By Nicholette Carlson
WARSAW — The Kosciusko County Council at-large race will see three incumbents and one newcomer in the Republican primary.
Only three of those running can receive the nomination. Those vying for the nominations are Kimberly Cates, Syracuse, incumbent; Kathleen Groninger, Mentone; Sue Ann Mitchell, Warsaw, incumbent; and Joni L. Truex, Warsaw, incumbent.
Each candidate was asked to give a short biography and answer two questions.
Kimberly Cates has served the Kosciusko County Council for the past three years and served on the Turkey Creek Township Advisory Board and Fire Territory as president for six years. During that time and prior, she has served on many boards and committees, engaging in community programs and projects from economic development to humanitarian causes.
While at Turkey Creek Township Fire Territory, she initiated the Public Employees Retirement Fund for firemen and worked on remodeling two fire stations. She introduced and played a part in the fundraising and installation of the Turkey Creek Fire Station 2 Safe Haven baby box. She fully supports the county communication towers project because she values the county’s first responders and educational broadband expansion.
While currently serving on the Kosciusko County Economic Development Corporation board of directors, she participates in strategic planning on the broadband, agribusiness and finance committees. She also currently serves on the Syracuse-Wawasee Chamber Housing and Placemaking committees, working to address the housing, employment retention and daycare challenges.
She was appointed to the Association of Indiana Counties state legislative committee comprised of 18 statewide county elected officials who study and dissect state bills. They fight for frugality and local control, and against state and federal overreach while preserving laws that protect the county’s financial well-being.
She is an active, contributing member of the community and feels blessed with supportive family and friends. Combining her business management, franchise, marketing and tax experience with local government experience allows her to have the qualifications to continue a frugal, strategic planning, small government and teamwork approach.
Kathleen Groninger is an attorney, small business owner, wife and mother. Originally from Indianapolis, she came to Kosciusko County 27 years ago after having earned a Bachelor of Science degree from DePauw University and a law degree from IU School of Law, Indianapolis. She has been married to Cary Groninger for 25 years and together they have three children. Early in her legal career, Groninger worked in the area of general practice with an emphasis on family and criminal law. Currently, she manages a small business involving real estate development.
Sue Ann Mitchell was born in Madison County and graduated from Anderson High School in 1964. She moved to Kosciusko County in 1970. Since 1976, she has served the county in various hands-on elected positions in county government. In 1990 and 2018, she received the North Webster Person of the Year award. She received the Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce Government award in 2002 and 2015. She also received the Association of Indiana Counties Himsel Award for government excellence. She has been elected as county auditor, treasurer and currently serves on the county council.
Currently she serves as president of the Indiana County Council Association, secretary for the North Webster Community Center and treasurer for the North Webster Lady Lions. Mitchell is also on the Lakeland Regional Sewer District board and on the board of directors for the North Webster American Legion Auxiliary Unit 253.
Joni Truex was elected to county council in 2016 and began her current term on Jan. 1, 2017. She holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Indiana Tech as a triple major in business management, human resources and marketing.
Since 2001, Truex has taught courses at Ivy Tech Community College in business, marketing, human resources and economics. She also works part-time for Kyle Wurtzel, Northwestern Mutual financial advisor.
Prior to serving on the council, Truex served as executive officer for the Builders Association of Kosciusko Fulton Counties for over 11 years. She has also served as executive assistant at the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce and the Creighton Brothers/Crystal Lake benefits director.
Truex and her husband, Dale, have two grown children, three granddaughters and two grandsons. They enjoy spending time with them all, whether in Warsaw or Alabama. Her hobbies include reading and reviewing books, especially inspirational fiction, watching sports, travel and music.
Question 1: What do you believe is an issue within Kosciusko County that needs to be addressed or that you will focus on within the county council?
