By Sadie Hunter
For nearly three hours April 11, voters had the opportunity to hear from candidates at the state and county level for May 3’s primary election at Noblesville City Hall during the Hamilton Co. League of Women Voters’ candidate forum.
Under the moderation of Hamilton Co. League of Women Voters member Janet Chandler, candidates answered prepared questions and questions from the large audience, covering a wide variety of topics.
More specifically, county-level candidates for the contested/open Hamilton Co. Commissioner seat and three open, at-large seats on the Hamilton Co. Council focused on the proposed public safety training facility for police and fire units throughout the county, which was voted down 4-3 by the current Hamilton Co. Council.
Fishers Police Chief George Kehl, who is seeking a council seat and will retire Sept. 30, said he was in favor of the project at the time of the vote and would still vote for it today. Fishers’ Fall Creek Township Trustee Jeff Hern, and Bill Dennis, both vying for council seats, said they would also be proactive and in favor of the project. Incumbent councilors Rick McKinney and Brad Beaver maintained their position of opposing the $3 million funding requested from the county, both saying the county council is not responsible for fire services.
“We don’t have fire department responsibility,” McKinney said. “We (the council) met with commissioners in June 2015. We offered a compromise – no county department or county employees, and let’s split the $3 million 50/50 with everybody else. The commissioners said no. They did not want to go back to the table. So, I voted no because it was a bad deal.”
Opponents for the District 3 County Commissioner seat, Bill Smythe and incumbent Mark Heirbrandt, differed on their stances as well.
“With the level of township government that we have, the four outlying townships outside the municipalities who need (fire and police) assistance … they probably need support (from the county),” Smythe said. “But as far as Westfield, Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville, if they want a fire training center, by all means, let them buy a fire training center. Why in the heck is that a county responsibility? … I would advocate for 1/5, we the county, we take responsibility for the four (townships), but let the municipalities kick in their share.”
“I think the responsibility of elected officials, especially here in the county, public safety should be the number one priority for the citizens here in Hamilton County. Done,” Heirbrandt said. “Crimes are getting significantly worse. They’re more violent. You’re seeing more home invasion than we’ve ever seen before. That border of 96th Street, we are protecting it. We’re putting our law officers and our first responders in dangerous situations. We need to be professional, and we need to be able to collaborate. When you have all the mayors, all the city councils, all the trustees, all in favor unanimously of this project and then you get a ‘no’ on this, we can do better than that.”
The issues of public trust ethics and also came up among the county candidates, in which many candidates pointed to not taking large campaign contributions in return for favors or support for the donor.
McKinney said he would strive for full transparency to the council and would work to restore live cable television broadcasts of each meeting, as well as live online streaming.
State-level candidates debated more broad topics, which often lead back to education, infrastructure and economic development. However, a recent bill passed through the statehouse garnered questions over a more controversial issue – abortion.
When asked what was or would have been their vote on the abortion bill – House Enrolled Act 1337, which added provisions to existing abortion laws prohibiting abortions based on things like race, ancestry, sex, and known or potential disability – candidates’ answers varied.
State Senator Luke Kenley said he didn’t vote for the bill, found it unconstitutional, too extreme and punitive to women. His opponent, Scott Willis, said although he didn’t have a vote, he agreed with Kenley, stating while he was pro-life, he believed the bill was mean-spirited for women.
To learn more about what to do on Election Day, May 3, early voting or to see which candidates you’re eligible to vote for as a registered Hamilton Co. voter, visit hamiltoncounty.in.gov/219/Elections-Office, or call 317-776-8476.
Current’s election guide will be delivered to homes inside its Saturday, April 30 edition.