The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 20, 2019 1:00 am

Attorney general tweaks staff

NIKI KELLY and BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Attorney General Curtis Hill has made changes to his executive leadership team.

Joan Blackwell, who had served as chief of staff since 2017, has been named general counsel for the office.

Previously, Blackwell was an attorney at Barnes & Thornburg, where she focused on bankruptcy, commercial law and litigation matters; as a section chief in the Office of the Attorney General under a previous administration; and as a staff attorney to Judge Frank J. Otte of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. She also teaches courses at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Mary Beth Bonaventura, who was special counsel for the past year, will replace Blackwell as chief of staff.

Before joining the office, Bonaventura was director of the Indiana Department of Child Services. She resigned and called out Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration for making changes in the agency and not providing enough funding to help kids.

Bonaventura also served 31 years as a judge in northwest Indiana.

New board chair

The State Board of Education has a new leader – B.J. Watts of Evansville.

Board members recently chose him as chair for the panel after Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said she no longer wanted the post. She is also not seeking re-election to her statewide post – which will become an appointed office.

Watts is executive director of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.'s OptIN program. Katie Mote of Madison is the new vice chair; Gordon Hendry of Indianapolis is secretary.

This is the first time the superintendent of public instruction has not chaired the State Board of Education.

Bray gets nod

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville has been put on the GOPAC Legislative Leaders Advisory Board.

“Our advisory board members are essential in our efforts to educate and elect leaders focused on Americans' personal and economic security,” said David Avella, chairman of the organization, whose mission is to build a roster of prepared and tested Republican leaders ready to run for higher office.

GOPAC was created in 1979 and stands for GOP action committee.

Board members promote the ideas they champion by addressing elected officials, candidates and members at the organization's events and through its digital program. In addition, they nominate a promising state legislator for the Emerging Leaders Program and provide updates on key legislative and political developments. Membership is a one-year term.

Meeting on crime

The Fort Wayne City Council will hold a special meeting Jan. 29 to discuss local crime, Council President John Crawford announced Tuesday.

“We've had more inquiries about crime lately and I think it's a good idea to have a discussion as to where we are and how we can make things better,” said Crawford, R-at large, who is running for mayor this year.

Representatives from the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, Lutheran Foundation, Fort Wayne Police Department, Fort Wayne United, Allen County' Sheriff's Department, prosecutor's office and the FBI will attend, Crawford said.

“Kind of a good cross-section and in that way, kind of give everybody an idea of where we are and maybe some new ideas of what we might pursue,” Crawford said.

The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29 on the garden level of Citizens Square.

Walorski shuffle

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski has promoted three people on her staff.

Walorski, R-2nd, recently announced that Mike Dankler has been named chief of staff to replace Ben Falkowski, who left her office to become vice president of Gula Graham, a political fundraising and consulting firm in Washington. Dankler previously was deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Walorski.

Brian Spaulding has been promoted from district director and general counsel to deputy chief of staff, based in the Mishawaka district office. Martin Schultz has been promoted from legislative assistant to legislative director. Schultz and Spaulding are Indiana natives, and Dankler is an Illinois native.

Walorski's northern Indiana district includes parts of Kosciusko County.

Dave Gong of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at or Niki Kelly at An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily