- Special Sections
- Public Notices
By KEVIN KOELLING
TELL CITY – Candidates for county-council positions gave brief introductions of themselves before responding to questions during a forum at the Knights of Columbus building in Tell City Oct. 18.
Contenders for three at-large seats include Democrats Ronald Crawford Sr., Steve Goodson and Dianne Rudolph and Republicans Bernie Bower and Patrick Rich. Crawford and Goodson currently hold council seats. Councilman Merle Doogs is not seeking re-election.
The first introductory statement was that of Bower, who couldn’t attend the event because he was at the wedding of a stepdaughter. His sister, Mary Roberson, read his statement for him.
Bower’s not excited about politics but is excited about leading, she read. “I am proud to be running for county council with, not against, these other fine candidates here tonight.”
He has lived in Leopold, St. Marks and Tell City, Roberson continued, giving her brother a county-wide perspective. He has served on directors boards for Habitat for Humanity and Leadership Perry County and has served as lector, religious-education teacher or parish-council member for three different parishes in the county and also held leadership positions with the Indiana Home Builders Association.
“Growing up, our father would frequently introduce us to state leaders in his position with the Indiana Department of Education,” Bower wrote. “I will be at ease approaching leaders in Indianapolis and beyond when I see that it will benefit Perry County.”
He’s never hard to find, he said, because his company, Bower Construction, has been serving Perry County for 21 years and has an office on Tell City’s 12th Street.
“I chose to run for council in order to do my part to make Perry County stronger,” he said in the statement. “I have given a lot of thought to the job of councilman and how the job is equal parts leader and manager. This means it is just as important to think about how a decision will affect our community 10 years from now as it is to consider how it will affect us tomorrow morning.”
“The issues facing the county council are mainly managerial,” he continued, “and should be handled by researching the issues of the day and voting with the best interest of the county in mind. The opportunities for a county councilman are outside of the council meetings, sharing ideas with county and state leaders and taking leadership roles to champion a better life for the people here. It’s a full-time job.”
“The key to making Perry County an even better place to live and work is not complicated,” he went on. “It’s building a community that shows its pride. We want new families to locate here and build homes, but their first impression does not match the wonderful life we have here. The budgets set by the county council are a reflection of our priorities. Our priorities need to be making Perry County an attractive place to live and work for current and prospective residents, to work with state and national officials to maximize the potential of the Hoosier National Forest and to focus on the education of our population, raising the quality of our work force.”
“If elected,” Bower promised, “I will spend more time exploring ways to make the pie bigger (rather) than dividing the pie. (I will) approach meetings with optimism, staying open-minded to new opportunities. And (I will) support policies that lead to growth and employment opportunities without compromising our Perry County way of life.”
“I am enjoying the campaign process and look forward to the opportunity to work together for Perry County,” he concluded.
Crawford said he’s seeking another term because he didn’t fully accomplish all of the goals he set for his first term. The Army veteran of the Vietnam War, who was self-employed at Crawford Family Memorials for 40 years, said he has taken very seriously his responsibility as a councilman. He has served on many boards and has been involved with numerous clubs and organizations in Perry County over his entire life, he said, and will continue that involvement.
He hopes his continued service will “help move Perry County forward,” he said, explaining the council’s role “is to carefully and properly handle the fiscal matters, to the best of our ability, and to achieve the best benefit for all of Perry County regardless of your politics. I have tried to do that with every decision I have made for the past three years and 10 months. I am honest, hard-working and dedicated.”
He’s not a career politician, Crawford said before promising to step down after another term if he is elected “and let a younger person with new ideas and ambitions take my place.”
Known to many for her dental practice, Rudolph noted she didn’t begin that career until she was 40 years old, and that her previous background was in finance, which included earning a master’s of business administration degree.
“I started out … in corporate finance,” she said. During the era in which she pursued that career, however, women “didn’t always get the best shakes.” Her husband told her the only way she was going to get ahead was to start working for herself, “and that’s why I went back to school and found a way to work for myself.”
Her background in finance has helped her, she said, explaining that she keeps a close eye on the financial aspects of her practice. The same background will help her be a good councilwoman.
She has served on the Tell City Common Council, Tell City-Troy Township School Board and St. Paul Parish Council.
She said regardless of who’s elected to the council, “we’ve got five great candidates … the real winners are going to be the people of Perry County.”
A self-employed carpet installer Goodson said he has been associated with all three school systems in the county, attending Cannelton schools for 10 years, graduating from Tell City High School and coaching basketball in that school district and for Perry Central for a total of 21 years.
He “would like to have the opportunity to serve you for four more years,” he said of his council work, which began in 1991. “I’m an open-minded person, willing to listen and I think I do listen to the people of Perry County about their concerns, and I will always make common-sense decisions.”
Another candidate hoping to unseat one of the incumbents, Rich introduced himself as a State Farm Insurance agent who moved to Perry County in 2006.
“As a candidate for the council at large, I’m anxious to get into this role,” he said. “If I’m fortunate enough to win, I want to help get over the challenge of managing our fiscal health, to help us get back to a healthy bottom line. I want to help implement a plan that helps Perry County grow. We don’t have a plan for the future – where do we go?”
