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Indiana Daily Student

Voter guide: Monroe County Council At-Large election

<p>Pictured from left to right:  Cheryl Munson, James Allen, Trent Deckard, Geoff McKim<br/>Not pictured: Larrin Wampler </p>

Pictured from left to right: Cheryl Munson, James Allen, Trent Deckard, Geoff McKim
Not pictured: Larrin Wampler

The Indiana Daily Student sent a list of questions to the candidates in elections in the region and state. Throughout the next week, we will be publishing the candidates’ responses.

Five candidates are on the ballot for the Monroe County Council At-Large election. Three of them — Geoff McKim, Trent Deckard and Cheryl Munson — are running for re-election.

Geoff McKim (incumbent)

McKim is a Democrat running for re-election as a Monroe County Council member at-large. He was worked as cybersecurity at National Parks Service, on the Monroe County Plan Commission and as a adjunct professor at O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU.

Would you vote to increase or decrease funding for the sheriff’s office?

I have spent much time analyzing the sheriff’s budget, and determined that the current level of staffing, which allows for around five to six deputies to be on duty at any one time, is appropriate and necessary to provide coverage for the unincorporated area of the county. I do support higher pay for deputies, in order to attract and retain the best officers. The sheriff’s budget is nearly 90% personnel, and does not include unnecessary equipment, militarized vehicles, etc. However, it is clear that there is need for reform and improvement of the justice system overall, beyond just the sheriff’s department.

What is the most important step the county can take to control COVID-19?

The most important step the county can take to control COVID-19 is to trust public health experts and scientists. Overwhelmingly, that means wearing masks (including requiring mask wearing) as well as physical distancing. The Health Department is under the purview of county government, and the County Council’s role with respect to public health is to fund the Health Department. I support the Health Department and support their budgetary request for several new capabilities and positions, including an epidemiology coordinator.

Would you support removing the limit on gatherings?

Although the County Council does not play a role in this decision, I do not support removing the limit on gatherings at this time, based on the advice of public health experts. While continued restrictions are painful, until the numbers of new infections are under control, it would be irresponsible to allow additional potentially super-spreader events. While Monroe County’s numbers are significantly better than those of the state as a whole (where infections are continuing completely unchecked, with daily infections increasing steadily for most of the past month), we are still seeing over 100 new cases a week.

What’s your top priority if elected?

My top priority if re-elected is to get Monroe County government and residents and businesses through the pandemic economy. The county’s been working tirelessly since the pandemic hit. We’ve granted money to support United Way, food pantries and to the Township Trustees to help with evictions and utility shutoffs. But the County Council’s primary job is to manage the county’s budget. Over the past decade we’ve passed responsible budgets and have built up robust reserves that will be essential in getting us through the next couple of years of diminished revenue without cutting back on services or laying off employees.

Do you approve of IU’s response to COVID-19?

IU has been in an incredibly difficult and unenviable position, and I think it has done about the best it could, balancing the needs of continuing its teaching and research mission with the need to protect the safety of students, faculty and staff and the public. The testing system is particularly impressive, and about as comprehensive as is possible. There are no easy answers, though. As an instructor myself in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, I myself will face the difficult decision as to whether to teach face to face or online only next semester.

What is your position on abortion rights?

I support a woman’s right to choose.

Do you support raising the minimum wage? If so, by how much?

Every employee in our community should earn a living wage. The County Council only controls the wages of Monroe County employees and has no ability to set the wages of other employers; however, we can lead by example. Currently the County does not have any full-time employees who make less than $15 per hour; however, we are in the process of increasing the minimum wage of part-time/hourly employees to $14 per hour, a process that should be completed by the end of the year. In addition, the Council has begun a comprehensive study of county employee compensation for 2021.

Trent Deckard (incumbent)

Deckard is a Democrat and an incumbent Monroe County Council member at-large. Trent two years as chief of staff of Indiana House Democratic Caucus, Democratic co-director of Indiana Election (2011-2015), chairman of Monroe County Democratic party.

Would you vote to increase or decrease funding for the sheriff’s office?

We are having discussions among county officials and across departments around bias, diversity, justice and equity issues – all which are things which generally take more funding, not less. We are also looking intently at enhancing the type of information and data we make publicly available about how community members interact with county systems. Our county, unlike many of our counterparts in this state, already funds community alternatives to law enforcement – some of which can be seen in our Sophia Travis grants for not-for-profits and justice alternatives for adults and juveniles alike.

What is the most important step the county can take to control COVID-19?

We must continue to follow science and research-based information as best we can. Our priority in the pandemic is to see that this county maintains services for the community, preserves health and thrives beyond the crisis, just as we have done each crisis in the past. We have taken important steps to help strengthen the health and emergency management departments because we have relied on them so greatly in the crisis and will be called to do again in the future. The council’s job is to ensure funding to adequately meet community needs in the crisis around health and general wellbeing.

Would you support removing the limit on gatherings?

I support listening closely to the recommendations of our Health Department on all decisions related to gatherings. This is very important for all of us and I would encourage every community member to seriously consider all the mitigation efforts they are personally taking to reduce the risks of COVID-19 exposure among their circles. Those who simply wear a mask help this effort immensely and as someone that teaches inperson at the university and is cognizant of my own impact, you will rarely see me outside my home without a mask when I am anywhere near other community members.

What’s your top priority if elected?

I think our politics can be different. I believe that elected officials can work together, that we can get good results for constituents, and make a positive impact on communities. I’m aware that the price of housing, burden of finding and affording childcare, rigors of getting and keeping healthcare, combine with food and job insecurity in a pandemic to create barriers that can be insurmountable. I think we can find affordable, doable and publicly discernible solutions to combat climate change, enhance sustainability efforts and expand transportation options to connect the community.

