By Maggie Kenworthy
WARSAW — Five out of six nominees for the Kosciusko County Council at-large seats gathered for a live candidate forum held Thursday, Oct. 15.
The two Democratic nominees who attended stressed diversity when answering many questions.
The race involves three Republicans, Joni Truex, Sue Ann Mitchell and Kathy Groninger, and three Democrats – Lori Roe, Noemi Ponce and Itanya Coon-Kauffman – who are competing for three seats on the county council.
The forum was one of two held Thursday night at Warsaw City Hall’s council chambers and was the second night of election discussions sponsored by Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce and Kosciusko County Bar Association.
Ponce introduced herself as a mother, local teacher and a 2002 graduate of Warsaw Community High School.
“I’ve always dreamed of becoming a teacher and I persevered while raising a family with two children,” said Ponce during her introduction. “I know what hard work looks like, especially because my parents are immigrant parents from Mexico. They raised me to know what hard work and perseverance look like and to achieve the American dream … I believe that running for office proves for the many Latinos out there that the American Dream is possible.”
Lori Roe has been a local resident for around 20 years. She has a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in communication, as well as an educational specialist degree in adult education.
“I keep waiting for candidates to be on the ballot that I’m looking for the qualities and I’ve never seen them on there. And so I decided maybe that person is me that I’m trying to wait for. So I decided to put my name out there and hope that the citizens of Kosciusko County will vote for me,” said Roe during her introduction. “I can bring a lot of new ideas to County Council and new perspectives.”
The third Democratic nominee, Itanya Coon-Kauffman, was not present due to illness.
The first question asked of candidates was what their role would be on the county council and what skills and experiences they would bring to the office.
“We are in charge of budgeting and allocating where our constituents’ tax dollars go to and as a teacher, we are asked to do a lot with very little,” said Ponce. “I pride myself on building relationships with my students and I plan to build relationships with my community as well.”
Ponce then spent 20 seconds of her allotted time addressing the audience in Spanish, mentioning that being bilingual would also bring something unique and innovative to the council.
Roe stated that the Kosciusko County Council should be a well-rounded team, full of diverse individuals. She discussed her financial experience, as well as a concentration on accessibility.
“It should be representative of diverse ideas, diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences,” said Roe. “I ran a college financial aid office for seven years and you’ve got to be able to see where the money’s coming from, where it’s going and if it’s going to the right place, I have excellent communication skills and I would like to make sure that we are transparent in our communication. It should be easy for anyone in the county to find the details of the county council budget, to find out where the minutes are, to find the agenda for the next meeting, to find out what the strategic planning committee is doing – and that’s not easy to do.”
Next, nominees were asked what they would do to address the county council’s announced budget shortfall for 2021 and what steps should be taken to correct this.
Ponce suggested that the council needs to work together as a team to think of innovative and creative streams of revenue. Roe focused on if the council should be granting large tax abatements during a pandemic.
Everyone was then asked what they thought the local government could do to attract young families and top talent to the area.
Roe admitted that she was not sure how to solve this issue, but that the local government needed to make everyone feel included.
“I think county government as a whole needs to reach out more to the diversity of our county and help everyone feel welcome,” said Roe. “As a member of the OrthoWorx Diversity Committee, I’d like to see more of the data of the welcoming survey and how can we get involved with making everyone feel like a part of our county.”
Ponce echoed the importance of allowing all of Kosciusko County’s constituents to feel involved.
“We need to address diversity and make our entire community feel included in order to grow our economy here,” said Ponce. “Making our community feel inclusive and creating a great place to work in is something that we need to focus on.”
When asked what the county’s financial priorities should be, Ponce said that the residents are while Roe discussed the basic needs of the residents.
“I believe that if we ensure that our residents are receiving a great quality of life they, are therefore able to output that into our economy,” said Ponce.
Roe joked that it all came down to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
“We do need to take care of that bottom base first, that’s my priority. Health and safety of our residents, through the road department, any health impact we have and also the sheriff’s department to make sure we have the health and safety of our residents first.”
For the last question of the forum, candidates were asked what made them the best candidate.
“Diverse experiences and bringing in new ideas makes me the best candidate. I look at things in a new way, bring in new ideas,” said Roe. “I’ve always had to make do or make things happen with less, I think that can be a very valuable talent or strength for the county council
“I believe I’m unique in the fact that I don’t think our county has ever seen anybody like me, that speaks like me, that’s culturally aware of our community,” said Ponce.”I believe that the fact that I’ve worked hard to get my degree, it took me 10 years being married, having children, working. My hard work and dedication have proved to me that I deserve to be in this spot.”
Be sure to read the Republican nominees’ responses to these questions in an additional article from InkFreeNews. Anyone who would like to watch the full forum can do so here.