The League of Women Voters held a forum all opposed candidates in the upcoming Carmel election and turnout was strong. Nearly every seat was full in the audience at Carmel City Hall for the March 25 event and almost every candidate showed up ready to debate the issues.
Laura Campbell, City Council candidate for the Northwest district, did not attend because she’s unopposed. Brian Poindexter, running unopposed for judge, gave a brief greeting to the crowd. Candidates in Carmel’s southwest City Council district – incumbent Carol Schleif and challenger Keith Griffin – did not participate in the event.
Questions were submitted on notecards by audience members and a moderator asked each one.
The debate between five-time incumbent Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and his challenger City Council President Rick Sharp never got too heated or nasty, but there were some direct comments made about the records of each other. And Sharp even asked at one point if the rules were going to be enforced since Brainard went over his time and he asked for a second rebuttal after one question. Both candidates spent rebuttal time correcting statements made by the other.
Topics included transparency, transportation, debt and economic development.
Sharp talked about how he would take a different approach to attracting corporations to move to Carmel by hiring an economic specialist instead of relying on marketing efforts.
Sharp said he hopes to have a thoughtful discussion during the campaign focused on the issues and based on facts.
“For me, I want to talk about the debt of the city and how we can best look at making sure we pay it down in an efficient manner and do not leave this burden to the next generation of Carmel residents,” he said.
Brainard focused on what he sees as Carmel’s success during his two decades in office, taking particularly note of property tax rates and home values. He claims property taxes have dropped 38 percent for the average homeowner since 1998, according to his study.
“What I’m proud of is the city’s fiscal management,” he said. “I’m proud of the mix of debt that we have. Only three percent of debt is paid for by residential taxpayers … The city’s in great financial shape.”
Much of the debate between longtime incumbent Diana Cordray and challenger Christine Pauley centered about whether Carmel should become a second-class city, which would increase the number of members on the Carmel City Council and replace the elected clerk-treasurer with an elected comptroller position. Both agreed that the decision would be left up to the City Council decide, but Pauley brought up the issue in her responses and said the next clerk-treasurer needs to amenable to whatever decision is made.
Pauley hinted at Cordray’s critics when emphasizing her leadership abilities.
“The strength of our community is built on each one of us working together,” she said. “It’s not an issue that differences of opinions exist. It’s an issue when it’s not handled in a professional manner.”
Cordray said she’s best person for the job because of her emphasis on government transparency. She emphasized her credentials and awards that she’s won since she took office in 1996.
“I have to attempted to be a trailblazer for women in my field,” she said.
Incumbent Sue Finkam is running against John Accetturo, who used to represent that district on the council before he launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat Brainard. Accetturo’s campaign focuses on getting more money for the Eastside of Carmel, which he said has been neglected as attention has turned to the city’s downtown.
“Carmel is a world-class community so Carmel should provide world-class services to our residents,” he said. “Carmel can do better.”
Finkam said she is more proactive than reactive compared to her opponent. She said Carmel doesn’t need a “watchdog” like Accetturo describes himself, but a proactive leader.
“A watchdog sits back on his haunches and waits for something to happen and barks really loud,” she said. “What this community really needs is a guide dog.”
Incumbent Luci Snyder disagreed with challenger Jeff Worrell about Carmel’s financial picture. Snyder said she believes her role as on the council is to provide checks and balances and be mindful of how tax dollars are spent. While the Council solves problems, but many decisions are strategic decisions are left to the city’s top executive, the mayor.
“I take those responsibilities very seriously,” she said. “But we are also the fiscal body. We are not the vision. Our job is to pay for the vision – responsibly. Not to take risks with other people’s money.”
Worrell, a member of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, said he believes Carmel’s financial outlook is strong and he believes there no need for negativity or pessimism about the city.
“It’s really about positive leadership,” he said. “Staying positive and using collaboration and compromise when necessary.”
Incumbent Eric Seidensticker is taking on Bruce Kimball. The challenger focused much of his talk on “progress” and “change” and how the city must adapt to attract millennials to move to the area, which in turn attracts corporate headquarters.
“We have to move forward,” he said. “We have to see what’s changing around us.”
Seidensticker said his emphasis is on protecting property values, which will keep the tax rates low. That’s why he wants to focus on infrastructure improvements. He said that’s what his constituents tell him is important to them.
“The people get a voice,” he said. “It’s not me. It’s the voice of the people”
Everyone in the city will get a chance to vote for two out of three at-large candidates, two of which are incumbents: Ron Carter and Kevin “Woody” Rider.
Challenger Ron Houck said he would provide important balance against reckless spending and he noted Carter was head of the CRC board years ago, which Houck believes was irresponsible with debt.
“In my day job I work in informational technology,” he said. “If you know anyone who works in IT, you know they are left-branded and analytical. We need someone who can analyze finances … It’s really about using your money wisely.”
Carter said he would work to support Brainard’s vision instead of fighting against him, like some of his colleagues.
“Today, we need those with leadership and vision skills and those with a positive outlook,” he said. “We have as a community endured at least eight years with a council dominated by those who see the possibility of failure in every opportunity.”
Rider, a local restaurant owner, said he knows how to run a business and solve problems effectively.
“I get a lot of emails and comments after meetings saying, ‘Thank you for the common sense,’” he said. “Sometimes things are a simple as they seem … I have a pulse on what’s going on in Carmel. I don’t have to take a poll. I get it every night. I get pulled to tables.”
NOTE: DUE TO SPACE LIMITATIONS, A DEEPER LOOK INTO THE ISSUES DISCUSSED AT THE DEBATE WILL BE EXPLORED IN LATER ARTICLES.