Candidate Q&As: County commissioner

The League of Women Voters of Brown County sent questionnaires to all candidates who have opposition in the May 3 primary in the following races: U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress District 9 (March 30 paper), State Senate District 44, State House District 65, Brown County Council at-large (April 6), Brown County Commissioner District 3 and Brown County Recorder (April 6). They will appear in the Brown County Democrat as space is available over the next few weeks. The League of Women Voters of Brown County — a nonpartisan organization — chose the questions. Answers appear in the candidates’ own words, though some were trimmed to fit available space. Candidates who do not have an opponent in the primary were not asked to complete a questionnaire yet; they will be asked before the November general election.

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Please describe the occupations, training and experience that qualify you for this office.

(R) Jerry Lee Pittman: I have served on the Brown County Council since January 2011. I am well informed about the county’s business. I am a lifetime resident (family here since 1867). I graduated from Cincinnati Christian University in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in education. I have served in Christian ministry since 1970. I have farmed in Brown County since 1968. My father and I established Pittman Oil and Gas Inc. in 1977 and I owned and operated it until selling in 2001. As a business owner I learned to deal with 20-plus employees and 2,500-plus customers as well as issues such as taxes, accounting, insurance, payroll, government regulations, customer service, credit, budgeting and many other business skills. Most important of all, through this life experience I have learned how to relate to people in a positive way and have been able to get people to work together.

(R) Joe Wray: From 1990 to 1994 I was executive director of Brown County Community Corrections. From 1994 to 2004 I was employed with Familie Health Inc. and held the position of executive director of sales. In 2004, I was elected to the office of treasurer of Brown County. I served two terms. I was elected president of the Indiana County Treasurers’ Association by my peers in 2008. I was honored to be named Treasurer of the Year by my peers in 2012. Since 2012 I have been a commissioner. I am currently the president of the Southeast District for the Indiana Association of County Commissioners. I have held this position for two years.

Brown County has severe infrastructure deficits (roads, water, fire protection, high-speed Internet, sewer). Please pick two of these and make recommendations to resolve them.

Pittman: Solutions to many of our county’s problems will require multiple boards established by our elected officials to work in coordination. As an example, a unique, joint effort is being made by our county redevelopment commission and Brown County Regional Sewer District to coordinate economic development and the revitalization of Brown County. Both boards are working closely together to establish goals based on community needs. The sewer district has already assigned specific responsibilities to each board member to assure that all tasks are covered and yet not duplicated. Since David Redding is president of both the RDC and the county council, he is in a unique position to give regular updates to the public about progress being made.

Wray: The past three-and-a-half years we, as commissioners, have spent a considerable amount of capital to provide our team at the highway department the tools and training to keep roads in good condition. I thank Mike Magner and Rob Jacobs and the rest of the department. However, we cannot properly maintain our roads if we do not have access to the sides of the roads to ditch them. If we can’t have access, any improvement attempt is futile. Full disclosure: I work for Mainstream Fiber Networks, and we provide high-speed fiber to rural communities. I speak only for myself and not for Mainstream. High-speed Internet today is what water and sewer were 30 years ago in economic development. It is imperative for our community to resolve this as quickly as possible. Grants are not available from the state or federal government to help with the cost. We may have to consider a bond.

In light of our desperate need for economic development, what steps would you like to see taken to ensure sustainable growth?

Pittman: As commissioner, I will require regular, frequent progress reports from all appointed boards concerning their activities, their goals and board assignments. Elected officials must ensure that these boards are moving forward in a coordinated manner to accomplish the work of the people of Brown County.

Wray: First, we have to work on our planning and zoning ordinances. That needs to be updated to the 21st century and what the demands are for today’s business climate. Second, what is it that we want to be? What do we want to offer an existing or start-up business? That’s a full menu of criteria including all the items in question No. 2. Other communities are opening their checkbooks to bring in industries. That’s actual cash. Others are providing ready-to-occupy buildings. Tax abatements are a given. Our push will have to be in infrastructure costs and help in that way.

How do you propose to address the problems with the courthouse: security, space, handicap accessibility and ongoing deterioration of the building?

Pittman: The problems with our courthouse building can be mitigated over a period of several years without borrowing a huge lump sum of money. We have set aside funds in cumulative capital for maintenance and upgrades. We simply cannot borrow our way out of every perceived need.

Wray: We had a plan to address those issues. Four years ago the previous commissioners started the process into looking at the needs of the courthouse. When the residents of Brown County voted 8-1 against, that sealed the deal for a while. We, as a county, have a limited amount of money inside the levy for issues like this. That is why doing a loan (bond), like what was proposed before, is the most logical and most economical proposal to address the issues with the courthouse. It does not make sense to move to another location and turn the courthouse into a museum as an idea that was proposed. This plan will allow us to effectively address the issues at the courthouse for a long time.

Tourism is Brown County’s primary industry, with arts and natural resources a major attraction. How do you see your role in preserving, promoting and supporting these vital economic assets?

Pittman: I see the commissioners’ role as delegating responsibility to the many specific boards that elected officials appoint. Commissioners should ensure that appropriate goals are set and frequent progress reports are made. If implemented, this recommendation will give the commissioners and the public the best opportunity available for having a voice and control over preserving Brown County’s unique tourism and arts leadership.

Wray: Where is the line between tourism and supporting businesses/industry moving in? Commissioners are elected to serve all sides. The state is upgrading Yellowwood Lake Road to the tune of $6 million. It’s wanting better access so Yellowwood Lake can be better capitalized as a natural resource. There are some in our community that believe the road should be left alone. If tourists are not willing to travel on a road in poor condition, how does that help our tourism industry? Because of what INDOT is willing to do at no cost to us, that is a win-win. As a community, we have to preserve and protect what God has given us here: a beautiful place to live. We also can’t ignore that we have to be modern in terms of how people live, how businesses work and how we promote that being in Brown County is an asset for them.