What do the candidates think about Kokomo’s civil rights ordinance, or what are their plans for public transit should they win in November?
The General Election is nearly upon Kokomo, and the three candidates vying for the mayor’s office, thus far, have tackled the issues of economic development and public safety. For the next several weeks, voters can see where the mayoral hopefuls stand on issues ranging from government’s role in influencing public health and the opioid crisis to their views on their qualifications.
1. What are your first priorities to address within the first year of your administration, should you be elected?
Abbie Smith, Democrat: “Immediately develop a competitive talent attraction package for new and transfer police officers and firefighters to increase our police officers to 100 to 102 sworn officers. Though we don’t yet know the total number of firefighters needed, we do know the current number is not adequate, and we need to begin the hiring process right away.
“Launch Work Based Learning Task Force to assess the current state of job training programs and employer needs in Kokomo in partnership with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Establish strong partnership with human services organizations who have relationships with underemployed adults in Kokomo connecting them and supporting them as they get the skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Strengthen partnerships with unions to leverage their well-established and effective apprenticeship programs to develop the skilled workforce we need.
“Invest in upgraded equipment, from backhoes to excavators to snowplows to street sweepers so that the talented people working for the city can do their best work with the tools they need to get the job done.”
Tyler Moore, Republican: “Priorities that need addressed in the first year are public safety, streets and infrastructure, and financial stability. I will meet with the leadership of the KPD and KFD to create a plan to restructure both departments to get individuals in areas to better utilize them, while identifying the pressing needs for staffing and resources in each department. We would create an aggressive one- to three-year recruitment plan to entice new applicants and transfers. We will assess the condition of our streets, sidewalks, and alleys to address the most pressing needs and troubled areas, while creating a three- to five-year resurfacing plan. Finally, I will take an independent audit of the city’s finances to identify opportunities within the budget to best utilize taxpayer funds. Initial reviews of city budgets from recent years already show potential within the current budget, so this audit will help confirm and support future progress.”
Michael Virgin, Libertarian: “The first priority is to make sure all appropriated money is spent as it was intended. Money allocated to city departments will be used to properly maintain staffing and functional up-to-date equipment. It will not be intentionally under-spent to bolster economic development endeavors. The next step is to work closely with city council members and all department heads to work on next year’s budget and to find out if any additional money (reserves/general funding) can be used immediately to boost public safety, so recruit classes and lateral transfers can start to take place. I will work department heads and meet with each department and its members to inquire what direction they would like to see their departments go in the future. I would ask what problems they perceive and what recommendations they have to remedy those issues. I would also start an online polling/survey program on the city website and work on community outreach and environmental objectives.”
2. What unique idea do you possess that hasn’t yet been implemented to better combat the opioid epidemic?
Smith: “We have to invest in prevention and early intervention programming led by a partnership between officers, public health officials, and other community partners.
“We need to empower officers to find solutions that work for the families they interact with on a daily basis. They are knowledgeable and committed to addressing our drug issue.
“We need to work with our public safety personnel and hospitals to create additional holding options once a person has been arrested for drug use, but before they have safely detoxed, to best serve the police department, fire department, correctional staff, the hospitals, and the individual involved.
“We need to proactively connect first responders with community organizations and public health officials to fill the gap between the criminal justice system, prevention and treatment programs, and health care facilities to most effectively respond to our community’s crisis.”
Moore: “The opioid epidemic is so far reaching and its reasons and effects are so complex that I honestly cannot provide one unique idea right now to combat it. Kokomo has so many individuals and organizations that have been working diligently to find the best and most effective ways to address the drug epidemic plaguing our community, so I believe it is up to local government to play as active a role as possible to help not only those who suffer from drug abuse and its effects but also those who are dedicated to finding ways to, again, combat it. Therefore, my commitment to focus on improving public safety in our city extends to supporting those who are dedicated to this endeavor by making resources available to them, whether it be financial or actual.”
Virgin: “It’s essential to keep the networking going between the city, county, non-profits, and churches in the area. Continuing to work together and sharing information and resources will help efforts against this epidemic. Increasing public safety and more presence in troubled crime areas will also help deter drug and gang activity.”
3. What do you believe local government’s most important role is in influencing local health?
Smith: “Our children deserve the best start in life. With a childhood poverty rate of 22 percent and even higher for Latinx children (27 percent) and African American children (56 percent), it is crucial that we solve our childcare needs as 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 5.
“Affordable, accessible, and quality child care options allow Kokomo’s workforce to be well-positioned to successfully fill the skilled jobs that provide a stable income for working families. Our workforce cannot complete the training needed to fill these skilled jobs if parents don’t have the childcare options our children deserve. Local government’s most important role is finding partnerships to provide that start allows parents to get back into the workforce, working one job that pays the bills, provides healthcare, and provides paid time off. This results in stronger, financially stable, healthier families who enjoy and give back to the local community they helped build.
Moore: “Local government can influence the betterment of local health by engaging both directly and indirectly with the issue. Directly local government can lead by example. The current administration charges city employees in the city’s health plan different insurance premiums based on whether they live within city limits or not. I would rather implement a tiered plan based on health conditions of the employees, just as is currently done with our county employees. Howard County government conducts health screens every fall to determine if employees qualify for discounts toward their premiums. Adopting this plan would better incentivize the city employees to improve their health. Indirectly, we can continue to find and provide “healthy” amenities that can be complemented by the trails, bikes, and parks the city already has established. Other opportunities could be found in partnering with other agencies in Kokomo to provide events throughout the city — not just downtown — that are health-centered.”
Virgin: “Local government can work with local media outlets and use social media to periodically focus on different environmental and health concerns so as to keep these issues alive within the public narrative. The city can also work with local gyms to host athletic tournaments, such as Crossfit tournaments and a larger run event, to focus on health and attract others to the area to compete in and/or view the event. The main proponent of good health is personal responsibility and being held accountable for any habits that lead to poor health. A big part of this is the family and community dynamic. If the family dynamic does not promote good health, then children will automatically grow up with that mental programming instilled in their mindset. So although government can play a role, it really comes down to the family to instill healthy life habits and for the individual to have personal responsibility for his/her actions.”