Do you approve of IU’s response to COVID-19?

I teach five classes on campus as rotational hybrids. I have seen firsthand the effort, sacrifice and diligence that students, faculty, staff and administrators are making to ensure the safest learning environment possible for all concerned. I have learned more about teaching this year than I have in any other time of my career. I feel safe, and I have heightened awareness about how I can personally help the university maintain a safe environment. It is highly unfortunate that similar planning and precaution did not take place at the federal level of government to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

What is your position on abortion rights?

I support women’s ability to make decisions about their bodies and reproductive choices.

Do you support raising the minimum wage? If so, by how much?

I can recall making the federal minimum wage of $4.25 an hour when I was in high school and the limitations of making that amount. I very much recall the discussions and stair-stepping that gave me hope as I saw that amount increase to $7.25 over several years. Unfortunately, no more has happened since 2009 and this is precisely an area where Congress has failed to act. I think more could be done to safely meet both business and workforce for positive action. The county, with my support, has increased our lowest wages above $14 an hour and we are studying wage levels for all county employees and the way we classify positions.

Cheryl Munson (incumbent)

Munson is a Democrat and has been a Monroe County Council member at-large for eight years. She has served on multiple committees including the Public Safety Local Income Tax Committee, board of directors for the Friends of Lake Monroe, Indian Creek Community Association and Friends of Lake Monroe.

Would you vote to increase or decrease funding for the sheriff’s office? 

While individuals and organizations called for defunding the Sheriff’s Office last summer, I believe that county law enforcement is essential for the well-being of our residents who live outside the city limits. I have already voted to add funding to the proposed 2021 budget for the Sheriff’s Department, including the county jail, and will vote to approve this in the upcoming budget adoption. I support maintaining the current number of deputies but favor training supplements for them, increased administrative support including for records management and expanded mental health services in the jail as ways to improve public safety and public understanding.

What is the most important step the county can take to control COVID-19?  

During this crisis the council has supplied resources to the Health Department to adequately serve our community, plus it has used rainy day funds to assist front line organizations in providing direct relief to our community via food bank/pantries, shelters  and townships. We have also pivoted to use food and beverage tax funds to assist  tourism-related businesses, including restaurants. 

For the future, the council has developed a budget proposal to prudently maintain essential services in both the Health and Emergency Management Departments, along with setting aside additional rainy day funds to continue assistance  to those most impacted financially.

Would you support removing the limit on gatherings?  

I am looking forward to larger gatherings when it is safe to have them, and the Health Department along with the Health Board decides on the appropriate limits for current conditions. As a scientist myself, I follow guidance based on science. I trust our health professionals, as they have the specialized training to make decisions. So, my answer to removing the limit is ‘not yet.'

What’s your top priority if elected? 

My top priority areas are (see also: www.cherylmunson.us): 

• Responsibilities. The council sets balanced county budgets which require broad understanding of both government operations and community values. I will continue collaborative work to provide efficient and effective county services. 

• Resources. I will strive to ensure protection for the natural, cultural and  governmental resources that our community depends on, including Lake Monroe,  which provides our drinking water, recreation and much more. 

• Resilience. We must meet current and future needs in a way that is sensible and  manageable. I will work on: 

expanding affordable housing, decreasing food insecurity and improving our justice and mental health care systems. 

Do you approve of IU’s response to COVID-19? 

Several weeks ago, NPR reviewed data from 1,400 colleges and universities and  found most are NOT conducting widespread testing for the coronavirus. IU is not testing all students, faculty and staff every week, due to cost and logistics, but is using  mitigative testing of selected individuals in different groups and carefully analyzing data.  IU’s COVID-19 Dashboard is an  excellent tool for communicating testing results and trends to students, their families,  and our wider community. The university is a valued partner, working with Monroe  County Health Department and Emergency Management, IU Health Bloomington  Hospital, and Bloomington city government to address the coronavirus.

What is your position on abortion rights? 

“The position of County Council members on abortion rights is not governmental  but personal to each member, since the council does not have legislative authority in  this regard. Personally, I am pro-choice. Some county residents have objected to grants  from the County Council’s Sophia Travis Community Services Grants Program being  awarded to Planned Parenthood (for birth control, cancer screenings and STD testing) and to All Options Pregnancy Center (for their diaper support program). These services  are health and medical necessities that some county residents cannot afford. No county  funding is directed to abortion services or counseling.”  

Do you support raising the minimum wage? If so, by how much? 

The State Legislature sets the minimum wage, not the County Council. (Council  members do have authority to set County employee wages and have increased the  lowest in the 2021 budget proposal to $14 an hour.) The current Indiana minimum wage of  $7.25 an hour is the lowest state-set wage in the U.S., is the same as 16 other states, and  matches the federal minimum. It has remained the same for 12 years and has not kept  up with inflation. Last year, three state senators introduced unsuccessful bills for  minimum wage increases. I hope to see a successful increase in 2021 in line with the  highest proposal ($15 an hour, plus annual adjustments for inflation).”

James Allen

Background: Republican, retired firefighter/EMT, on the Board of Directors for Monroe County Youth Football

Allen did not respond to the IDS' questions.

Larrin Wampler

Wampler is a Republican who has served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She is Bloomington High School South alumna and a current member of Indiana National Guard. Wampler replaced Zach Weisheit as a Republican candidate after Weisheit withdrew from the race.

Wampler did not respond to the IDS' questions.

The IDS voter guide includes candidates who are on the ballot in contested elections.

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