Bella to Continue at the Helm on Merrillville Council – Neal to serve as VP

Bella to Continue at the Helm on Merrillville Council – Neal to serve as VP

Inauguration_1January 1 is not only the first day of the New Year, but it also marks the beginning of new leadership in the Town of Merrillville.

The Town’s elected officials were sworn-in Monday during an inauguration event. In a special Town Council meeting that followed, Councilor Rick Bella was selected by his fellow Councilors to serve a fifth year as the Town Council President.

Interim Town Manager Michael Griffin served as the event emcee and introduced Lake County Superior Court Judge Gina L. Jones, a former Merrillville Town Court Judge, who administered the oath of office to the Councilors, the Clerk-Treasurer, and the Town Court Judge.

Taking the Oath of Office on Jan. 1 in the standing-room-only Town Council Chambers were 1st Ward Councilor Rhonda Denise Neal, 2nd Ward Councilor Shauna Haynes-Edwards, 3rd Ward Councilor Leona Chandler-Felton, 4thWard Councilor Margaret A. Uzelac, 5th Ward Councilor Rick Bella, 6th Ward Councilor Shawn Pettit, and 7th Ward Councilor Keesha M. Hardaway. Newly elected Clerk-Treasurer Eric O. January and Town Court Judge Eugene M. Velazco also took the Oath.

Bella will be starting his 17th year in office. Councilor Pettit is the only member with more years of service than Bella as Pettit begins his 21st consecutive year as the 6th Ward representative on the Town Council. Bella served 12 straight years starting in 1992, then returned to the board in 2020. Councilor Uzelac will begin her ninth year on the board.

“I am very honored to be selected to continue as Council President, a job that I take seriously and work very hard at every day,” Bella said with gratitude. He looks forward to collaborating with both new and familiar faces on the Council to maintain the Town’s momentum.

Councilor Rhonda Neal was selected to serve as the Council Vice President for 2024. She will fill in for the Council President when needed and assist Bella with his duties. Neal is new to politics and was appointed to serve the balance of former Councilor Don Spann’s term after his passing in 2023. Neal then ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections.

“Today was a phenomenal day,” Neal said. “It is an honor to be appointed as the Vice President of the Merrillville Town Council. I am excited to work with the new Council, but, more importantly, to make an impact and serve the citizens of Merrillville.”

Bella will survey the board to see what committees interest the members, and he will make committee assignments at the Jan. 9 Council meeting. There are a few citizen openings on various boards and commissions, and residents are encouraged to submit letters of interest to serve on those panels. Letters should include recent voting party history as some boards have restrictions. Please contact the Town Administration office at Town Hall at 219-769-5711, ext. 303, or email 

Visit to view a full photo gallery from the inauguration and special Town Council meeting.