Lake County Surveyor George Van Til today issued a statement saying he is resigning his position effective Thursday. According to the statement, Van Til says, “I believe that my political skills have often been a positive force for good yet, in the end, I let political campaigns intrude into the taxpayers work negatively and, ultimately, illegally. And for this, now, in declining health and regretting my errors, I need to leave.”
On Monday, Van Til agreed to plead guilty to six-counts of wire fraud, one-week before a trial was set to begin and a change of plea hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. The 65-year-old, who's been Lake County's surveyor for more than twenty years, is accused of using county employees in his office to do campaign work. The plea deal would also require Van Til to pay restitution, and two obstruction of justice charges would be dropped. State law prohibits public officials convicted of felonies from holding office.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2013
STATEMENT FROM GEORGE VAN TIL
LAKE COUNTY SURVEYOR
UPON SENDING LETTER OF RESIGNATION
DECEMBER 3, 2013
Forty four years ago, as a part-time college student, I walked into a Political Science Club meeting at Indiana University Northwest and while about the same time, I signed up to help as a Clerical Union Organizer at Bethlehem Steel where I was employed. I was just a struggling young father with an autistic son.
That was the beginning of my public political involvement in our area. It quickly led to my election to the first of two terms on the Highland Town Board in 1971 at the age of 24 and on to working on the staff of the Indiana House of Representatives; the U.S. Senate; the North Township Trustee; the County Sheriff’s Department, and much, much more.
I involved myself in literally dozens of voluntary civic, charitable and environmental groups and causes, unmatched by any political leader, while later I was elected by a caucus to serve on the Lake County Council followed by my election in 1992 to the first of six (6) terms as Lake County Surveyor.
These 40 plus years, by most accounts, were good, honest public service. At virtually every step along the way I left positive projects and programs for the people in my wake. From the wonderful Gazebo, in Highland’s Main Square decades ago to continuous improvements in the County Surveyor’s office as recent as a very productive meeting last week. Making a positive impact through public service has always been my goal, my career, and the reality of my service. Few will try to dispute this except for naysayers and political old-timers who never liked my reform agenda. BUT, now this all ends. I’m finished. It’s done. I am resigning my position as Lake County Surveyor effective December 5, 2013.
I think that I have given valuable public service, but I’m certainly not indispensable. I know that I have served with integrity, but I’ve made significant mistakes. I believe that my political skills have often been a positive force for good yet, in the end, I let political campaigns intrude into the taxpayers work negatively and, ultimately, illegally. And for this, now, in declining health and regretting my errors, I need to leave.
I now know I stayed too long. I have been involved in more than 66 elections. I’ve run and won, myself, 17 times, and for those honors I will always be grateful to the good voters of our area. Also, I’ve played a significant role in dozens of other people’s campaigns for public office, most of them good. I did it honorably and honestly until, in the end, tired, sick and uncertain, I did it wrong.
I know that the people’s employees and the people’s resources are for the people’s business. And for decades that’s the way I rolled in spite of literally countless examples from others who showed no respect for this model. Throughout four decades I’ve seen many abuses of political campaigning by public employees and, while it was always my goal and desire not to cross that line, towards the end I definitely did, and I think that much of this came from staying too long and taking things for granted.
I’ve always argued that long service in the same public office can be very beneficial to the taxpayers. I believe I proved that, with the expertise and institutional knowledge that I built up through the years that is valuable in an office like County Surveyor.
But now I’ve come to acknowledge that long service in the same office can be detrimental and I believe that I am an example of the problems that can be caused by this. During the last third or so of my tenure, without really realizing it, I developed a sense that it was “my office” and “my staff”, and sometimes, especially in political situations, I approached it as such, on occasion asking employees to work for me, not the public. This was something that, that in retrospect gradually developed. I knew better, but as the years went by, as my enthusiasm for politics waned, as campaigns became more onerous, as my age climbed, as my health declined and as my comfort in the office increased, I gained a sense of entitlement that was wrong, and led to my wrong doing and my downfall.
So with these problems that I caused myself plus the lies of some who saw opportunities in my mistakes, along with the discoveries by the federal government which are outlined in my plea agreement, combined with my rapidly declining health, I now must leave the office I’ve served in and loved. It is terribly difficult for me, but the right thing to do.
My mistakes have cost me the end of my career, my stature, my good reputation, my livelihood, my savings and the respect of many, in spite of whatever public good I’ve produced. The Van Til family and name have been respected here in Lake County for more than 100 years and though I mostly added to that, in the end I did not uphold it as I should have. This is heartbreaking to me and my family and friends. It should have not turned out this way. I am sorry and I apologize to those who’ve expressed faith in me for so long and to the taxpayers of Lake County that I let down.
I ask those who believed in me for forgiveness. I apologize to the public for not staying the course. And so I say good-bye and God bless, and ask if you should run into my dear son, who was always so proud of me, if you can find it in your heart, please tell him that that his dad was a good and decent man who tried to do the right thing, and most often did, loving the practice of Public Service, and loving Lake County and the people of it.