INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb has no interest in having the state take over day-to-day operations at the city of Gary as it has for the cash-strapped Gary Community School Corp.
In an exclusive interview with The Times, the Republican said his goal is not to displace Gary's locally elected municipal leaders, but for the state "to assist in making sure they are on a flight path to success.
"I am hell-bent on helping Gary," Holcomb said.
"Gary has so many advantages over any other community in the state of Indiana, and it's going to be my job, as long as I'm here, to assist in not just enhancing, but also helping them get on sound financial footing."
Holcomb said he sees "glimmers of hope" in Gary following recent announcements that an Illinois steel manufacturer is moving to the city and a California energy company has selected Gary for its trash-to-jet fuel biorefinery.
"Gary has got this location that's second to none," Holcomb said.
The governor suggested that if the state continues working with city officials to tear down derelict structures and clear land for future development, the potential to connect Gary residents and businesses with Chicago seemingly is unlimited.
"They've got the grit and they've got the determination that together we can do this," Holcomb said. "Being that close to one of the biggest markets in the country, this is a huge asset for us.
At the same time, Holcomb acknowledged that the city's government is struggling financially.
In fact, Gary meets several of the financial conditions required to qualify for assistance from the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board, such as routinely transferring funds to cover employee payroll and significantly delaying vendor payments.
State law, however, requires the city council and mayor to jointly request DUAB help, and there's no indication that Gary leaders are planning to seek it.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 3, could act to supplant Gary's elected leaders, if it believes the city's finances are out of control, and temporarily replace them with a state-appointed emergency manager as it did in 2017 for Gary's public schools.
Holcomb said, from his perspective, that would absolutely be "the last resort."
"We're not trying to take over anything. We're here to help them get on the right path," Holcomb said.
"I'm optimistic about this. I really am bullish about the future of, not just Gary, but the Region, because we're coming together."