The talking points for the 2022 election cycle in Shelby County are well established.
Transparency and communication in county government and responsible growth within Shelby County were part of the discussion Saturday afternoon at a meet the candidate event hosted by the Northwest Shelby County Concerned Citizens Coalition at the Fairland Volunteer Fire Department.
Four candidates took part in the question-and-answer session and met with many interested attendees.
Jason Abel, who is running for the Shelby County Commissioners’ North District seat, Kyle Barlow, candidate for Shelby County Council Second District, Michael Daniels, candidate for Shelby County Council Third District, and Linda Sanders, the Shelby County Council Fourth District representative answered submitted questions for an allotted time period to help voters get a better understanding of how they think.
Two more candidates, Leigh Langkabel, Shelby County Council First District representative, and Brett Haacker, Shelby County Council Third District representative, were unable to attend due to prior commitments. Langkabel did submit answers to questions which were read by the event host, Lisa Wojihoski-Schaler.
Sanders, a republican, has been an elected official since 2007. She will be unopposed in the May election.
“We need to get back to being civil and talking and respecting people,” said Sanders as she concluded her remarks.
Abel (main photo), a Shelbyville firefighter/paramedic, will run against fellow republican and Shelby County Commissioner incumbent Chris Ross.
“My mission accomplished moment for this campaign is 20 years from now, my kids, wherever they may be, decide they want to come back to the community and put down roots,” Abel said. “That, to me, is a measure of success. If they have the same opportunities to make the same decisions that my wife and I were fortunate enough to make, that to me is responsible growth.
“If you put the pieces in place to make people want to come back here and live here and put down long-term roots, that is responsible growth.”
Barlow (photo, above), a farmer from western Shelby County and front line proponent against solar farms taking over prime farm land in the southwestern part of the county, wants proposed projects to be better investigated before given a stamp of approval and a tax abatement.
“We seem to be very focused on industry right now in this county,” said Barlow. “Responsible growth, if you are going to have the jobs you have to have a place for people to live. And you need to have the farms to still feed them.
“Irresponsible growth, in my opinion, is voting things through before we ever look at the company … we vote it through because a handful of people think it is the best. We are at a crossroads right now as to how we want to develop this county. If we just go with industry and how we are doing it, I am afraid we are going to lose out on getting people in here.”
Daniels (photo, above) works for the City of Shelbyville as the Behavioral Health & Justice Equity Director. A Shelbyville High School graduate, he moved back to his hometown in 2021 to take a position within city government.
“I want to see a Shelby County that people want to move home to like I did,” said Daniels. “I want to see a Shelby County where it’s a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise a family. That’s the bottom line. That’s why I came home and I think that’s what we owe not only our current voters but our future voters … to be able to have that kind of a county.”
Sanders was the only incumbent up for reelection to partake in Saturday’s discussion.
“We truly want responsible growth and in order to have responsible growth you have to look at your entire county as what is going to work well for us,” said Sanders. “You have to have the right balance of parks, and the right balance of your homes and work, and times are changing so responsible growth is taking a look at not being stuck in one area.”
All of the candidates agree that transparency needs to be improved in county government. Meeting agendas and past meeting minutes should be readily available online and various meetings should have a live streaming element for viewing.
In addition, decisions that are made by elected officials where an apparent conflict of issue seems evident should be addressed.
“I’m a firm believer that you need to pay attention to the guidelines and if there is a perceived conflict of interest, it is always best to recuse yourself,” said Sanders. “Even though by law you don’t have to if you are not directly benefitting from it, it still just doesn’t look right. There are times you need to step back.
“I think we have issues where we are not transparent … I think we need to do a better job on educating. There are a lot of times where you can’t talk in public about certain things, however we still need to let people know what is going on.”
Daniels praised the city’s ability to live stream meetings through Facebook Live to improve accountability.
“I work for the city and I report directly to the mayor,” said Daniels. “The city does some things really well. We live stream all the meetings whether it’s the city council, board of works, the parks department … you can go crazy watching city meetings streamed online. We could do a better job of publishing those agendas before those meetings.
“The county can do a better job just in general of publishing those meetings before they happen, live streaming the meetings and then publishing the minutes of the meeting after they happen.”
Barlow is running for the county council seat currently held by Ben Compton, a fellow republican.
“There is a lack of transparency,” stated Barlow. “Information is not easily found. I do think being public business, it should be out there.”
“I believe meetings should be live streamed,” continued Barlow, who along with his organized group to campaign against solar farms in Shelby County, pushed for county meetings to air live through Zoom.
Abel again stated his view that future voters, future residents of Shelby County will be his prime concern when making decisions.
“As far as who does a holder of a political office answer to? There are two constituents: One, the voter, and two, the future generations,” said Abel. “We are the stewards of this community. That’s who a politician needs to answer to.”