“When you are providing services to poor people, nobody should be taking a trip to a carribean island. The timing of the trip coinciding with Mary Cossey’s 50th birthday appears to be deliberate” Gary Common Council Member LaVetta Sparks-Wade
Gary Chief of Staff Dayna Bennett poses for a photo in Aruba
July 12, 2017-The Calumet Township Board questioned a request for reimbursement by Calumet Township Trustee Kimberly Robinson at a February meeting. In documents obtained by Gary Common Council Member LaVetta Sparks-Wade, long time Township Board Member Attorney Clorius Lay questions whether the expenditures are legal and justified:
Councillor Sparks-Wade says she was given a tip to look at the Township meeting minutes. “I requested the documents . . .I wasn’t really looking for anything” Sparks-Wade told the Gazette. The stated purpose of the trip was to attend a conference entitled “Counseling and Treating People of Colour, an International Perspective.” According to the conference website, the event was held from November 28, 2016 through December 2, 2016. Photographs and other information shared via social media makes clear that the delegation also planned to celebrate the birthday of Freeman-Wilson confidant Mary Cossey. On December 2, the last day of the conference, Cossey posted to social media site Facebook “I never knew 50 would be so much fun. I welcome me to the 50 club. Lolol” Sparks-Wade points to the timing of the trip as even more reason for suspicion. “When you are providing services to poor people, nobody should be taking a trip to a carribean island. The timing of the trip coinciding with Mary Cossey’s 50th birthday appears to be deliberate” Sparks-Wade stated.
Screenshot of Mary Cossey Dec. 2, 2016 Facebook post
Indeed, the trip came at a time when Griffith was suing to exit Calumet Township primarily because of the extremely high administrative costs associated with running the township. In a lawsuit, Griffith and Calumet Township are arguing over whether Kimberly Robinson has reduced administrative costs to less than 12 times the statewide average. Robinson has laid off employees and forced other employees to take furlough days to reduce costs and avoid the Griffith exit from the Township. Griffith Council President Rick Ryfa stated “this just provides yet another example of the how the Township is so broken that it cannot be fixed. Our best bet is to just part ways.”
Calumet Township has suffered from abuse and mismanagement for years. Former Trustee Mary Elgin recently entered a guilty to plea to wire fraud in Federal Court. Prior to Elgin, Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen served time in prison for defrauding the Township. Kimberly Robinson’s Mother Wanda Joshua also was convicted and served prison time as a result of the Dozier Allen scandal.
During the trip, numerous members of the international delegation, which included Mayor Karen Freeman, shared pictures of the group and its members. All of the photos showed the group in various restaurants, bars and recreational activities. None showed anyone attending a conference. For her part, Mayor Freeman-Wilson was silent on social media during the time frame November 28, 2016 and December 2, 2016. In addition to Freeman-Wilson, Dayna Bennett, Mary Cossey, Kimberly Robinson and Sarita Smith, Calumet Township Attorney Rinzer Williams attended the trip. The Gazette has no information on who paid for Williams’ trip to the conference or what purpose taking your attorney to a conference would serve. Williams is also attorney to the Gary Common Council and has at least one other contract with the City of Gary and another with Lake County.
Please let us know in the comments. Do you think a trip to Aruba is a legitimate expense for a local elected official? We hope to follow up with more information if there is enough interest.
Watch LaVetta Sparks-Wade and Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington discuss Kimberly Robinson’s Aruba Trip in a Facebook video: