Voters in Ripley County had the opportunity to meet, speak with, and hear the views of state and local candidates from both parties during a "Meet the Candidate" forum held Tuesday, October 29, at South Ripley Elementary School, Versailles.
Approximately 100 people came out to show support for their political candidates, as well as to get informed on the issues being presented. The Ripley County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event. David Baugh, Chamber board member, served as moderator. He was assisted by Amy Thomas, Chamber executive director.
The evening opened with the Pledge of Allegiance. Baugh then explained the format and rules to the candidates. Candidates were given one minute to introduce themselves and two minutes to respond to each question.
Kay Fleming, Democrat candidate for Attorney General, was introduced first. Fleming is running against Republican Greg Zoeller. Zoeller who was not present.
Fleming pledged that as Attorney General her office would do more to protect children from abuses in the state's Child Protective Service system.
"Children are dying and there's nothing to change that," Fleming said. The central use of a hotline is not a good thing. We need local input. It is the Department of Corrections' responsibility to work with the sheriff on updating the sex offender registry. The Sheriff's Association needs a strong partner and that partner should be the Attorney General."
Baugh then turned his attention to the candidates running for State Representative. Taking part were Republican Randy Frye and Democrat Tom Cheek, both representing District 67, and Democrat Dave Moeller representing District 55. Moeller is running against Republican Cindy Ziemke, who was not present.
Baugh posed the question, "Do you support the Bennett Davis Reform Package for teachers?
Moeller was called upon first to respond. "It seems like all we do is test. There are too many standardized tests," he said. "We need a major reform package."
Cheek responded next with, "Teachers and education have been getting attacked for a couple of years now. There should have been more investigation first on the front end. They didn't bring teachers into the loop. They should have brought the educators to the table instead of just dumping it on the schools. We need to put education back in the classroom where it belongs."
Frye said, "At the 2011 general assembly, five weeks out of four months were lost to hear legislation due to the Democrat walk-out. All 100 legislators were needed to give a general opinion. Hopefully it will never happen again. When drastic changes are made to the education process, we need to continue to evaluate changes to see if they are working and continue to monitor those changes to see if we're headed in the right direction."
Each State Representative was then given the opportunity to respond to the answers given by the others.
Moeller responded by saying, "Randy Frye seems to be talking about what works for big cities, not our smaller towns. Each one has different issues and social problems. I can't say the reform package will address how the child learns."
"I don't understand why we bring experts in from out of the country when we have people who are perfectly qualified right here in Indiana," responded Cheek. "I can't see how this will work in evaluating subjects such as art or music."
"Dr. Tony Bennett looks at the evaluation score and if he doesn't feel it seems appropriate, he changes it to what he feels it should be. Every kid is different," he said.
Frye's response was, "Since 2011, we have seen many positive changes. We are seeing higher grades on the ISTEP, as well as higher graduation rates. Indiana has many wonderful schools. We have come a long way and still have a ways to go."
The next questions were aimed at County Commissioner Candidates, Republican Mark Bushing and Democrat Vaughn Bowers.
Baugh asked Bowers, "What is your opinion concerning employee-use of county-owned vehicles while off-duty?"
"That shouldn't happen," Bowers answered. I wouldn't classify it as a white-collar crime though. We should find out why it is happening and follow that up with an evaluation to determine if it should be used for personal use."
Bushing had an opportunity to respond to the same question.
"Foremen and supervisors are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," he said. When emergencies come up, they can be accessed more quickly, enabling them to respond to situations in a timely manner," adding that the vehicles are not for personal use.
Bushing's question was, "Would you support an additional tax for road repairs?," to which he responded that he would not. Bowers said that he was in agreement with Bushing and also would not support it.
Next up, Baugh introduced County Council candidates and asked each one a separate question. Taking part were Republicans William Warren, Mark Horstman and Brenda Wetzler. Not present were Democrats William Dramann, Russell Mortara and Everett Lee Thompson.
Warren was asked, "There has been some controversy over the building of the new county annex, including it being too glamorous. Give us your opinion on the new county annex."
"The annex is a very nice building, and no, I don't think it is overly elaborate. The building will be needed to serve the community for many years to come. No taxes are increasing. The building will be paid for, with no debt. We're all going to be proud of it as time goes on," said Warren.
