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Ordinances lead to confusion over Washington Park rules and how to enforce them

By KELLEY SMITH Staff Writer​ ​ ​

MICHIGAN CITY — It’s customary for Michigan City Parks Department employees to man the gate at Washington Park from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But those who drove to the lakefront as recently as last week may have noticed they were still there.

Parks Superintendent Ed Shinn addressed the Michigan City Common Council last week to explain that having adopted Ordinance 4546 on Sept. 1 requires that only park sticker-holders be allowed to enter Washington Park – indefinitely.

“Your intentions were good,” Shinn told the council. “[But] Ordinance 4546 kind of puts a bind on the Parks Department. We do have people at the gates now. We’re complying with the ordinance, but we do ask that you amend it.”

Councilwoman Angie Nelson-Deuitch questioned why the ordinance was interpreted so literally when, in the past, the gates have only been manned seasonally.

“When have we been so literal? Now we are, and it’s affecting the budget,” she said.

Councilman Michael Mack said he wouldn’t have supported the ordinance had he known it would have caused such a problem.

“So, there might have been a little lack of communication that the Parks Department did not have a reopening plan, but I just want to assure you that before you came out with that ordinance, we had hammered out quite a few different plans until we came up with a very good reopening plan for Washington Park – with COVID or in any situation,” Shinn said.

“The plan involves keeping the pier open to the Michigan City people and allowing the visitors not to enter Lot No. 1. And I think that not only ... solves the distancing problem with COVID, but I think that the Michigan City people wanted to be able to enter Washington Park Lot 1 and enjoy their pier.”

The conversation arose as the council discussed a related, but different, ordinance allowing the Michigan City Police Department, city code enforcers and possibly members of the Parks Department to issue civil citations – with fines of up to $2,500 – to people caught violating park rules.

That ordinance passed by a vote of 7-1 last week, with Mack as the lone “no” vote.

“Instead of us handing process to the Parks Department, we should work with them to create processes that are similar to what we’ve had before without interjection of fines,” Mack said.

“I don’t think fines and threats of fines and signs of fines create different behaviors from people. I’m just not big on huge regulations from lawmakers.”

The mechanism for allowing police to ticket people was an ordinance introduced by Councilman Paul Przybylinski. He said stepping on people’s toes was not his intention; but he maintained that oversight is the function of the council and such responsibility means the new ordinance is warranted.

“This ordinance is accomplishing the task so that people can actually be given citations that violate the park rules,” Przybylinski said. “... We found out that there was an error in an adjoining ordinance passed to enforce or give monetary civil penalties to people who violate rules down in the park.”

His brother, fellow Councilman Don Przybylinski, agreed, saying, “If people are breaking the law at Washington Park, then they should pay the penalty.”

Councilwoman Dalia Zygas was concerned that the new ordinance might make Ordinance 4546 obsolete.

The only person to vote against Ordinance 4546, Councilman Bryant Dabney, said he wanted to find the fastest way possible to get rid of it.

Council attorney Jim Meyer said because the ordinance has already been adopted by the council and signed into law by Mayor Duane Parry, it cannot be rescinded, revised, edited or amended without the adoption of yet another ordinance calling for that.