TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Four people are running for mayor in Terre Haute in November’s election.
WTWO sat down with each candidate to hear their platform, what issues stand out in the community and the direction they’d like to see the city head.
In addition to the four candidates for mayor there are two county-wide referendums on the ballot, making this election a significant one for all voters in Vigo County and Terre Haute.
To ensure fairness, candidates were selected at random for the order in which they’re presented.
Pat Goodwin is running as an independent. He worked with the city of Terre Haute for 10 years and was promoted to city engineer from 1999 to 2007.
Goodwin, being a native to the area, says watching his kids grow up in Terre Haute, that it was time for him to do his part for his city.
The contrast between where Terre Haute wants to be and it’s current reality is the reason Goodwin said he wanted to take a stroll down Locust Street just a block away from the National Road Heritage Trail.
“We have this beautiful trail which goes through this neighborhood … but we haven’t reinvested in it,” Goodwin said.
It’s reinvestment in Terre Haute’s assets that Goodwin believes could give the city its edge. He mentions Lavern Gibson Cross Country Course, known as the best in the country, Griffin Bike Park, the best mountain bike park in the state and the Wabash River front waiting to be developed.
We don’t seem to market ourselves that way. that’ we’re a great place for outdoor recreation. why shouldn’t we, why aren’t we?”Goodwin
Goodwin says that’s been one of Terre Haute’s challenges.
“Employers expect quality of life for their employees. if they don’t see that quality of life, they simply won’t locate here.”
He says creating that environment includes clean and paved streets and sidewalks, eliminating blighted homes, investing in our schools and giving people healthy things to do. He says that was the idea behind the National Road Heritage Trail which was built while he was city engineer.
“We could be expanding this trail network. I would like for people to be able to get around town without having to get into a car.”
The trail needs updates along with city streets.
I’m an engineer, it’s simply a matter of knowing what things cost and knowing how long things last … the bottom line is if we aren’t spending 4 or 5 million dollars a year on streets and sidewalks, we’re falling behind. What we’ve seen over the last decade is we’ve only spent about half that.”
Goodwin would like to see casino revenue assist. He says it would have to considering the amount of traffic.
“I think we need to be focusing right now on how are we going to use that money so that we use it wisely. What we don’t want is to have it just dropped into the general funds of the city and county where we’re not sure what ever happened to it.”
He also says the city’s role in a possible casino proposal could really benefit the community.
“That can be things like improved streets, it can be things like a fire station on the southeast part of the city.”
Making sure the community is on the same page brings up another pressing topic in this election, more room for transparency in city government.
That’s an easy one right? Of course I do think we need better transparency, also I think we need better cooperation. The whole jail issue has really brought this to the forefront. County and city leaders need to be meeting regularly.”
As far as how important this election is, Goodwin says it’s crucial. That right now the city is in a process of transforming local government.
What we’ve been doing isn’t working. so if we elect the same people, things will continue to go on the way they have. I don’t think that’s in the best interest of our community.”
One focus for Goodwin during this election is making sure potential casino cash flow to the community is an active conversation. This is one of two referendums on the November ballot, the other referendum being the Vigo County School Corporation’s proposed property tax increase. Senator Jon Ford, who co-authored the Vigo County casino bill, broke down the potential cash flow to the community.
“Sheridan Park to me has always been like a heartbeat of what the rest of our city does,” Karrum Nasser said.
Potential. That’s what Terre Haute mayoral candidate Karrum Nasser sees at Sheridan Park. There’s plenty of open space, but you have to seize it.
“When I did my event here … And blew up the bouncy houses, it was like a magnet, ’cause all these kids started coming here.”
Nasser says there’s an argument that people don’t think they’re getting a good return on their tax payer investments.
“There are people that feel like they have nothing to show for it.”
He says he’s very supportive of utilizing casino cash flow if it comes after November’s referendum vote. And he wants people to see where that money is going whether it’s tackling drug addiction, new public safety buildings, better features to our parks.