Horstman's question was, "The County Council has the authority to approve additional appropriations if they determine an emergency exists. Does an emergency exist simply because an office or department overspent their appropriation or should additional appropriations be reserved for unforeseen emergencies?"
"That's a good question," said Horstman. "I have attended every council meeting to stay informed. It really depends on what an emergency is. Do we use the rainy day fund? It really depends if additional appropriations are needed because of a true emergency or because someone overspent the budget."
Wetzler was asked, "If the county had a significant shortfall in revenues, what steps would you take to reduce budget requests?"
"Elected officials come together to make a budget and the county council approves or denies it, she said. "We need to come together to see how much the shortfall is, call elected officials and tell them so much will be deducted from their budgets. We all need to work together. We can do this!"
The next question was from an anonymous person in the audience and directed toward the State Representatives. Asked was, "How do you feel about the taking away of unemployment insurance from bus drivers?"
First to respond was Frye. "In 2000, the previous administration changed the unemployment system, which increased benefits, but decreased revenue, which eventually made it insolvent to the tune of millions of dollars to the federal government at a six-percent interest rate."
Cheek responded by saying, "I'm a small business owner, so I wasn't there. I don't think everyone on unemployment is lazy. They (Republicans) put a 13-percent surcharge on businesses and said it was solved. Regarding the bus drivers, I would need to talk to the school board and bus drivers, as well as contact the board of commissioners, auditor, county council, etc. We need to keep people informed, no matter what party they are from."
Moeller said, "We need to find out why the unemployment insurance fund is in such bad shape to begin with. Apparently, we are not doing a good job. I would vote the way Randy Frye voted."
Frye followed up by saying, "I wasn't there, but I know how it happened. Democrats spent more than they took in. We need to spend less and compensate for the deficit in order to make it solvent again."
Cheek responded by saying, "Ask an educator whose budget should be cut. It's great to balance the budget, but it's easy to pick on one group and take part of their budget. Is that fair? We need to talk to the department heads and hear what they have to say. Where are the cuts going to hurt them the least? We need input from the people whose budgets are being worked on."
County Council members received the next audience question, which was, "In addition to the annex, what is the next most important thing?"
"There are several things – the county highways and roads, our staff, two parks, the Ripley County Fairground. A lot of work needs to be done. I support it all 100-percent," Warren said.
"The annex building needs to be taken care of first this year," said Horstman. The roads are important, but we need to take a slow approach to see if this is something the residents want."
Wetzler said, "We need to stay within the budget, maintain the roads, and continue to keep the county in the black. We need to protect and ensure that the taxpayers' money is spent wisely."
Candidates were given a moment to address the audience and to thank them for their support before departing the stage.
Baugh then introduced Republican Mary Ann McCoy who is running for her second term as County Clerk. McCoy briefly introduced herself and said that she would appreciate everyone's vote on November 6.
Ending out the evening was the introduction of School Board candidates in attendance. Present were Bill Roberts and Steve Huntington, Jac-Cen-Del; Jeffrey Poole, Linda Baker, and Anna Burress, Milan; and Shawn Halcomb, Carol Holzer, and Jeff Cornett, South Ripley.
Not attending were Batesville School Board candidates in District 3 - Cindy Blessing, Chris R. Lowery, Adam Luhman, and Ned Rogers; Jac-Cen-Del candidates Joyce Marie Muckerheide, Travis Neal, Milan candidates Todd Delap, Jason Honeycutt, Ted Amberger; and South Ripley candidates Randel S. McIntosh, Jason N. Liming, and David R. Forwalt.
Baugh then posed a question from the audience to those running for South Ripley School Board – "Why does South Ripley School have seven board members when others have five?
"Five would be fine with me," said Halcomb. "I wouldn't have a problem with it."
Holzer said, "This came about years ago with the consolidation of four schools. Everyone wanted fair representation. I don't know if I'd be for a change. Why change something that's working? Hopefully, we will have some input from the community and staff."
"I wouldn't be opposed to having five," said Cornett. Baugh ended the forum by thanking the candidates for their participation. State and local representatives spent the rest of the evening mingling and talking with those in attendance.