Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, May 23
The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

Meet the Democratic candidates for the Monroe County Board of Commissioners District 3 seat

2024elections-illo

Three Democrats — Penny Githens, Jody Madeira and Steve Volan — are competing for their party’s nomination for the District 3 seat on the Monroe County Board of Commissioners. Republicans Joe VanDeventer and Paul White Sr. also filed declarations of candidacy for the seat.  

The Monroe County Board of Commissioners’ responsibilities include auditing and authorizing claims against the county, maintaining county properties, supervising the maintenance of county roads and bridges and implementing solid waste management strategies. Commissioners can also appoint members to fill positions on various county boards, committees and commissions.  

Whoever is elected to the District 3 seat will represent Benton Township, Clear Creek Township, Salt Creek Township, Washington Township and parts of Perry and Polk townships.  

Penny Githens  

Incumbent candidate Penny Githens has served on the Board of Commissioners since 2019, when the Monroe County Democratic Party selected her to fill a vacancy on the board. She was elected in 2020.  

Githens said she and her husband moved from Nashville, Tennessee — where the two worked at Vanderbilt University — to Bloomington when her husband accepted a job in the area. She said her husband grew up in Bloomington and she attended IU for graduate school, receiving her masters in Educational Psychology.  

Githens initially got involved in policymaking in the late 1990s and early 2000s, after her son, Nathan, was diagnosed with autism. She said, at the time of his diagnosis, her health insurer did not cover medical care or treatment for individuals with autism. Working with The Arc of Indiana, Penny advocated for the Indiana General Assembly to pass a law mandating coverage for individuals with autism. The Indiana General Assembly passed this mandate in 2001, becoming the first state in the nation to pass a comprehensive autism treatment coverage law.  

After this experience with the Indiana General Assembly, Githens said she realized there were many other issues she wanted to address including mental health, homelessness and treatment for people with substance use disorders. She unsuccessfully ran for the Indiana House of Representatives in 2018 and 2022. 

“Nobody at 5-years-old says ‘I’m going to grow up to have a drug addiction,’” Githens said. “Nobody says ‘I’m going to grow up to be homeless.’ They’re just people. I feel compelled to make a difference in their lives.” 

Since joining the board of commissioners in 2019, Githens has helped advocate for the use of funds from the Food and Beverage Tax, American Rescue Plan Act and Consolidated Appropriations Act, to support small businesses. For instance, the county commissioners and county council approved a interlocal agreement with local township governments in 2020 to provide more than $200,000 in economic relief. Much of this support came during the COVID-19 pandemic, which Githens said was a challenging time to be in county government.  

“We very quickly had to figure out how to keep county government alive, well and still provide the services that our county residents have a right to expect,” Githens said.  

Githens said she also worked with representatives from the Monroe County Health Department and Indiana Recovery Alliance to get more than $500,000 in opioid settlement money to support its harm reduction and syringe service program. One idea she had for using this money is to build recovery housing. She also said she helped launch the Rural Housing Repair Program, which allows low- and moderate-income residents — households making at or below 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or at or below 65 percent of the Monroe County’s median income — living in the county to receive funds for home repairs.  

In addition to addressing issues related to housing, Githens said one of her top priorities would be expanding childcare options in the county. 

“If you want to come here for a job, if you can’t find childcare, you’re not going to come,” Githens said. “I hear people telling me that if they have two kids, two young ones, they’re often paying more for childcare than for their mortgage.”  

Githens said her five years of experience in the position, in addition to her accessibility, dedication and time availability sets her apart from other candidates in the race.  

“Before I became a commissioner, I didn’t think much about the soil and water conservation district, and I didn’t think about what restrictions we have on building,” Githens said. “There were just so many things to learn, so many pieces to our job.”  

To learn more about Githens and her campaign, visit her campaign website or Facebook 

Jody Madeira 

IU Maurer School of Law professor Jody Madeira is also vying for the seat. Madeira — who teaches medical, Second Amendment, family, product liability and torts law — said she has long been an advocate for progressive causes in Indiana. For instance, she publicly opposed Senate Bill 1, an Indiana law passed in 2022 which prohibits abortion except if there is a lethal fetal anomaly up to 20 weeks post-fertilization or in cases of rape or incest up to 10 weeks post-fertilization.  

Madeira also worked with legislatures in 11 states, including Indiana, to pass laws imposing civil and criminal penalties on perpetrators of fertility fraud. Madeira and her work were featured in the 2022 Netflix documentary “Our Father.” 

“If I can get that done, I think I have a pretty good shot of handling the burdens of the commissioner,” Madeira said. “The issues in the county that we need to solve, everyone knows pretty much what they are. The commissioners know what they are, they just haven’t done anything about them.”  

