Seitz proud of leading city in positive direction

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz signs documents at Jasper City Hall on Wednesday. Seitz will resign from his duties as mayor on Jan. 1 to work for U.S. Senator-elect Mike Braun. 

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — On the first floor of Jasper City Hall, Mayor Terry Seitz’s office hosts a museum of artifacts tied to the city he has represented for seven years.

There’s the wooden, action figure-sized police officer that embodies the spirit of late Jasper Police Chief Michael Bennett.

The traffic cone gifted to him by the Huntingburg mayor and close friend Denny Spinner to commemorate the famous scene when, one summer morning in 2017, Seitz exited his car and moved a cone to a rough stretch of road from a nearby sidewalk.

There are the chairs, tables and desks — all manufactured here in Jasper. Photos of the outgoing mayor with friends and colleagues sit beside awards he forgot he’d won.

And in a corner rests a framed quote from his 6-year-old grandson, Will Werner. “If Papaw isn’t mayor, will he still be my papaw?”

Surrounded by his past in a room that soon won’t belong to him, Seitz reflected on his time as mayor and the future that lies ahead of him. On Jan. 1, his resignation will become official, and he will begin working a senior staff position under U.S. Senator-elect Mike Braun.

“It’s funny, people think, ‘You haven’t been in office that long,’” Seitz, 61, said. “(I’ve) been in office long enough to change attitudes, to change the focus. And that’s good.”

According to the City of Jasper’s website, Jasper has experienced “unparalleled economic development from among diverse industry sectors including manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, technology and housing” since Seitz took over as mayor. “Jasper is becoming known as ‘The City of Headquarters’ with more than a dozen regional, national and global companies calling her home,” the site reads. “Combined with public sector projects over $200,000,000 of new investment has been completed or announced since Seitz came into office.”

He had never run for public office before the 2011 mayoral election. Prior to winning, he owned and led InterComm Group — a leadership, team development and human resources consulting firm — for six years. Before that, he had a career in marketing and communications for more than three decades.

He threw his name in the ring just weeks after his first wife, Ann, died from Lou Gehrig’s disease. The two were married for 32 years. He struggled with losing her for quite some time.

“But that’s when I realized I was created to be happy,” Seitz said. “So, whatever happens, there’s happiness inside me.”

After hearing longtime friend Spinner was running for the Huntingburg mayor position and receiving encouragement from his peers, Seitz decided to enter the Jasper race. He won the Republican primary that May, and defeated Democrat John Burger in the November election.

Seitz remembers the city being in a contentious state during that first campaign, going as far to say that it was “awful.” Residents carried strong opinions about the conversion of the city’s coal-fired power plant into one that would burn miscanthus grass and natural gas. A library tax referendum stirred discourse.

Seven years later, Seitz doesn’t see that division.

Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz hands over paperwork to his assistant, Lisa Bower, at Jasper City Hall on Wednesday.

“The community was torn apart,” Seitz said of that period in time. “And ... we’re not today. If anything, we’re aligned and it’s positive. And I’m most proud of that.”

Jasper has become a different city in the years since, he said. And while uniting the community wasn’t a concentrated effort for Seitz — it just came over time — he did work consciously to position the city in a positive light. Under his lead, he aimed to spread the message of Jasper’s history, present endeavours and future aspirations.

During his time as mayor, many projects — including the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center, the Jasper Parklands and the River Centre development — pushed forward. Jasper was named the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Community of the year in 2018.

Seitz also said the types of private investments that have come to Jasper since he became mayor show that companies come here because the city is open and friendly to businesses.

“You have tremendous vision, you’ve been able to implement many of your dreams into reality, you appointed staff and department heads that share your vision, and they worked hard to make improvements to our city,” said Councilwoman Nancy Eckerle at Wednesday night’s Jasper Common Council meeting. “And many of them are here this evening. Your family is so proud of you and they’ve supported you through all of this, and they are also here recognizing you.”

But it wasn’t always easy. Seitz remembers his 2015 re-election campaign as physically and mentally grueling. The general election between him and Democrat challenger Wayne Schuetter initially ended in a tie — yes, a tie — with each man receiving 1,856 votes.

He woke up comfortable on the morning of election day, thinking before it was over, he’d either celebrate and look forward to another term, or reflect on his four-year run and move on to the next chapter of his life. But it would be more than a month before he’d know which path his future would follow.

“And to have a tie, it just didn’t end,” Seitz said. “I had postponed some major shoulder surgery. Basically, my left arm quit working, my shoulder quit working in March of that year. Most people don’t know. I decided to not have surgery until after the election in the fall, and then the election didn’t end.”

Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz chats with Darrell Blocker of Jasper at Azura Grill and Cafe in Jasper on Wednesday. "I'm proud of what the city has done and hopefully he can help Senator Braun with being the best he can be," Blocker said about Seitz. 

In mid-December, a recount commission decided that an absentee vote for Schuetter was not valid and it was removed from the total. Seitz was named the winner.

After wrestling with the decision to run again in 2019, Seitz was prepared to pursue a third term before he got the call from Braun. Shortly after the Jasper native defeated Joe Donnelly last month, he asked Seitz to join his team.

Right away, Seitz was honored by the offer. Braun is the first U.S. Senator from Jasper, and Seitz said the uniqueness of the opportunity piqued his interest. Though the details of the position he will hold have not been fully defined, Seitz’s work will be based in outreach and engagement in Indiana. He plans to continue living in Jasper with his wife, Deena.

As he steps away from local politics, he spoke of the high quality of city staff members.

“There’s nothing easy about leaving the people that I truly love professionally,” Seitz said.

He is looking forward to continuing work that will benefit people, as well as enjoying life as he continues to grow.

His administrative assistant, Lisa Bower, sees Seitz as a great boss who truly cares. She will always think back on all the great opportunities he provided her and everything she learned during the three years she worked under him. Her close relationship with Seitz isn’t typical for other mayoral assistants.

“Every day, it seems like we have fun in the office,” she said, adding later that “sometimes, you don’t feel like you’re working. It’s like he’s a friend, too ... he’s definitely going to be missed, but happy for him at the same time.”

While the atmosphere he cultivated was fun, Bower said Seitz worked hard and was serious when necessary. He’d stay after hours, work on weekends and make appearances in the community even when he didn’t need to.

He’ll collect the mementos scattered throughout his office on his way out, and he might stash something new away for his replacement. Perhaps a letter in the desk drawer with parting knowledge for the city’s next mayor that in part stresses that they will represent Jasper in everything they do.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, council members surprised Seitz with one last reminder of his time in Jasper — a key to the city.

It will have a place in his next office.

“It is a significant part of a significant part of my life,” Seitz said.

Seitz’s replacement will fill out the remaining one year of his term. They will be selected by a caucus of Republican Precinct Committee members on Wednesday. So far, Nancy Eckerle, Dean Vonderheide and Levi Hulsman have filed for consideration.

Photo by Allen Laman/The Herald
Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz stands with the Jasper Common Council after accepting a key to the city Wednesday night.



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