Over the past 25 years, the Perspective has provided its readers with news unlike any other media in Kokomo and Howard County.
But none of the stories that have appeared throughout the years would have been possible without the actions of leaders in this community. Perspective publisher Don Wilson sat down and shared his thoughts about several of those newsmakers, recalling how they impacted the course of local history and how they interacted with the paper during their time at the forefront.
These recollections will start this week, but will continue next week in the second installment of the Perspective’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Brad Bagwell, Howard County Commissioner (1995-2006)
It didn’t matter what we wrote about Brad Bagwell; he always was willing to pick up the phone and answer questions. He may have hated it, but he understood the job he had and his responsibility to inform the public. He never shied away from it, even when he made bad decisions that brought great criticism with them.
He worked at being a commissioner. We didn’t often agree with him, but he took on the obligation seriously. He wasn’t a careful politician. His errors with the county’s comprehensive plan for development were so severe that he had to be bailed out politically. Yet he took the lead as Republican party chairman to oppose Matt McKillip, his own Republican mayor, when he realized that the mayor had created a political situation that he couldn’t fix. It’s rare for a party chairman to take a stand against the top office holder within the party, but no one else had the guts to do it like Brad did.
And he paid a price for it. By stepping out against McKillip, Bagwell ended his own political career. He stepped out of the party chairman’s role and then lost his commissioner’s seat.
Regardless of how we viewed the decisions Brad made, I’m glad he was in government for as long as he was.
Jim Fleming, Howard County Prosecutor (1995-2011)
I didn’t like Fleming from day one, and I’m sure he didn’t like me. I thought he was overrated. Getting loud and intimidating people doesn’t make you good at your job. He was dependent, in part, on a government paycheck from the 1970s until he retires.
He was an ordinary attorney. But the one thing he knew was how to get people behind him. He tried to paint himself as a savior of a corrupt system. And when it came to the big trials, he knew how to give the people the result they wanted. His methods may not have been just, but the result was what the people wanted.
Fleming was in the job for himself, not for the right reasons. When he campaigned, he insisted that no one should hold the prosecutor’s office for more than two terms because they become jaded. He even pledged to stop after two terms. Then he ran for two more, and sure enough, he became jaded.
Charlie Hackett, Kokomo Police Chief (1995-2002)
Charlie may have been the best police chief we’ve had. He had some difficult roads to travel, but he did it well. During his time, you knew the department would run properly and would function at its highest level. If every police chief was Charlie Hackett, many of the things we see and read about in this community and others never would have happened.
Charlie was committed to continuing education for his officers. He made sure there were officers trained at the FBI Academy and a number of other schools for a variety of police work and administrative skills. He rewarded good police work. And he defended his officers until they proved themselves unworthy of his support, even to his own detriment. He was loyal.
And he made sure that officers who harmed the community paid for their actions. The officers who beat a handcuffed man were pursued with criminal charges and removed from the department. The officer who stole money from the department, though he was one of Charlie’s most trusted officers, was dismissed and his department was overhauled. Charlie Hackett demanded that his police department did things right and punished those who didn’t.
Editor Patrick Munsey added, “At Charlie’s retirement party, I walked up to him and told him, ‘You’re my hero.’ I don’t have many heroes, but Charlie set the standard for me. Every police chief I have dealt with since has been held up against the example he set, and none of them have measured up. He was the best cop I have ever known. I’m sure early in his career, he was a rough and tumble cop and made mistakes, but as a chief, he has no peer.”
Michael Harris, Chancellor, Indiana University Kokomo (2010-2012)
In his short time here, he wowed me. He was too big for Kokomo. His ideas were transformative, and the speed with which he implemented things was jarring. He created a lot of enemies in a very short period of time because of that. As with all leaders of that caliber, he had some flaw that sent him away early. We may never know what that was. But if you wanted something done, you got Michael Harris.
The university is much better off for his time here. Student housing, new degree programs, record enrollment, a new fitness center, the athletic program -- they all originated on his watch. And we have to give Sue Giesecke great credit for guiding the vision and the university to the realization of these advances. As the new chancellor, she has taken what she was given and made it bear fruit and is adding her own initiatives.
I knew that Michael would push so hard and so fast that he would end up ahead of the cart, and he did. His legacy was so strong and so immediate that the stories we wrote about him still garner significant traffic on our website two years after his departure.