Cates: The county council members, myself included, are working diligently to overcome obstacles presented with COVID-19 fiscal consequences. We are working hard to evaluate, prepare and coordinate a reopening for the best fiscal outcome for our community. The lessening of tax revenues will affect the county now and in the future. Prior to COVID-19, addressing the housing shortage, expanding broadband, the daycare shortage and eliminating addiction and abuse were on my “to do” list and where my time and talents were spent. I will focus on balancing those needs with an adjusted budget. My focus will be to weigh our programs and proposed programs and progress and the benefit to the constituents with the budget so we do not place Kosciusko County in a fiscal crisis situation. I am conservative and forward-thinking. After attending over 60 calls and virtual meetings with the Association of Indiana Counties, National Association of Counties, the governor, mayor, KEDCo, the Community Foundation, Senate and House leaders, Conservative Political Action Coalition, the chambers and private calls with other business leaders, I feel I am equipped with “real life” background experience, a desire to learn the issues and resolution options, and understanding which may help us during this critical emergency management and budget time.
Groninger: I am passionate about the recent increase in the county budget for the criminal justice system, including the jail and community corrections. An important reason for this increase is due to the problem of drug and alcohol addiction, which has been a scourge to our nation and our community and is affecting every age and socioeconomic group. This rise in addiction has resulted in added cost to the county in programs and personnel. I will work hard to support programs that are successful in reducing the recidivism rate and are also cost-effective.
Mitchell: An issue I will address is the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 budget and the long-reaching impact of lost revenue for the next two to three years related to the max levy while understanding that we cannot tax our way out of the issues. I will continue to work with the tower committee to achieve appropriate emergency communication and broadband service within the county by leveraging funding from various resources. I will also continue working with the Strategic Planning Committee that I started to bring the commissioners and council together to address long-range planning for county projects in a fiscally responsible manner so the county can live within its means and continue the no-debt policy.
Truex: Experience is needed on the Kosciusko County Council today and moving forward. No one knows what impact the coronavirus will have on county finances. Full understanding of the complex finances of the county will serve as a benefit to the taxpayers in minimizing the effects of the financial hardships that may result from the aftermath of COVID-19. The conservative practices the council has demonstrated will serve as the solid foundation needed to weather the possible impact coming in the next few years due to lost tax revenue from the economic slowdown we are experiencing. The council is responsible for reviewing and approving all budgets from every county department and those totaled over $40 million for this fiscal year.
Question 2: What unique beliefs, education, experience, etc. do you believe you will bring to the table for the county council?
Cates: I bring successful business ownership, experience with local government units, a teamwork approach and contribution to many nonprofit boards and committees, such as the Friends of the National Rifle Association, the Chamber of Commerce, NACO, Rotary, the Community Foundation, KEDCo board of directors, Kosciusko Cancer Care Fund, the Lakeland Community Day Care/Latchkey board of directors and the community opioid crisis awareness committee. These, along with my fiscally conservative views, prepare me for the role in our county council. My problem-solving, results-driven, teamwork approach contributes to the prior and current success of the organizations I serve.
Groninger: I believe that my legal background and business experience will be a benefit to the county council. Currently, I am involved in jail ministry and on the board of directors of a nonprofit addiction recovery program. These experiences will help me to better evaluate potential programs to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. I am very conservative and believe in limited government. I am a continuous learner, open to new ideas and willing to serve the community with a servant’s heart.
Mitchell: I take a conservative approach in budgeting tax dollars to be sure the money is being used appropriately and am willing to ask the tough questions when necessary. I earned the Association of Indiana Counties Lifetime Achievement Educational Award. I have also served as assessor, auditor and treasurer. I understand the budget process from assessment to budget creation to tax collection to tax distribution and all things in between. I have served as county council president, helping provide the information required to make decisions in the best interest of the taxpayers. I also have experience serving on the wage committee and understanding the wage structure and services provided by each office and their value.
Truex: As a long-time resident of Kosciusko County, I have worked in many sectors, including business, government, nonprofit, membership organizations, agriculture, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, financial and education. I have been honored to serve the taxpayers of this great county. I firmly believe in volunteer service to improve our county. I serve on the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts board, WWCA special events committee chair and volunteer usher; the Chamber Public Policy Committee; KEDCo Infrastructure Committee; Kiwanis Club of Warsaw; and Warsaw Community Development board. I also serve on the emergency management advisory board, the county wage committee and as vice president of the County Redevelopment Commission. I am past president of the Kosciusko Literacy Services and Kosciusko Human Resources Association. Serving for many years as the Kosciusko Leadership Academy public relations person provided insights on every level of our county. I currently have the honor of presenting to KLA as the county government representative.