Such a plan can “help pave the way to a more prosperous future,” he continued, “not only for me and my children, but those to come.” He learned as a Marine “an effective leader can inspire anyone to achieve more than they ever thought they could or even thought they were capable of,” he said. “I think Perry County has a lot of good people. That’s why we moved here six years ago.”
“I believe I have the skills and experience needed to make our community more prosperous,” he asserted. That experience includes four years as a county commissioner before moving from Tennessee, “and I learned that you have to have a clear vision of the future” to be effective in government, he said. “As a successful business owner, I know the quality of your decisions are based on the goals that you set for yourself and your business, the goals that you meet and the goals you surpass. I’m very much invested in the growth of Perry County, both from an economic standpoint and on a personal level.”
Upon moving here, Rich said he found a need for an early-childhood-literacy program. He and his wife worked with the United Way and Perry County Junior League to get one going, “and today in this county, over 450 kids every month get a book mailed to them.”
That program will increase the county’s literacy and graduation rates and cut its dropout rate, he said.
He also teaches and volunteers through the Perry County Junior Achievement Advisory Board, he added.
“This election is not about the issues being debated in Washington this evening,” he said. “This election is about bettering our lives here in Perry County, for our families and for our friends.”
Local elections are about who has the skills, knowledge, experience, drive and willingness, he said, to make decisions that will benefit area residents, including their children, “so we make tomorrow a better day than yesterday,” he concluded.
How’s our financial health?
The first question posed by forum moderator Vince Luecke, News editor, was about the county’s current fiscal health and what can be done to improve it. Goodson was given the first opportunity to respond.
“Believe it or not, this is the best state we’ve been in in the past few years,” he replied. “In the past, we have been hit so hard. I’m not making excuses or passing the buck, but it all starts up north, with the property-tax reassessment, and just kind of trickles down. The budget this year was much easier. Our (county-option income tax) money is coming in at an unbelievable rate, and that’s due to jobs. Perry County is very blessed. We have so many job opportunities, whether it’s McDonald’s or ATTC or anything in between.”
Rudolph feels the county, like other government entities, has tightened its belt, “and with that, has been in a position to hold their own. Evidence of that is the fact that we are in a building mode. How else could we be doing what we’re doing if we weren’t taking care of day-to-day problems?”
She agreed with Goodson about jobs.
“The fact that we have a much higher percentage of manufacturing jobs, compared to the surrounding counties, gives us an edge,” she said, “because manufacturing jobs, as we all know, pay a higher rate than the service industry. So we are doing a lot of things right, and a lot of it is due to the (Perry County Development Corp.)”
Rich agreed that the county’s 2013 budget was easier to plan than those of recent years.
Building relationships with state officials in Indianapolis can help improve that process “and drive some more economic development into Perry County,” he said. “We are in a building mode – we’ve already broke ground on a much-needed jail and hopefully things will continue to get better.”
Crawford agreed that the budget process was easier this year than previously and allowed the council to give pay raises to county employees. He also boasted that the council was able to save $300,000 to $500,000 “on issues that could’ve been done but didn’t need to be done” and by putting off some things without hurting the county. He was also proud of his service on the jail committee, he added, saying that project will bring construction jobs.
“I just think the county’s in pretty good shape,” he said, and he hopes to help it “keep moving forward.”
Benefits for deputies
The next question noted the county’s sheriff’s deputies aren’t on the same retirement plan as most other Indiana law enforcers and firefighters, and asked the candidates’ thoughts.
“You’ve got to really look at your costs,” Rudolph responded. “If we can afford to do it, they are deserving. We should do it. The main issue is to look at the budgetary numbers and go from there.”
Rich agreed. “If we can afford it, we need do it,” he said. “Not only would it retain the deputies we have; but it might be an opportunity to recruit more good deputies.”
Crawford said when he mentioned at a statewide conference this county’s failure to provide the benefit, he was met with disbelief, but “all we hear from the other 91 counties (is) it’s breaking their budgets. Stay on the (Public Employees Retirement Fund) plan.”
At a statewide meeting last month of county-council representatives, Crawford said, he learned officials are considering legislation that would change the retirement plans of new officers because so many counties are struggling with the costs.
Crawford also said no changes can occur “until we find the money.”
“I have had numerous conversations with Sheriff (Lee) Chestnut,” Goodson said, “and I did make one promise … I told him, ‘Lee, this will never be a dead issue. We are going to look into this year in and year out. There is no reason you should be excluded.’ … It all comes down to money.”
Once the deputies are in the plan, which is separate from the PERF plan offered to other county employees, they stay in it, he said. A problem could arise if they’re switched in a good year, then the county’s revenues drop, he added. He also noted that the sheriff’s department’s turnover rate is increased as officers shift to Tell City to get the benefit.
“We cannot have that,” he said. “We need to treat our deputies equally. That is one thing I’ll always look into … because they are well-deserving.”
Given an opportunity to readdress the issue, Rudolph said she saw as a councilwoman the police pension is a large part of the city’s budget.
