to give Kmetz until January before a final decision is rendered.

Enough is enough.

Kmetz is a low-life who stole from a charity for vulnerable children with special needs.

He promised to pay restitution in a year on the good graces of the court.

Kmetz failed in that promise.

What more does Vasquez need?

Send this man to prison — and send the right message to any other would-be thieves of Kmetz’s ilk.

Our justice system should not be a coddling benefactor for admitted criminals.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. December 14, 2018

18-year emergency

At a legislative conference in Indianapolis Wednesday, leaders from both parties agreed that the Indiana Department of Child Services’ problems have to be a major focus of the session that begins next month.

“We’ve been dealing with this emergency since 2000,” Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said this week of the ongoing challenges at DCS. “We were highly critical of the (Frank) O’Bannon administration. Mitch (Daniels) ‘solved’ them- well, they weren’t solved. And then the Pence administration ‘solved’ them, and they weren’t solved.”

“The speaker is right,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said. “This is not something that just happened overnight. ... It’s been there for a long enough time that one has to wonder why we can’t solve the issues involving DCS.”

A study completed mid-year recommended changes in how DCS does its job, and legislators must try to ensure those adjustments are made even as they consider the department’s request for an additional $286 million for each of the next two years.

No one believes it’s just about money. But there is little question the department needs additional funding to cope with huge increases in the number of abused and neglected children it must deal with, many of whom are coming from families shattered by the opioid crisis.

A study completed in June found staff turnover is still high and that caseworkers were overworked, underpaid and demoralized. DCS Director Terry Stigdon began addressing those problems this summer with emergency money provided by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Dealing with those problems should help the department retain experienced managers, attorneys and caseworkers- which in turn should help Stigdon face other challenges identified in the study by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group.

One area legislators need to look at closely is resources for foster parenting.

As The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly reported Tuesday, some lawmakers are concerned the department’s request for additional funding does not seem to address that area.

Sharon Pierce, president and CEO of The Villages, the state’s largest private foster-placement organization, said Thursday the need for more foster families and resources to support them continues to be critical.

Organizations such as The Villages use private funding and grants to meet some of their needs, but they have to work in partnership with DCS.

“The reality is that the vast majority of services to the children in DCS’s care are provided by the private sector,” Pierce said.

Though the state’s Children in Need of Services peaked at about 29,000 a year and a half ago, there still are more than 20,000 such children at present, Pierce said. Not all of them will need foster care, of course. In fact, a major recommendation of the Child Welfare Group was that DCS find ways to reduce the number of children who have to be taken from their homes. But there are times when foster care is the only option, and the state should be doing everything possible to encourage families who are willing to help.BosmaLananeStigdonPierce

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South Bend Tribune. December 11, 2018

Planetarium’s gift keeps on giving

Sometimes, when you reach for the stars, you receive an unexpected gift.

Just ask Kennedy Academy’s planetarium director Lisa Artusi.

Her proposal to upgrade Kennedy’s aging planetarium was one of five projects awarded a $100,000 grant through Farmers Insurance Thank America’s Teachers competition.

Kennedy’s 46-year-old planetarium is one of only 400 left in the country, educating students about planets and stars.

The most important part of the project includes updating the technology with a “full dome” experience to explore stars, oceans and the Arctic Circle. There also are plans to add scenes of dinosaurs and the surface of Mars, made all the the more timely through NASA’s InSight Mars Lander that touched down Nov. 26.

Renovations are expected to start soon and will take three to four months to complete.

Adding to the excitement was the fact that the announcement came during an assembly at Kennedy last week where students and faculty were able to share Artusi’s joy.

The public participated by voting for their favorite teacher proposals throughout the year.

Dr. Alan Engel, in a letter to the editor Oct. 31, described the planetarium as a “community treasure” and a “wonderful facility that has brought the beauty and wonderment of space to our students for over 45 years.”

Engel credited the “vision, determination and hard work” of Artusi and Kennedy in helping to win the grant.

That vision will bring Kennedy’s planetarium into a sharper focus for years to come as it continues to teach students about the world around them.

. . .

Kennedy wasn’t the only South Bend school to receive an honor recently. Twelve-year-old Kali Yazel won $15,000 for her family of five and $30,000 for her school — LaSalle Academy — for getting the top prize in Uncle Ben’s 2018 Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest.

Kali’s recipe was for enchiladas — a family favorite — and was made with brown rice, cheese and black beans. They plan to use the money Kali won to pay for a family vacation.

Nicole Medich, principal at LaSalle, would like to use the school’s winnings to improve the culinary skills of her students. Medich said she wants to renovate two old home economics classrooms on the school’s second floor into space for elective cooking classes.

Cooking and eating meals as a family was once a tradition, but in today’s fast-paced world it seems more like a luxury.

Maybe LaSalle’s recent good fortune will encourage some students to restart their own family traditions and get cooking!

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