He understood the university’s role in building the community and in economic development. He actively worked to make IU Kokomo a factor when it never had been at that level. He turned it into a place you’d actually be proud to earn a degree from.
Jeff Hauswald, Superintendent, Kokomo Schools (2010-present)
Jeff took Kokomo Schools and dragged it into the 21st century. He is the ultimate energy guy; he’s always on fast-forward. Look at the remodeling of the schools and athletic facilities. Look at the international school, and the arts school, and the foreign exchange program he has developed.
Hopefully, he’ll stay here longer. He is great for the school system, the community, and for economic development.
George Hopkins, Judge, Howard Superior Court IV (2006-present)
I like Judge Hopkins better than any of them. He’s an excellent person who understands the law. It’s just unfortunate that he wasn’t judge earlier in his career.
And he adheres to the law in principle and deed. When the gay marriage ban was overturned earlier this year, there was one judge performing marriage ceremonies in his courtroom. That was Judge Hopkins. He didn’t do it because he had a moral conviction or an opinion on the matter; he did it because for those few days, allowing gay marriage was the law of the land. He followed the law.
That is how George has always been guided. In his military career, as a prosecutor, as a judge, he followed the law.
And, he would be upset if we didn’t point out how cheap he is. He wears that as a badge of honor and doesn’t want it sugar coated. We were worried when we learned of his recent health problems, but we were certain he’d recover. As soon as someone whispered in his ear that the insurance wasn’t going to cover the whole hospital bill, that’s when he got up and got better.
Martha Lake, Howard County Auditor (1997-2004; 2013-present), Howard County Treasurer (2005-2012)
It is a good thing that Howard County has Martha Lake. She understands the budget. She sees the trends and is able to predict what will happen to the county financially. And she is an excellent administrator.
When Martha first became county auditor, the county’s financial records were a mess. There were stacks of paperwork filling the office, and nothing was being accomplished in a timely fashion. It was a disaster. She fixed it all in a year. She had the office running well and had the books balanced.
Martha is the type of person who, if the auditor’s job was an appointed position, you would go out and hire her for it. And you wouldn’t have to think twice about it.
Dick Miller, Howard County Council (1979-present)
There has been a Miller on the county council ever since God created earth. Nobody understands the workings of county government better than Dick Miller. He understands it fully when no one else does. He never wanted any scrutiny, never wanted anything to change. The world doesn’t work that way. Dick, and many of the people in county government, never have accepted that. They resent it to this day. If Paul Wyman hadn’t been elected to the county council, they might never have received that scrutiny. No one had questioned what the council did until Paul stepped in.
We are much better off as a community because of Dick Miller and the position he was in. I don’t know what would have happened if he had not been there. When the discussion of funding and who should benefit from them is had, we take a more liberal position, and he takes a more conservative position. He believes in doing in what the law says and nothing more. He resists economic development spending and special projects, and he is a willing participant in working against the city of Kokomo, regardless of who is in the mayor’s office. Of course, it’s an easy fight to have because there’s always someone in that chair willing to fight with him.
That has been to the detriment to the community. Dick sometimes makes his own problems because he doesn’t shy away from the fight. He and Stan Ortman have kept Paul Wyman busy with conflicts for years. Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing. Wyman shouldn’t get everything his way. That would be bad. But Miller shouldn’t have it all his way, either.
What came out of all that fighting and discussion is a better government; they just get upset because we show people how the sausage is made.
Dick Miller is a good man. Whenever he decides that he has had enough, he should be given a royal send-off.
Tyler Moore, Howard County Commissioner, (2009-present)
Tyler Moore is someone we are fortunate to have as a commissioner. You can go far and wide and not find a better man. He’s intelligent and level-headed. Anyone who knows Tyler is better for it. Unfortunately, he’s sometimes too nice. He’ll listen to the other side until it becomes exhausting. If we had a government full of Tyler Moores, we would be very well off.
Lynn Murray, Judge, Howard Circuit Court (1997-present)
Judge Murray has been entrusted with some of the most important decisions in our community. And she is probably our best judge. She created the juvenile drug court, saving dozens of lives. And she works endlessly. It’s not unusual to drive by the courthouse at night and see the lights are still on in her office.
