WARSAW — Three Democrats running for city council met Wednesday night and voiced concerns about infrastructure and the lack of transparency at city council meetings.
The Democratic candidates — Sara McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey, Jack Brunetto and Roxanne Coffelt — are running for three district seats on the city council and hosted a meeting at Warsaw Community Public Library Wednesday night that attracted about 18 people.
The three pointed out their priorities and fielded several questions on a range of topics from Kosciusko County Democratic Party Chairman Brian Smith for more than an hour.
Brunetto, who faces Republican Council President Diane Quance in the fall elections, spoke often and was more critical of some programs; McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey, who faces Republican Jeff Grose, offered up some ideas and criticisms while Coffelt had some concerns, but was more reserved in her assessments.
Brunetto said the city is too willing to shut down streets in the downtown area for festivals and special events.
He pointed specifically to the Fat and Skinny Tire Festival, which is scheduled for May 18-19, and said the street closures cause too much of an interruption for local motorists trying to get around town.
He also mentioned car shows that are part of First Friday, the monthly event that requires the closure of two or three streets depending on the scheduled events.
“To close it so your club can have a car show … they could have that car show at the fairgrounds, but it would not be free,” Brunetto said.
He said he doesn’t think downtown restaurants depend on special events because they already have steady business, adding that he thinks Central Park and the fairgrounds are better options for such events.
“For things of that nature, no, I don’t think it should be closed. We have a big Central Park. You wanna have a festival,” he said. “You got the perfect place for it. They have parking lots there. I disagree with the number of closures.”
The talk of street closures was part of a discussion about infrastructure, which then led to other related issues.
McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey said she believes the development of Husky Trail on the north side of town and the related roundabout at Mariners Drive was not well-planned. She said she thinks the roundabout is too small and that the development plan was poorly thought out.
That part of town near Menard’s has grown quickly in recent years with the construction of a hospital and the YMCA, and the city is now planning to conduct a traffic study along Husky Trail to look for ways to improve traffic flow.
“Everybody knew Warsaw was going to grow,” McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey said, suggesting the city did not plan adequately for the growth.
All three candidates expressed concern about how city council agendas are provided to the public. They have said previously that the agendas need to offer more details on proposals and ordinances council is considering.
Brunetto applauded efforts by the council to improve the way council reviews requests by non-profits for financial support. He said the improved review procedures will improve accountability.
McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey, though, said she didn’t like the idea that a newly adopted scoring system could impede the distribution of money to groups that help people.
Smith said he thinks the city should consider expanding the amount of money the city provides to non-profits. Council wants to cap that at 1.5 percent of the city’s general fund.
Each of the candidates was asked about their approach to running for office.
McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey said she wants to restore a sense of community in the city and has touted establishment of a community garden. She pointed to a community apple orchard in Winona Lake as an example of what can be done.
She also expressed a need for a greater sense of inclusivity.
Coffelt said she is excited about the new group, One Warsaw, that is working to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusivity. She said she worries about vacant stores in the downtown, but admits she does not have any immediate solutions.
“I don’t have a whole lot of fixes for the problems, but I am a CPA and I know my numbers. That might be a good asset on the council,” Coffelt said.
Brunetto has been attending city council meetings for two years and was recently appointed to the plan commission.
“I really do want to hear what other people want,” Brunetto said. “I don’t want to be elected to inflict my viewpoints. I’d like to truly represent the people of the district.”
McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey said she understands the struggles faced by low-income parents. “I’m bringing something totally different to council,” she said.
McNeal Strahan-Lenfestey is hosting a meet and greet from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, April 19, at Wire and Stream Coffee Co., 2858 Frontage Road in Warsaw.