“Whether that’s splash pads, a water park … I’m sure they want some of it to be used for infrastructure, right now we get about $1.4 million to do our roads here in our community and maybe we need to double that since we’re so far behind.”
But the 43 year old candidate does see what the city is worth. He’s been rooted here his entire life.
We have a lot of assets that most communities would die to have.”Nasser
After all, Terre Haute is the Crossroads of America. Nasser also touches on having one of the best airports in the country and our four colleges.
We have a lot of pipeline talent here that what are we doing wrong to not retain those people here?”
Some ideas he’s taken visiting other communities around the state and beyond might make a good fit. Like creating maker space. An innovation spot where high tech equipment is available for aspirations.
“Maybe somebody wants to, has a design for a product they need help with, that maybe they need to utilize 3D printers to get that product off the board and maybe they need help in getting somebody to manufacture maybe 1,000 of them.”
As for opportunities for those who already choose Terre Haute, Nasser says there’s a gap in our skilled work force. He thinks before bringing jobs to the city, people need to be better trained and he thinks that’s Terre Haute’s responsibility.
We have over 1500 jobs that are available right now in our community that can’t be filled because we don’t have a skilled enough work force.”
He says the city should match state grants given to businesses through Next Level Jobs to better facilitate employment in Terre Haute.
“Until we give people the tools and the education to be able to fill those jobs, we’re never going to be able to move forward.”
As far as transparency goes, Nasser prides himself on never missing a city council meeting since he was elected four years ago. He says he does his best to return every phone call and provide accurate information to those who do reach out, but as a whole thinks officials should make themselves more available to the public.
If people think that everything’s fine right now, then I’m probably not the candidate for them, but I think that if people take a deep down look on what’s going on in our community, hopefully they realize that we can do a lot better.”
Nasser says he thinks there is an argument that Terre Haute and Vigo County taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. In 2018 there were a couple of county-wide tax increases.
One big push from Shane Meehan this election season is safety and structural updates to Vigo County schools.
Meehan is a father of three. He says that he’s never had a role in politics and his run for mayor is to show the community that it can be done.
Shane Meehan has lived in Terre Haute his entire life. The 42 year old retired from the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary and now works at UPS, but he hopes his next career jump will be Terre Haute mayor.
People when I was out talking to them say there’s no prayer unless you’ve been a part of the political system in order to be able to do anything or make any kind of change, so I’m wanting to show them that it can be done if you’re willing to put the time into it.”Meehan
Meehan is a West Vigo graduate, but met up with WTWO in front of South Vigo High School. He says schools are one of the most important topics in his campaign and one of the biggest challenges Terre Haute faces.
“Structurally, teachers, public safety.”
He says gun violence in schools around the nation puts our youth in jeopardy.
I think a lot of it has to do with the kids and, and what happens at home and everything else going on around them cause a lot of pressure and a lot of things are happening that shouldn’t be happening.”
When it comes to how the city should intervene, implementing a protection policy wouldn’t be his first choice.
“I think a lot of it would be talking to the kids … Figure out what’s going on when them.”
Meehan says when he was canvassing neighborhoods, getting his petition signed, he heard community concerns like taxes and transparency.
“I’d like to see be able to balance a budget while cutting taxes. Spending on what we have to have in order to move the city forward.”
As far as tax payers getting their money’s worth …
“Public safety is doing pretty good right now, I would say that’s doing real well right now. Infrastructure is doing good in some areas especially around colleges, river front properties. Those are all doing real well, they’re getting their monies worth out of that … Uh, but I think more can be done.”
He goes back to infrastructure on roadways and sidewalks around Terre Haute. He also says in order to bring money to Terre Haute, the workforce needs to be more diverse.
“There’s a lot of people that won’t come not just Indiana, but Terre Haute if the diversity’s not right. If we can get more diversity in our jobs and within the community I think that might be more appealing.”