“We had no control,” she said. “Once you’ve got that on your budget, you have such little to work with.”
She could sympathize with the deputies, she said, “but if you give that up, you are tying a noose around your neck as a financial person.”
Controlling the Animals
Luecke directed the next question to Rich first.
“What do you tell people when they say the county should better respond to complaints about injured, neglected or dangerous animals?” he asked.
Rich noted “it’s a shame” that people don’t take care of their own animals and that others have to step in, and that a dog catcher would have full-time work here. An animal-control board should look at the problem and make recommendations to the county commissioners, who would have to decide whether someone should be hired. The position would then have to be funded, he added, which would put the issue into the council’s hands.
Crawford said the issue has been discussed for some time. Many people want to save every animal they can, but like other issues, “it comes down to money,” he said. He noted that the sheriff recently provided statistics, including one showing 73 percent of the calls for animals were in Tell City. Much smaller percentages were in Cannelton and in unincorporated parts of the county.
“We furnished a new vehicle for this purpose,” Crawford said. “With 73 percent (of the calls), probably the city should provide the animal-control officer … I think there’s going to have to be more sharing on a lot of these projects that we have.”
Goodson said he feels the problem could become smaller through public awareness and more responsibility on the part of owners. He added that “a very, very nice gentleman is working to get this problem under control. He has spent many, many hours and many miles on the road looking into this, and I think you’re going to see the results from this (around) the first of the year.”
Goodson responded with “no comment” when asked after the forum who he was talking about, but as the News reported Sept. 19, Jim Carter, president of the Humane Society of Perry County, has been working to get officials in this and other counties to support an effort to secure part of a $2 billion state-budget surplus. The current and any future surplus reaching a certain amount would trigger payments to each county to be used for infrastructure projects. Carter said after the meeting he had visited 72 of the state’s 92 counties so far, and was being met with positive responses.
Rudolph said expertise exists in the county to deal with the animal problem and suggested private funding could help resolve it.
The next question concerned possible belt-tightening measures.
Crawford suggested that part-time employees could replace full-timers who leave their jobs, which would put the county “in better shape” over five to 10 years. Technology could reduce workloads, he added. The alternative could be cutting services they provide.
Goodson said a tightening occurred approximately nine months ago.
“At that time, our (council) president sent out a letter to all department heads … requesting or asking in a polite manner to cut back on appropriations,” he said. “I have to commend all the department heads for doing so. That has made our job much easier.”
Rudolph said she would like to pursue county-wide central purchasing that could bring bulk discounts in shopping for office supplies and other goods.
“I think cost savings could be achieved that could pad our bottom line,” she said.
Rich said the county needs to look at needs versus wants.
“Those things we don’t really need, we get rid of,” he said. Plans should look ahead five years, he said, watching for declining state and other revenues. Many companies nationwide have had to lay people off in recent years and in the process have found ways to get things done with fewer workers.
Crawford added that central purchasing has been discussed, but “we don’t have a place in the courthouse” to store the supplies that would be accumulated. “Maybe that can be worked out,” he said.
He agreed with Rich that “you separate your wants and needs – pretty simple.”
What’s so good about you?
Luecke posed a question submitted by a reader.
“I personally know and admire all of the candidates for county council,” he said. “I know they will make good decisions, but I can only vote for three. Ask them what makes them stand out above the others.”
“I really listen to the people of Perry County,” Goodson said, “which I think is very important. I base my decisions on what I believe is the betterment of Perry County and I will always do that. I will always make common-sense decisions. I will not be influenced by anyone or any party and I will always work hard to be a good councilman.”
“I feel my biggest asset is the fact that I can work with other people,” Rudolph said. She manages her dental office and Rudy’s gas station and convenience store, she noted, giving her experience in managing people of a wide range of skills and pay rates.
“I know how hard those people work for what they get,” she said. “I appreciate what they do. That’s what we have in our government – we have to look at all people.”
Rich said in considering that question earlier in the day, he looked back to boards he’s served on here and in Tennessee.
“We sometimes get into this mentality of ‘this is the way it’s always been done.’ That’s what Blockbuster (movie-rental company) said. Blockbuster didn’t change their (business) model (or) anything they did. They went bankrupt Sept. 23, 2010. I’m not saying Perry County is going bankrupt. We’ve got to look five years, 10 years down the road and we have to plan for the future.”
“If I’m elected to this council,” he continued, “I’ll work for all of Perry County.”
“I’ve tried to do what’s right for Perry County … since the day I started,” Crawford said. “The day I swore in, I said I work for all of the people of Perry County. It didn’t matter what your politics were.”
He has been accused of being “ little outspoken from time to time,” he said, “but if I believe in something, I’m going to speak up. I think it’s and I think that’s what the people of Perry County expect, not … business as usual. I don’t think it’s been business as usual since I’ve been on the council.”
“I’ve done a lot of budgets,” Goodson said. “I know what areas need to be concentrated on a little more than others. I know what we can cut out. We’re not going to cut back on services (or) goods and hopefully we’re not going to have to cut back on jobs.”