She is totally dedicated to the job. She is responsible for the Kinsey Youth Center, and through her oversight and the appointment of good administrators, that facility returns more than a million dollars to the community every year.
Steve Rogers, Howard County Sheriff (2011-present)
Steve Rogers is an excellent sheriff and person. We are so fortunate to have him. We should be thankful every day he is our sheriff. He recently found himself in an unfortunate situation between Goodnight and Menges. Steve was simply fulfilling his duties as sheriff.
Artie Scruggs, former IBEW business manager and Perspective columnist
Artie did a lot of good for the community. He found ways to succeed by using our paper, sometimes in ways that I didn’t know about until after he left. He used us as a tool to make threats at times. I think Kroger was one of the businesses that Artie threatened with negative stories from us. I had no idea he had done it. The bottom line was Artie wanted jobs for Kokomo. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that.
No one wants to admit how successful the IBEW was when Artie was the business agent. And his success often brought success for other building trades unions, as getting his members on a project opened the doors for other union work. He should receive his just due for that. He put a lot of meals on a lot of tables in Kokomo. Because of him, a lot of product was bought in Kokomo, even from people who loved to hate him when they opened up our paper.
That unfortunate time in question is one of those moments where I would have done things differently. I’ve come to understand that all police reports may not be accurate. Artie was targeted. There is no doubt that he was there that day, but as time has gone on, I have questions as to what his behavior actually was that day.
We were put in a difficult spot. The Tribune ducked the story initially, waiting on us to act. They hoped we would make a mistake, I think. We printed what we believed to be the truth at the time. I’m just not convinced now that it was the truth.
That was a period of time during which people close to our paper all came under some scrutiny or faced indictments. It led up to our indictments. Steve Young, Artie, myself and Bill all faced that. Coincidence? I don’t believe in them.
Jamie Shepherd, Howard County Assessor (2007-2014)
Jamie is another person who understood the job very well. Howard County misses her already. Her loss was felt immediately; it was a huge loss. But it was a huge gain for Northwestern Schools.
More than anyone else, Jamie Shepherd is responsible for settling the tax issues with Chrysler and General Motors that kept our county afloat. Without Jamie, the entire state would have suffered, as no one else was willing to take up the fight against big businesses like Kohl’s when they tried to manipulate and abuse our state’s property tax system.
And when the state legislature overreached its own intelligence quotient and began messing around with the property tax system, Jamie went to Indianapolis and testified in favor of local taxpayers and local government.
It says a lot about the ridiculous ineptitude of Gov. Pence and the current leadership at the statehouse that they ignored what Jamie tried to tell them and decimated the business personal property tax system last winter. Even Mike Karickhoff, who had the benefit of Jamie’s counsel in his own district, joined the other bone-heads in the super-majority and hurt us.
Jeff Stout, Howard County Coroner (1993-2000), Howard County Councilman (2001-present)
There is probably not a more conscientious person in county government than Jeff Stout. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have as much time as he would like to devote to the community. He is an excellent person, and when given the opportunity he studies the issues and makes the best decision for the majority.
He gives back to the community in all aspects -- his time, his resources, his service. Russiaville continues to prosper in great measure because of his efforts.
Marty Talbert, Howard County Sheriff (2005-2012)
There probably hasn’t been a more overrated public official in Howard County than Marty Talbert. He didn’t know what a budget was. They allowed him to come in every month and ask for money, and they gave it to him. His budget was a suggestion.
But one great thing about Marty is there is no gray area with him. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. You have to give him credit for that. As an administrator, Marty was good only in that he made the decision to have Steve Rogers handle the administration of the sheriff’s department. Without that selection, the department never would have been cleaned up. Rogers was the sheriff behind the sheriff. And without Harold Vincent as his jail commander, Marty would have been lost on how to handle that side of the department.
Marty was busy writing traffic tickets. He was so focused on even the smallest issues. Everything you need to know about Marty was summed up when he came rushing back from Indianapolis in the fall of 2010 because of a budget hearing broadcast fiasco. He thought someone had talked about him, which wasn’t the least bit true, but he ran to the Indianapolis media and made a fool of himself.
Marty has always been popular in the community, however, and now we’re hearing he may move into Kokomo and run for mayor.