SYRACUSE — Approximately 50 people came out Thursday night, April 25, for a debate between the three candidates vying for Syracuse Clerk-Treasurer. Republican incumbent Paula Kehr-Wicker is running against fellow Republican Virigina Cazier and Democrat Tim Yeager. The event was hosted by the Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber of Commerce.
Gary Gerard, general manager/managing editor for the Warsaw Times-Union, served as moderator. Each candidate took a few minutes to introduce themselves and then each was asked the same three questions and one individual question.
Kehr-Wicker thanked the chamber and others involved in setting up the debate. She told the crowd she had served as clerk-treasurer for the last 3 1/2 years while prior to that, had worked in the clerk-treasurer’s office since 2001. She stated she felt her qualifications should count.
Yeager told the crowd he was a life-long resident of Syracuse, having grown up on a small dairy farm south of town. He has a masters degree in education and has worked in a number of jobs including in a movie theater as well as advertising and marketing. He also owned his own photography business. He pledged to be honest and transparent in the job stating it was important to be friendly.
Cazier said most probably know her as Viginia Freel, she married Joe Cazier last summer. She has worked for the town for 22 years in the public works department. A 20-year resident of Syracuse, she said she loved the town.
Gerard then moved onto the questions.
What specific education, formal or otherwise, do you have that qualifies you for the office of clerk-treasurer?
Kehr-Wicker explained she has an associates degree in accounting from International Business College in Fort Wayne. Additionally she has over 18 years working in the clerk’s office. She has earned her Indiana Accredited Municipal Clerk certification through the Indiana League of Municipal Clerk-Treasurers. Additionally she mentioned numerous hours in continuing education.
Yeager noted he has not taken accounting classes, but has two college degrees in education. He has managed classrooms, but “nothing with a multi-million dollar budget.” He has owned and managed businesses and rises to the challenge.
Cazier told the crowd after high school she went to Ivy Tech and IPFW. She explained a clerk-treasurer does not necessary need a college degree, there is training for the job. If elected she will take every opportunity to extend her education. Additionally she noted she has a friend who has worked in the Milford clerk-treasurer’s office for 30 years, and she would seek assistance from the former clerk-treasurer. “I have numerous resources,” she said.
It’s one thing to campaign for a position and another thing to perform the job, how do you intend to do it?
Yeager said competition sharpened job performance. He said one reason he was running was he felt it was time the Democrats put someone in the race. He was one who is always up for challenging tasks and he would do the job compassionately and pragmatically.
Cazier said she wants to make a difference and serve her community. She wants to help those in need. She would have cross training in the clerk’s office as well as an open door policy for customers. She said she wants customers to feel comfortable coming into the office. She stated again she loves the town and cares about how people are treated.
Kehr-Wicker said, “I love our town and our citizens.” She stressed how the job gives her joy and fulfillment. Accounting is her chosen profession, but she has gained a skill set that has expanded over the years. She stressed her experience with the enormity of the profession. “Everything this office does is through regulations and law,” she said. She told how she was raised to believe the noblest thing she can do is serve her community.
The last question for all three candidates was a very detailed question regarding a customer who has shown up in the clerk’s office several times. The customer is having difficulty paying their bill and after seeking a payment plan to avoid being shut off, they are back on the shutoff list, seeking to pay a quarter of what is owed and having a payment plan for the rest of the amount owed. How would the candidates deal with this issue?
Cazier said ” We have to remember who we work for. We work for you, the taxpayer.” With the notice of a shutoff, she said she would try and assist the customer by putting them in touch with other community resources that are available, such as the township trustee and various charitable organizations. She would also try to solve the problem quickly.
Kehr-Wicker said she and her deputies have addressed customers in similar situations with compassion. She does provide customers in need with contact information of other resources. She also said she would prefer a payment plan be established before a shutoff notice is sent. “No one’s circumstances are the same, but we have a responsibility to all rate payers,” she said.
Yeager said he would take the payment offered and have a sit down with the customer. He noted wages in the area have been stagnant for quite a while while prices for everything else has gone up. “There are a lot of people suffering,” he said. During his conversation with the customer, Yeager said he would seek information about wages, pay period, whether the customer had a family, children, a drug issue and what were their other major bills. “Weekly payments may be worthwhile depending on pay periods,” he said. “We can talk with someone in trouble.” He stressed finding a win-win situation for both the town and the customer.
Gerard then asked each candidate an individual question.
Gerard noted Kehr-Wicker’s campaign slogan is “Experience Matters,” and asked why experience was such a critical aspect
Kehr-Wicker said “Everything I do is covered under Indiana regulations or law or federal law.” She stressed that prior to being elected in 2015, she had 14 years of experience in the clerk’s office, working closely with the clerk-treasurer. She again noted she is certified as a clerk-treasurer by ILMCT and in October 2018 passed an audit by the State Board of Accounts. She also pointed out training a clerk-treasurer who does not have experience will cost the town time and money.
Gerard asked Yeager about his running for Turkey Creek Township Trustee and now seeking the clerk-treasurer’s position.
Yeager said serving in office was one way to give back to the community. He has been in business and various leadership positions over the years. He also noted there were classes and tutorials available to learn the job.
Gerard asked Cazier what she felt was an important aspect of the clerk-treasurer’s office.
Cazier said “principled experience”. She noted her 22 years working for the town, saying she has built relationships with many citizens. She has worked on balancing the water and waste water budgets. She has learned about the waste water treatment plant, including doing lab work and being on the weekend rotation for plant checks. She has done the same for the water department. She has gone out and assisted the street department with leave pick up and snow removal. She believes she can bring her knowledge from the utility plant and apply it to the clerk-treasurer’s job. She also mentioned her community service work on the wellhead protection board, tree board and Women of Today.
With time remaining, Gerard, noting how all three candidates are plugged into the community, asked what they saw was the biggest challenge for the community.
Yeager said one of the biggest challenges he’s observed was things are much more institutionalized. Again he mentioned compassion, noting he has gone into city offices where he didn’t feel welcome. Referring to Sheriff Andy Taylor of fictional Mayberry, he noted the sheriff always talked out the problem. “We can do a better job working with townspeople,” he said.
Cazier said right now there were plenty of jobs in the area for people to apply for, but many require a college degree. Many potential employees have the necessary experience, but not the degree, and are looked over for the job. She would like to see experience count more when businesses are hiring.
Kehr-Wicker said, ” What I know of Syracuse and what the budget is like, Virigina is right there are numerous jobs and people want jobs. Housing is an issue for those employees.” She explained the annexation laws make it very difficult. Regarding the town’s budget she noted the town has been able to pay for what it needs while remaining under the maximum tax levy for a number of years.
When Gerard asked if there were any questions from the audience, Julie Kline, former clerk-treasurer, offered a clarification, stating she would be willing to assist whoever was elected to the position, not just Cazier.