Carmel City Council candidates talk debt, diversity at forum

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Five of the eight candidates running in contested races for the Carmel City Council participated in a League of Women Voter’s forum Sept. 5 at Carmel City Hall. The central, northeast, north and west districts have a Republican and Democrat running in the Nov. 5 general election.

Only the west district race, in which Republican Debra Minott is running against Democrat Miles Nelson, had both candidates in attendance. Two Republican incumbents, Sue Finkam of the northeast district and Laura Campbell of the north district, could not attend because of other commitments. Their respective opponents, Democrats Ti’Gre McNear and William Howard, participated.

Democrat Cleaster Davis, who is running against incumbent Republican Bruce Kimball in the central district, missed the forum because he was in the hospital.

Several questions from the audience focused on Carmel’s debt and spending. Many of the Democratic candidates said they were concerned about the city’s debt load.

“Even with good debt, at some point you need to stop,” McNear said. “What I’m saying for Carmel leadership is for us to put a halt to the amount of debt we are allowing to incur.”

Minott said she believes the city’s debt load is manageable, even if a recession were to occur.

“I am not concerned about the debt as it stands today, because most of that debt relates to (tax increment financing) and those bonds are tied to the individual development projects that they produce,” she said. “If there is a recession, which is the reason folks often worry about debt, those development projects still exist.”

Candidates also weighed in on Hotel Carmichael, a $43.5 million luxury boutique hotel under construction through a partnership between the City of Carmel and developer Pedcor.

“I feel, unfortunately, asking a candidate about Hotel Carmichael is difficult, because the cow has already left the barn on this one,” Nelson said. “If I come out against it, there’s really nothing I can do about that. I hope it turns out beautifully, and I hope it’s always full.”

His opponent has concerns about the project but is optimistic it will succeed.

“I’m excited to watch this coming up out of the ground, but I have to say I’m personally skeptical that we can fill it,” Minott said. “I’m confident that the people who did their homework did it well, and I want it to be successful because it is a reflection of Carmel.”

The candidates also expressed their opinions on Carmel’s diversity – both on the council and elsewhere – and what can be done to enhance it.

Nelson pointed out that a Democrat has never served on the Carmel City Council.

“It’s hard to have a diversity of opinion when it’s always just one singular group,” he said. “It is time for a change in Carmel, and this is the time to do it.”

Howard said electing a Democrat to the council would be a good step in creating a government that is representative of the people it serves.

“Currently, that is not the case,” he said, adding later that the sitting council is “a bit of an echo chamber” that lacks independent voices.

Kimball and Minott said they believe the city is doing well with promoting diversity in several areas.

“We are doing things right,” Kimball said. “We’ve got a mayor who is a renaissance mayor who has gone out of his way to create a diverse city not just in housing, but in culture.”

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