Indiana Central News
Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute, Indiana
ICN note: Links are provided for candidates with online sites available, for more information.
With the May Primary Election about three weeks away, several candidates running for seats on the County Council participated in a forum last night to discuss the issues the community faces.
Topping discussion at the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters , the evening focused on the need for a new county jail, demand for more drug rehabilitation programs for offenders, economic development and the planned renovation of Hulman Center. Seated before an audience of about 30 people in the lower level of the public library, at-large candidates included Democrats Richard "Rick" Burger (incumbent) ; Louis "Joe" Duby; Jeffrey D. Ewen; Brendan R. Kearns; Aaron Loudermilk and James R. (Jim) Mann. Stephen R. (Randy) Toney and Steve W. Ferree were not present. Republican at-large candidates participating in the event included Bill Treadway; Samuel F. Pollock; Courtney Ann Schmidt; and David Thompson. Rob Lundstrom was not present.
The issue of a run-down and overcrowded jail is one that all candidates agree needs addressed, and the sooner the better. A new jail is expected to cost about $54 million and will be designed to accommodate a growing inmate population -- potentially doubling inmate capacity. Meanwhile, although incumbent Burger claims the county has a sufficient drug and alcohol program in place for a bulk of offenders, Kearns was quick to argue that a previous reputable program was eliminated.
The subject seemed to strike a chord with the two candidates who work for the Terre Haute Police Department, Loudermilk and Thompson. They know first-hand from their work that a majority of arrests are linked to drug addiction and substance abuse. They both believe many offenders can benefit from options outside of a jail sentence.
"We need to make sure those programs are in place; it is important," Loudermilk said, noting that many question the efficiency of programs currently available to treat addiction. He added that substance abuse affects everyone in the community -- the families and the victims of crimes committed by drug-users.
Kearns said he is passionate about the issue and believes there is much room for improvement.
"The Judge Brown program as we know it is gone. Sure, there's a program in place --that does drug testing and stuff -- but the program, that used to be in the he old jail, is gone," Kearns said, explaining that he's witnessed the extent of meth and heroin manufacturing along the river bottoms in his work with the Department of Natural Resources.
When it comes to possibly building a new jail, Duby said the community must establish more community programs, while looking to the future in choosing designs and a location for the facility. He said it can't be done with a "quick-fix approach."
Improving quality of life in the county and projecting a more appealing image to attract economic development were highlighted goals of many of the contenders. Burger said the way to do that is by working with the city during its challenges.
Duby replied that the county is obligated to support the city. He also redirected focus to City Council members, with two in attendance at the forum.
Schmidt pointed out that supporting Terre Haute is important, but she cautions about bail outs, adding that the city needs to make necessary cuts in the budget. Property tax caps posed challenges for communities all over the state, she said, and others made necessary adjustments.
The candidates admit that the county needs to project a more positive image to attract future business and opportunity. Collaboration with community leaders was mentioned a few times during the forum.
Ewen reflected on similar economic challenges while he once served on a town council in another state.
"When we stopped getting the city on the front pages for the wrong reasons, people had greater confidence in the leadership," he said.
Pollock said a strategy to retain talent is to get more young professionals involved. He believes small business owners are the backbone of the community.
Mann agreed, adding that teamwork is imperative.
"We need to work with a framework of a goal of success. We need to promote with the idea of success. We need to work together to move forward," Mann said.
Treadway said the community needs to differentiate itself to be competitive, noting that clean energy is an idea to look into locally.
Schmidt believes the county suffers from a" brand perception problem," while many positive resources exist in the community to address certain problems.
The candidates feel that the planned $75 million renovation of Hulman Center will bolster the community's image, while also drawing more business and tourism.
© Indiana Central News. All rights reserved. Terre Haute, Indiana
News Writer: Lucy Perry