Madeira said she worries the state and federal government could restrict important civil rights, such as access to abortion, contraceptives and medical care for transgender youth. She said her experience teaching these topics would prepare her to advocate for related issues at a local level.  

"The importance of strong resistance to a lot of authoritarian ideals at the state and federal level, that begins on the local level and doing things right for our citizens,” Madeira said.  

Holding a law degree and doctorate in communication studies from the University of Pennsylvania, Madeira said she would focus on increasing collaboration between city and county government. She said a lack of collaboration has delayed progress on the Monroe County Convention Center expansion project and selecting a site to build a new county jail.  

“It is infusing cynicism and burnout into politics,” Madeira said. “It is discouraging other citizens from getting engaged. It is exploiting tensions that have always been there. We really lose the ability to more forward if we can’t move forward together.”  

One of her top priorities would be addressing housing in Monroe County. She said she would start by having the county complete a housing needs assessment. She would also want to revise the county’s comprehensive plan, the primary source of property use policies in the county, which has not been revised since 2012.  

She would also focus her efforts on selecting a new jail site. She said the jail needs to be close to downtown, public transportation, the county prosecutor office, public defender office, the court and mental health service providers. 

If elected, Madeira said she would want to re-establish the Community Justice Response Commission, a group intended to discuss poor conditions in the Monroe County Jail. The Board of Commissioners suspended the group’s meetings in April 2023, citing a lack of progress due to conflicting perspectives and priorities. She would also want to create a commission to advise the county on issues related to LGBTQ+ youth. She said these commissions would help bring diverse voices into county government.  

To learn more about Madeira and her campaign, visit her campaign website. She also posted a thread on Reddit where constituents can ask her questions.  

Steve Volan  

Steve Volan, who served on the Bloomington City Council for 20 years, is the third Democratic candidate competing for his party’s nomination. 

Volan moved to Bloomington in 1986 after he transferred to IU from Carnegie Mellon University. He did not finish his undergraduate degree in general studies until 2007, because he dropped out to pursue his entrepreneurial interests. He later received his master’s in geography from IU in 2019. 

He helped found BlueMarble Information Services, the first internet access company in Bloomington, in 1994. Smithville Telephone Company acquired the company in 2000. He also founded an independent video-rental store, The Cinemat, in 2002, which closed in 2009. 

During his time on the council, Volan was a proponent for supporting public transportation in Bloomington. He authored an ordinance in 2023 to let Bloomington Transit serve more areas in Monroe County outside of city limits. Volan also started the city’s parking commission in 2016.  

“I think we should be not only running transit outside the city, we should be building the rest of the county in a way that acknowledges and takes advantage of the existence of transit,” Volan said.  

Volan said he decided to run after the Monroe County commissioners rejected a request to build 190 residential units in Clear Creek Township as part of the Southern Meadows development. He said housing would be his top priority if elected. 

“They had a chance to do the right thing, and they failed,” Volan said. “That’s what really made me think ‘what are we doing here? Why are they fighting us?’ They’re just making growth more unaffordable.” 

Volan, who served as the District 6 representative during his time on the council, authored an ordinance in 2020 to create Bloomington’s first redistricting commission. This commission drew a new district map, which the city council approved in October 2022, that pushed several incumbent councilmembers, including Volan, into new districts. After being redistricted out of District 6, Volan unsuccessfully ran for an at-large seat on the council. 

The District 6 seat, which includes all IU’s campus housing except for Foster Hall, is now held by Sydney Zulich. While serving on the council, Volan was a proponent of creating a district exclusively comprised of IU students.  

“Students are not even aware they are local citizens,” Volan said. “Do you drink the water here? Do you ride the bus here? Do you ever have to call 911? If you do any of those things, you’re a local citizen.”  

Since leaving his role on the council, Volan has started a daily talk show titled “The 812, where he interviews elected and appointed officials in city government. He said he would be able to work well with Bloomington officials, who he believes are often excluded from county decisions and meetings.  

“The commissioners seem to think that the county is the opponent of the city,” Volan said. “The city is the county’s seat. They are so angry at the previous administration’s efforts to annex and the loss of power from them that they have been fighting the city tooth and nail, which is insane.” 

He also said he would want to change how the county does meetings. The Board of Commissioner’s public meetings are held at 10 a.m. every Wednesday. The commissioners also have virtual office hours open to the public at various times and dates throughout the month. Volan said he would want to move these public meetings to a time when more residents would be able to attend.  

To learn more about Volan and his campaign, visit his campaign website.  

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe