After heated discussion, Carmel tables decision on hiring a bicycle administrator

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The Carmel City Council had a heated debate Jan. 5 about hiring a proposed full-time bicycle administrator for the city, ultimately tabling the matter for another meeting.

Those advocating for the position at the finance committee meeting were City Councilors Ron Carter and Bruce Kimball and several members of Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard’s team, including Nancy Heck, director of community relations and economic development.

The other five city councilors expressed skepticism and asked a variety of questions. This prompted Carter to say he felt most of them already had their minds up when they entered the meeting room.

“I don’t even know why we have these meetings,” Carter said.

Council President Sue Finkam said that comment frustrated her because she said she came in with an open mind and did hours of research on this position.

“For you to say that makes me very angry,” Finkam said.

Heck said the new job, which would earn up to $69,000 a year including benefits, would focus on promoting cycling in Carmel and would differ from the role of David Littlejohn, the city’s alternative transportation coordinator.

City Councilor Jeff Worrell asked why the position needed to be added at this time. Supporters of the new role said it’s because a particularly qualified applicant has become available. The individual doesn’t work for the City of Carmel but doesn’t want to be named because of current employment.

“Is this biking position the most important need for the city at this time?” Worrell asked. “I ask that because we’re being asked to approve something that isn’t the budget.”

Heck said cycling is an economic development tool and a major priority.

“To me, this person needs to take what’s here and go to the next step,” Heck said. “We’ve never had one person solely focused on advocating on bicycling and to me that means marketing. We need someone to go into businesses and work with media professionals. Working to get us in national publications for our bicycling programs.”

Finkam questioned whether there might be other funding priorities, especially considering the Carmel Fire Dept. wished to add another fire engine with a ladder but needs to hire additional employees to do so.

Finkam said she thinks many of the position’s job duties could already be done by people on staff.

“Why can’t we do this now?” Finkam asked.

Heck said her department is already understaffed.

“We’d have to put other things on the back burner,” Heck said.

Councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider asked why this job couldn’t be done by a consultant.

After spending two hours discussing the issue, some councilors felt the role needs to be broadened to include other economic development areas beyond cycling.

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