Six candidates are running for Tippecanoe County Council this November. The Democratic candidates are: Margaret Hass, an educator and Purdue lecturer; Monica Casanova, a former librarian; and Susan Schechter, a former scientist. The Republican candidates are: Barry Richard, a former sheriff; John Basham, a business owner and landlord; and Kevin Underwood, the president of the county council.
“The county council is responsible for the county’s budget and financial well-being of the county government,” Underwood said. “The county council is not a policy development body, we are the fiscal body of the county government.”
Voters will have to select all three of their preferred candidates for the Council at-large election. Voting straight-ticket will not include this race, so voters will have to make sure that they vote for their preferred choices when filling out their ballots.
All candidates were sent identical questions and given a 100-word limit for their responses.
Basham did not respond.
Responses have been edited for clarity and style.
In what ways will you use your role as a county councilor to advocate for Purdue students and faculty?
Richard: Purdue students and faculty are a very important part of our community’s makeup. We must be aware of the challenges and needs for this segment of the population and this can be accomplished by being a good listener and discussion with students and faculty. Once I become more knowledgeable of the challenges I will be able to advocate for the services and needs to be provided.
Schechter: Purdue is the largest employer in Tippecanoe County. I will actively support the Protect Purdue policies to maximize the success of in-person classes. I will promote expansion of situation response options so that mental health, substance misuse and interpersonal interactions can be resolved, not criminalized. I support building codes that minimize energy bills.
Casanova: Purdue is the county’s largest employer and there has to be a collaborative relationship between the county and a 150+ year university that has shaped and defined this community. Though many see students as transitory residents, there are students who after they graduate select Tippecanoe County as their home. As such, I believe we should integrate students, faculty and staff into the greater community because they are assets.
Underwood: Purdue’s financial well being is directly tied to our Indiana State budgeting process debated and voted on by the State Legislature. Tippecanoe County’s budget has little bearing upon Purdue directly but is an important ingredient in our county’s continued success economically and partnerships with Purdue to help work toward proper funding for important infrastructure projects that are important to both the University and the county.
Hass: I would advocate for Boilermakers by bringing them into the county’s decision-making process and directly asking for input from all faculty, staff, and students. I know that students may feel disconnected from local government, and there is often a gap between West Lafayette and Lafayette residents on key issues. The County Council, which represents everyone in the county, has the opportunity to model leadership to bridge these gaps. As an instructor who lives in Lafayette but works at Purdue, I would be able to bring Boilermakers closer to county government and into decision-making.
What one policy area will be your priority if you’re elected, and why?
Richard: Public safety! I have nearly four decades of law enforcement experience. In order for all of us to have a safe environment to live in and a high quality of life, we must have a great amount of public safety. The critical component is training. We must make sure that all our public servants not only have the resources but as much training as possible to succeed in their duties.
Schechter: My focus is climate response and resilience. The economic impact of wildfire, extreme weather and sea level rise affects all of us. Transitioning to renewable energy sources is an opportunity to lower costs and bring good paying to our community. Distributed energy production keeps more dollars in our local economy. I support programs to promote regenerative farming, tree planting, conservation, improved building standards, microgrids, cooling attractions and keeping our eyes open to be aware of threats and opportunities as they arise.
Casanova: Public health and safety will be my priority. Coronavirus has destroyed many families and businesses in our community and we need to allocate as many resources as the county council can apportion to those most affected. As a fiscal body, we can redistribute funds to best meet this crisis.
Underwood: I will work to provide proper funding and support needed to the county government to provide for the infrastructure, public safety, other business functions of our county’s government while maintaining affordable tax rates for the residents and business owners of our community.
Hass: A policy area I am particularly passionate about is voting rights. Unfortunately, confidence in our elections has been severely undermined in recent years. While our Election Board does good work, there is often an information gap between them and the public. As a County Councilor, I would support funding for updated voting technologies and advocate for more direct communication with the public through both traditional and social media.
The pandemic this year has led to closures for small businesses, including several which were considered Purdue staples. What actions would you take to rebuild the local economy following the pandemic?
Richard: Unfortunately, not only in our county, however, throughout the nation, we have suffered huge losses of many small businesses. We as elected officials must seek state and federal grants to help ensure that as much assistance as possible is given to small business owners to get back on their feet. I am confident once we have conquered this horrible disease, we as a nation will come back stronger than ever!
Schechter: The pandemic is far from over. Even when a vaccine has passed regulatory review and has become widely available, COVID-19 will not just go away. Science-based best practices to limit the spread of disease should continue. The market for student-focused business will lure businesses to meet the demand. The county should support new businesses with consultations and provide tax increment financing to small local businesses startups.
Casanova: I would support any kind of grant dollars to provide relief for local businesses.
Underwood: The county council will need to continue providing support for maintaining and improving our county infrastructure so that businesses can grow and prosper as the local economy gets back into full gear. Keeping county taxes at an affordable level for individuals who live and work in our county along with those businesses that employ our county residents will be vital for allowing small businesses to get back onto their feet financially in a quicker fashion.
Hass: County government has limited influence on the local economy, but we can take important steps to a) reduce the spread of the virus and thereby allow businesses to continue to stay open without repeated disruptions and b) support local businesses through the pandemic with some financial assistance. I would be in favor of providing small grants to local businesses to help them adapt their processes and stay afloat through the crisis.
Race has become a focal point in both the national and local conversation. With so many people from different backgrounds coming to Purdue, what commitments can you make to make sure that minorities can feel represented and respected in Tippecanoe County?
Richard: Education, training, opportunities, programs and transparency. These are the areas I will focus on in making sure each and every citizen of our community truly feels that this is their home and they are part of our community family. Our community is phenomenal. I have always said “There is no place like home.”
Schechter: Tippecanoe County has a long history of attracting immigrant populations, working through intercultural friction and then assimilating and benefiting from cultural diversity. Irish settlement along Wabash Avenue and German settlement in the Historic Jefferson neighborhood worked through difficult periods of nativist sentiment. We need to share this history proudly and actively welcome new immigrants to enrich our community. The West Lafayette Global Fest is one example of a local immigration-welcoming event. I will promote an active, countywide celebration of our diverse community. As past president of the Greater Lafayette Chapter of the ACLU of Indiana, I have defended civil liberties in our community.
Casanova: First, as a Mexican immigrant, I understand the feeling of being a stranger in one’s own country. I would ensure that all members of the community feel welcomed anywhere in the community and in particular in local government. I would also encourage and build a succession of BIPOC to run for office.
Underwood: All individuals in the county are assessed and pay taxes within the county regardless of race or any other individual characteristics. As a county council member my main focus is making sure that the people of our county do not pay more than is necessary for county government in taxes, while at the same time, making sure that the needs of our county are well-served to provide for the safety, health and infrastructure needs of our residents.
Hass: Racism is a serious issue in Tippecanoe County as it is elsewhere. I have heard many testimonies from friends, colleagues, and students who have experienced racist incidents, especially in the wake of the pandemic and recent protests. As leaders, we should not only respond strongly when such incidents occur, but also build a culture of inclusivity that prevents such incidents in the first place. As County Councilors, we can also make people feel represented and respected by making our meetings and materials more accessible (available in different languages, for example), as well as directly inviting the input of different communities in our budgeting processes.