This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No sparks fly

I attended the Republican candidate forum at the Community Services Building on Tuesday night because I realized how little I knew about local politics. All the candidates for the Republican primary were there. The Democrats seem not to have anyone on the ballot at this time, but Democratic Committee can add them later.

The first thing I learned (from my table companion) was that the lunches served at the Community Services Building have became vastly more popular since Devons began catering them in August. The lunches cost $1.50 and are available to those over 60. (Most of the activities at the Community Services Building are intended for old people.)

There were roughly 50 people at the forum, about half candidates and their families. The program began with each candidate given three minutes to talk about whatever he or she wanted. Herb Arihood led off the evening, mentioning that he was finishing up his twelfth year as major. He was proud of the $12 million spent on infrastructure improvements that the city has undertaken. (Over the course of the evening it was revealed that the city has no taxing authority--the tax money it gets is from county taxes. However, the city does control fees for utilities. And if you think about it, the major thing that the city does is run the utilities--water, sewer, gas, and electric.)

Steve Reames, who served a couple terms as county sheriff, was up next, and he was critical of the annexation of the I-65 corridor, implicitly wondering if the cost to residents was too high. However, he said that it was a done deal and that as mayor he would try to mange the annexation to keep costs down. (When the city annexes an area, it is required to make city services available to the annexed area within three years. Hence, by annexing the area around the I-65 interchange, the city obligated itself to run water, sewer, gas, and electric to that area. It may already have the gas there--the city supplies gas far beyond city boundaries.)

With a bit of disagreement expressed early, I expected to see conflicting visions to be displayed during the rest of the evening. It was not to be--no sparks flew, at least none that I could detect. There may have been subtle criticisms that I missed. (You should be aware that I am giving you my impressions, which may be quite different from the impressions that others who were there might have gotten. If anyone who was there has different impressions, they are welcome to give them in the comments.)

Rick Williams was the third mayoral candidate to speak. He has been on the city council for 16 years. He did not seem to have any criticism of the current mayor, but cited his long service on many different committees and his good working relationships with the heads of the various city departments as reasons he would be a good mayor.

Frieda Bretzinger is unopposed for Clerk/Treasurer. Her office pays bills and manages the payroll. I was left wondering why this office is elected rather than appointed.

In Ward 1 Liz Austin is running against Bill Hollerman. Austin said she was running because others told her she should run. She wanted to move the meetings to a later time and to have the cable company broadcast them so the public could be more involved. In the question answer session later, the mayor said that the 4:00 start time was for the convenience of the city superintendents who give reports to the city council. Hollerman has been on the council for 11 years. He said he was running because he has the time to devote to the job, being semi-retired. He also stressed that a councilman is one of five votes, and that councilmen do not normally have an agenda but react to the ideas that are put before them.

In Ward 2 Mark Callaway and Russ Overton are vying for an open seat. Callaway is a minister turned lawyer who has lived in Rensselaer for ten years. He was active in city politics in other towns he lived in and said that that experience would help him. Russ Overton introduced a couple themes that were repeated several times in the evening, that he was running because he wanted to give back to the city and that he wants Rensselaer to be a place where our kids can find good jobs instead of having to leave the city to pursue their careers.

I was struck by how much in agreement the candidates were on their vision of Rensselaer. They want it to grow. No one took the position that we are the right size and that it would be good that we stayed the size we are.

George Cover in Ward 3 and Richard Comingore in Ward 4 are unopposed in the primary. Cover was proud to have worked on the things that the council has done, and Comingore praised the city workers for their role in making the community a good place to live.

The two candidates for the at-large seat are Scott Barton, who seemed to be the youngest candidate, and Rick Odle. Barton was concerned that we keep the kids busy in the summer, so seemed be the one most interested in the Park Department. Odle, whose family came to the area in 1888, was the most explicit in saying that he wants Rensselaer to get bigger. He saw the annexation out to I-65 as an important way that the city could do that.

The meeting then had a break while questions were collected. As I watched the candidates, I was struck by their inactivity during this interval. I noticed only one who going from table to table introducing himself and talking to people he did not know.

There were two things I thought interesting in the question and answer session. In response to a question that asked if current residents would be subsidizing the utilities provided to the I-65 interchange area, the mayor said that it would not affect current residents because the extension would be financed with bonds. Reames replied that that bonds were an obligation to the citizens, so they were a burden. (By the way, the city currently has $18 million in debt--another little fact that popped out during the evening.) In response to a partial question, the mayor said that the reason for the Owens Street-Wood Road annexation is that the city well north of town had adversely affected the water wells of the people in the area, so the city had an obligation to extend city water to them. It was a short jump from extending water and annexing.

Again, I may have misrepresented positions or candidates and anyone thinks that I did so can correct me in the comments.


RoadRunner1117 said...

What an excellent overview! You've helped me better understand the positions of those running for office!

Desert Survivor said...

Glad you went to the meeting! I've been more involved in politics out here and find it's good to be more aware of what the candidates stand for.