Meehan says he would support Terre Haute having a casino if the positives are plentiful. Especially in jobs and tax money.
“There’s more I want to look into, there’s more I want to know about the casino and what would happen here in Terre Haute if it came in.”
Another pressing issue Meehan heard from the community while collecting signatures…
They feel like they’re not hearing everything that needs to be said. Said more transparency, I heard a lot of that.”
Meehan says this is one of the most important election’s the city has seen in a long time. That people want to see change.
“Just here to help, if I get a chance to get elected, I’m here to help and do my best and move Terre Haute forward.”
Two years ago WTWO News cameras toured the three 40-year old Vigo County high school buildings. The school corporation aimed to show the public the structural issues the schools are facing.
Incumbent Mayor Duke Bennett has served three terms as the leader of Terre Haute and he’s ready for a fourth.
He says, he’s never faced off against three other candidates in his 12 years in office.
The mayor says when he came onto the political scene there wasn’t a strong Republican presence.
Bennett has also worked in the technical field and had a couple of titles with the Hamilton Center.
He says one major role as mayor is making people happy.
Taking a stroll through Deming Park is something Mayor Duke Bennett has done in Terre Haute since he was a boy.
“Back when I was a kid there was actually a zoo here.”
A zoo at Deming Park sounds pretty fantastical and it is a thing of the past.
But the idea of drawing people to Terre Haute is still very new.
“The first thing I’d like to do is a water type facility, something similar to what Plainfield has.”
It’s one project for Bennett if he serves a fourth term and if casino funds are available to help with quality of life.
The city would establish an agreement with a casino to determine the city’s revenue.
I think right now is a time that we’re really reaping the benefits with a relationship that the city has with the state government … I think this election is really critical to continuing the momentum.”Bennett
Bennett says some time away from the unbalanced city budget in 2015 has done some good. The budget has been balanced for the last four years.
He’s ready for a new police station, which the city has money budgeted. He says the Convention Center and parks projects can start rolling out more easily now that finances are in order.
“Really would like to have four years of not worrying about the finances … Now we’re starting to spend some money.”
Speaking of money, Bennett says to his knowledge, Terre Haute puts out more financial information on the city’s website each month than any other class two city.
Anybody can go look at how much we’re spending in every line item in our budget, most communities don’t do that.”
One rumbling he’s tired of hearing … Lack of transparency.
That word gets overplayed all the time … Just a lot of times people they don’t want to come to the meetings, they don’t want to get online and look at something, so they say, ‘how did that decision get made, I don’t know anything about that.'”
He says he doesn’t know how the city could be more transparent.
“You hear people running around all the time, running for office saying, ‘I’m going to be more transparent,’ we couldn’t be any more transparent.”
He says he provides the community with information each month at Mingle with the Mayor and that another form of transparency is the city’s 311 system which has been running for close to six years.
Bennett believes people in the city are getting their monies worth with the taxes they pay. That’s after property tax caps in 2009. The city used to collect 28 million dollars a year in property taxes, now it’s 18 million.
They’re definitely getting their monies worth, because they get the same services at a lot less tax money.”
He understands the public safety tax and potential Vigo County School Corporation tax are concerning.
“It was unfortunate only because that’s been the timing of the need for the money.”
Another concern that takes more precedence in his campaign, broken families which he says other issues blossom.
“Crime and drugs, addictions.”
There are preparations for this in the city’s strategic plan that also aims to ensure an economic and wellness boost. In fact, Terre Haute will be one of the top 3 regions in Governor Holcomb’s 21st Century Talent that aims to help people in the community of various education levels find a job that works for them.
“Money will flow from Indianapolis here to help us do a variety of things to address all the different needs. It’s not just one targeted area, it’s all the areas that have deficiencies.”
Bennett highlights a Convention Center coming to Terre Haute during his time as mayor. He also focuses on bringing a water facility like Plainfield’s Splash Island to the community.