Roy Buskirk says that he'll serve only one term even if he is elected Allen County commissioner in November.
But, depending on what the voters decide this fall, the same could be said for any of the three people seeking the Republican nomination for 3rd District commissioner in Tuesday's primary – including longtime incumbent Linda Bloom.
That's because the Indiana General Assembly this year passed a bill calling for a November referendum which, if passed, would four years later replace the three-member Board of Commissioners with a single county executive while transferring the commissioners' legislative powers to a county council that would expand from seven to nine members.
Bloom and challengers Roy Buskirk and Mike Mills don't agree on everything, but all three believe replacing the board would be a mistake.
To Bloom, the proposed change could increase costs and dilute representation. “People don't realize how big Allen County is,” she said.
To Buskirk, the only rural representative on county council, the change would not save money and would weaken the public's influence over council members, since voters can currently select four of the seven members (three at large and one district) but would be able to choose only one member among nine district representatives. “It was like, 'We'll pass it then fix it – just like Obamacare,' ” he said.
Mills, meanwhile, suspects the change could be just the first step toward “unigov” – something he and many others, especially in rural areas, oppose.
But if it is the last time voters elect a 3rd District commissioner, Bloom believes her experience and accomplishments make her the logical choice.
The first female commissioner in county history, Bloom co-chaired the successful $93 million, 11-mile upgrade of U.S. 24 from New Haven to the Ohio line. She also worked to extend Maplecrest Road to Indiana 930 and to create trails along many county roads.
Bloom said she has worked to improve efficiency by combining some departments, including city and county planning, and will continue to promote infrastructure improvements and other policies “that add value to the community by maximizing the value of our homes, businesses and property. The new U.S. 24, she said, is already attracting investment and jobs. Bloom has worked to attract jobs in other ways, she added, such as through the development of the county's Stonebridge industrial park near the General Motors plant.
“I don't take anything for granted. I'm working as hard as I always have,” she said.
But it's not hard enough, Buskirk insists.
“I would be involved and at the table when critical issues are being discussed,” said Buskirk, who has run for commissioner twice before and previously questioned Bloom's attendance record.
He agreed with Bloom that job creation is a priority, and said he has promoted economic development while serving on council. In addition to supporting incentives in exchange for new investment and employment, he spearheaded city-county efforts to streamline the process through which business permits are issued. He has worked to limit expenses, such as privatizing the food service at the Juvenile Justice Center, and has also advocated fee increases, such as that imposed on properties included in sheriff's sales, which Buskirk said annually generates an additional $344,000 for the county.
Buskirk also believes his knowledge of drainage and other mostly rural issues would bring a new perspective to the office.
“I get along with the other two (commissioners),” Buskirk added, referring to tensions that have caused some critics to label the three-member board dysfunctional. “But I won't say I would agree with them on every issue. There's nothing wrong with a 2-1 vote.”
Mills, an unsuccessful county council candidate two years ago, said he is running for commissioner because he believes he could more effectively address problems in county government as a member of a three-person board than as merely one of seven council members.
Mills said too many county officials have enriched themselves through their public “service,” and vowed not to use his office for personal gain.
“Where does all the money go? The community is drowning in debt, and there are no well-paying jobs,” said Mills, who as commissioner would ask to meet regularly with economic-development officials to devise ways to attract better-paying jobs.
Mills criticized the fact that both the commissioners and council meet during the day, and said he favors evening meetings so more people could attend. He would also work to publicize the meetings' agendas so residents could know what was happening in time to influence the outcome.
“America is changing before our eyes, and nobody is doing anything about it. It's ridiculous,” he said. “When have any of the politicians ever stood up? They're doing nothing for us.”