By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Three Republican candidates for Kosciusko County Council at-large seats were given a chance to voice their opinions on various issues.
The candidates were part of the Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce’s debate series on Thursday, Oct. 15, in Warsaw City Hall’s council chambers. They are vying with three Democrats for three at-large seats on the council in this year’s election on Nov. 3.
Among them were two incumbents, Joni Truex and Sue Ann Mitchell, and one newcomer, Kathleen “Kathy” Groninger.
The forum was the last of four over the course of two nights that was sponsored by the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce and Kosciusko County Bar Association.
The three Republicans are competing against three Democrats – Lori Roe, Noemi Ponce and Itanya Coon-Kauffman – for three seats on the council.
Candidates were asked to describe themselves and explain their reasons for running.
Groninger described herself as “an attorney, wife and mother” who is originally from Indianapolis, and moved to the area 27 years ago to practice law. She graduated from DePauw University with a degree in political science and obtained her law degree from Indiana University in Indianapolis.
“I’ve always loved politics,” she said. “I was a political science major, and I went to law school, so it was a natural fit. I’m just really interested in politics and I love service and I just felt like this would be a great opportunity for me to use my gifts and skills to be of benefit to Kosciusko County.”
Mitchell said she grew up in Anderson and came to the area 50 years ago. She has two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and “a whole lot of people that call me mom or grandma in the community.”
“My experience here has been great as a public servant,” she added.
Truex said she’s a Christian, wife and mother and has five grandchildren.
“I believe in service to this great community through the council, through volunteerism, through my church, through philanthropy,” she said. “I would be honored to continue to serve the taxpayers of Kosciusko County with professionalism and dedication to the best of my abilities.”
Candidates were also asked about the role of the council and the experience they had that would help them in office.
“The role of the county council is the weight of the county on your shoulders basically because you’re responsible for the funding, the budgeting for the county,” said Mitchell. She called the work of the council a “12-month obligation” regarding the budget and cited her experience in a variety of related roles as president of the Indiana County Council Association and as assessor, treasurer and auditor among others.
“The county council is the fiscal responsible governing body of the county,” said Truex. “It is very important that whoever serves on the county council understands where the money comes from and how the money is spent.”
She said she trusts the judgment of county department heads and does “not believe in micromanaging.” She said county heads “have learned to do a lot with a little.” Truex said she would like more transparency, which she hopes will be accomplished as the council begins to stream meetings online. She cited her experience with four years on the council and through being a past business owner, a member of the chamber committee and in the past on Kosciusko Economic Development Corp.
Groninger described the council as “the purse strings” for the county.
“We prepare the budget, and we make sure that it’s implemented and we make sure that we use our money wisely,” she said. She cited her experience in running a business she and her husband own as well as being an attorney. She referred to the latter as being helpful in her possible role on the council since she could help with managing the sheriff’s department budget.
Candidates were also asked about how the county could help bring broadband to the area. Kosciusko County REMC recently announced intent to provide fiber internet service to its customers.
Regarding broadband, Truex said current council members were “doing everything we can to support (Kosciusko County REMC)” in their broadband effort including giving money, which she noted would also help emergency workers as well.
She said commissioners are looking at putting up some additional towers beside the initial three to be used for broadband.
“I’m very, very excited about Kosciusko REMC because I am an REMC customer. I can’t get internet where I live,” she continued. “So I’m very proud of them for doing that and I know the county will stand behind them and support them.”
“I live out in the country as well, so I know what it’s like to have terrible internet,” said Groninger. “I had to build a 115-foot tower at my house in order to get internet.”
She said she believes the council and commissioners are working to get towers put up for the internet. There may also be smaller towers put up in the county as well.
“I have served on that tower committee that the girls have tried to explain and (they) have done a pretty good job of it,” said Mitchell.
She said it was important that the county knows what Kosciusko County REMC is doing though, so the county does not waste money “duplicating services.”
Regarding a question on the county’s $3.6 million rainy day fund and how to use it, all three Republican candidates agreed it was best to continue to hold the money aside, at least for now.
Truex said the county has been able to manage some budget shortfalls so far. She also said the state restricts how budget money is spent, so it would be hard to build up more money in the rainy day fund if the council opted to use it.
Groninger said the council could look into spending the rainy day fund if needed, but that budgets can be tweaked somewhat as each year goes on. She said it’s important for the council to look at the budget monthly to evaluate it.
Mitchell stated that budget problems would probably come up in 2022 or 2023. She said the rainy day fund could always be used, but she said that’s not the council’s plan at this point.