Three candidates who are seeking to become the next mayor of Westfield offered a range of views regarding economic development, Grand Park and how the city should tackle continued growth during a public forum.
The Feb. 21 forum, hosted by the Westfield GOP Club at the Grand Park Events Center, drew a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered to hear from Republican candidates Kristen Burkman, Jake Gilbert and Scott Willis. The event marked the first time all three candidates were together and gave the public a chance to hear their positions ahead of the May 2 primary election.
Burkman, who sits on the city’s Advisory Plan Commission and cited her 14 years of corporate work experience with Delta Faucet Co., told the crowd she is running for mayor “to win for the people of Westfield” and said she feels she is a qualified candidate. Gilbert, who is the head football coach at Westfield High School and is a member of the Westfield City Council, said he isn’t a politician and described himself as being “a community servant” with a love for Westfield.
“I believe leadership needs to start with who you are than what you do,” Gilbert said. “I want the opportunity to serve you.”
Willis, who also sits on the Westfield City Council, cited his experience starting two small businesses and 30 years of involvement in the U.S. Marines that he said would be an asset to the city if elected.
“If you haven’t noticed, I love this city and I’m passionate about serving,” he said.
The candidates were asked about their vision for Westfield and how that could impact economic development.
Burkman described herself as being “data-driven” and said she would take information and find businesses that are best suited for Westfield as mayor. She added that she believes council members and the clerk-treasurer should “work together as a team to be the very best we can be.”
Gilbert said Westfield needs to make sure it is smart about its growth moving forward.
“I believe Westfield can be the best small city in America,” he said.
Willis said economic development is the single-most important thing the city should focus on, adding that it needs to look at ways to invest and attract businesses.
“We need a mayor and council to lure in businesses, and that’s what my background is,” Willis said.
The candidates were also asked about their positions regarding Grand Park, a 400-acre sports complex that serves as the training camp for the Indianapolis Colts and draws thousands of visitors for various sporting events. The City of Westfield is considering possibly selling Grand Park or entering into a public-private partnership to operate the complex.
Seven entities have submitted bids for the complex that are under review by a panel of six individuals, who will eventually make a recommendation to the Westfield City Council and the Westfield Redevelopment Commission. Burkman said she is against selling Grand Park, describing it as “a crown jewel in our city,” while Gilbert also said he favors keeping the complex.
Willis said he doesn’t know what the right decision is regarding Grand Park, but said he wants the city to be thorough as it continues to evaluate the bids it has received. Mayor Andy Cook, who chose not to seek a fifth term, previously said that more information regarding the future of Grand Park could be released in March.