Candidates address questions at forum

Candy Neal/The Herald


Candidates running for local office shared their insights on local issues during a forum held Thursday night at the Jasper Arts Center.

Circuit court judge candidate Nathan Verkamp and county council candidates Matt Brosmer, Todd Cassidy, Mike Kluesner, Atalie Schroering and Doug Uebelhor participated in the hourlong discussion.

The judge and council candidates were asked three questions related to the positions for which they are running. One question directed at Verkamp was: “In light of the majority of local cRimes being drug-related, how do you measure punitive measures and rehabilitative services in regards to those individuals committing the crimes?”

Verkamp said the community must understand that substance abuse is a disease, and that includes alcohol abuse.

“The brain is one of the largest organs in the body. And after a period of time of using a substance, it really does rewire the brain,” he said. “So it’s a disease, just like cancer. And we need to treat it the same.”

He stated that those suffering from the disease need help to rehabilitate. At the same time, those who commit crimes as a result of substance abuse need to be in place where he or she can get the help and not be a threat to society.

“There is a component for community safety and deterrence,” Verkamp said. “But the Indiana Constitution states the penal code is for reformation, not vindictive punishment. We need to find that balancing act, between community safety and deterrence.”

Throughout their questions, the council candidates talked about the usage of income tax revenue, the justice center project, the Mid-States Corridor and rehabilitation services.

The third question asked of them gave them the opportunity to share their perspective on one of two topics: the Mid-States Corridor and the justice center project.

Schroering said in her introduction that the main reason she was running was because she opposes the Mid-States Corridor project, which is the topic she chose to discuss. She feels that making improvements to U.S. 231 would better serve the community.

“When you allow private business to get involved in highways and interstates,” she said, “do we not assume that those private businesses will make sure that it gets placed where they like it versus where citizens would like it, if the citizens want it at all?”

Uebelhor agreed with Schroering that the corridor is not needed. But the issue of connecting with surrounding interstates is the problem. He said that years ago, the state had planned to improve U.S. 231, but that stopped.

“The state promised to improve U.S. 231,” he said. “We should make sure we hold them accountable” to doing that.

Brosmer addressed the criminal justice system, and said more research and studying need to be done before plans to construct a bigger jail facility are done. He added that more emphasis should be put on rehabilitative services and not bed counts. And with the current pandemic and uncertainty in the county’s financial future, “I don’t think it’s wise to build a jail in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

Cassidy also said that rehabilitation should be more of the focus. And that could be done more effectively through the county’s community corrections program, he said. “We have an asset in community corrections,” he said.

Responding the needs for treatment should be most important, he said. “I don’t think you can solve that by putting more people in jail,” Cassidy said.

Kluesner explained that rehabilitation services are a big part of the improvements to the security center and community corrections center. The improvements and expansion will provide room for more programming, he said.

“By upgrading these facilities,” Kluesner said, “it will be money well spent.”

Sonya Haas, who is also running for county council, was unable to participate. Kevin Crouse, who is running for judge, did not respond to the invitation to participate.

Candidates who are unopposed for county positions were also invited to speak at the forum. Current County Surveyor Ken Brosmer and County Commissioner Chad Blessinger gave an introduced themselves.

Because of COVID-19, there was not an audience in attendance. Only the candidates and organizers were in the auditorium. All candidates wore masks and were seated in such a manner to observe social-distancing guidelines. Campaign materials and active campaigning by candidates and supporters was prohibited.

The forum ran live on radio stations WBDC, WITZ and WQKZ. It was also shown live on Facebook through WITZ’s page.

The forum will run on television station WJTS at 8 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Tuesday.

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