Mayoral candidates discuss quality of place in Seymour

Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a series that will take a look at how candidates for Seymour mayor plan to address issues if elected.

By having community conversations with residents, Jackson County United Way has determined people and families place a high priority on quality of place and life.

They want things to do outside of work and home and ways to be involved in the community. Those same characteristics and attractions also are what bring visitors to the city.

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The next mayor of Seymour will need to find new resources to meet residents’ expectations for the community.

During Saturday’s mayoral candidate forum at Celebrations, seven candidates talked about what initiatives and projects they would champion to improve quality of place and life of citizens in Seymour.

Candidates in attendance were Democrats Mike Kelly and Rexanne Ude and Republicans Bridey Jacobi, Tom Joray, Matt Nicholson, Nathan Otte and Matt Rowe. Democratic candidate Tyler Henkle did not attend.

Kelly, 61, highlighted the city’s parks as attractions that benefit both quality of place and life and said as mayor, he would focus more attention and resources on them.

“As far as places to go and things to do, I think we have some great parks here,” he said. “We have Shields Park. We have the pool. I know it needs a little bit of work, but that provides some great opportunities for people to exercise.”

He also said through a partnership, the Seymour High School track could become a resource for the city, much like the tennis courts and elementary playgrounds are.

“It’s lit up at night and people can walk there and socialize at the same time, and that’s free,” he said.

Bringing new playground and exercise equipment to parks such as Kasting Park would help attract more people to spend time at the parks, too, he said.

Adding more bike paths is another idea he would like to see implemented.

“But they’ve got to be dedicated bike paths, not like Third Street where they have the bike emblems right down the middle of the road,” he said. “You’ve got to have it wide enough to have these dedicated bike paths like Fourth Street.”

He wants citizens to be safe and healthy, but the city needs to be smart about how it goes about it, he added.

Otte, 35, said as a founding member of the Vision 2025 initiative, he already has been working to improve quality of place in Seymour.

But there are new ideas Otte said he hopes to explore if elected.

“One resource our community has been asking for and missing for decades is a community center,” he said.

By partnering with Seymour Community School Corp., Otte said the city could offer a community center with an indoor pool.

“There’s a model of partnership between the school corporation and the city which could work in our community,” he said.

Currently, the city pool is only open 10 weeks out of the year dependent on weather and the pool at the high school is only used a few hours a day and is not easily accessible to the public, he said.

“Both facilities are going to need expensive updates in the near future,” he said. “There is a window of opportunity for us to create a community center that serves the needs of both the school and the community at large year-round.”

That facility would be more than a pool and would serve as a place with a workout center, an indoor walking track, a playground and meeting rooms, he said.

“We could bring in partnerships like Schneck for a rehab pool and industry to be part of their wellness programs,” he said. “It could have a healthy food option inside it and a place for kids and teens to hang out. A community center like this will change the culture of our community and partnerships across many sectors could make it happen.”

Jacobi, 43, said as a conservative, she doesn’t believe it’s the government’s direct responsibility to deliver everything the people want.

“It’s definitely not the taxpayers’ responsibility to financially support wants,” she said.

But government is obliged, she said, to support some things that contribute to the quality of place in a community, including public safety, education, park and recreation and reasonable zoning.

The city will never be able to satisfy everyone’s wants, she said.

Jacobi said the city needs to facilitate cooperation between groups that are passionate about adding to the community and that have similar focus.

The city is not always in a position to provide money for quality of place projects, she added.

“It is automatic to make the jump between resources and money,” she said. “But I’d like to think of other interpretations of resources because there is never enough money.”

The city could be instrumental in helping with logistics and in-kind support, she said, and promote efforts by not hindering or burdening organizations with unnecessary ordinances and regulations.

“The city can focus on what it does well and provide an environment ripe with potential,” she said.

Rowe, 43, said his dream for Seymour is of a healthy, safe, inviting destination for families.

“I envision working with local business owners and citizens to expand on what already works,” he said.

There are many places and events in Seymour that are destination worthy, he said, but there are opportunities to expand and add new entertainment venues, such as a bowling alley and a skating rink.

“As much as I would love to see things of that nature in Seymour, I do understand for those businesses to exist and thrive, we need to support local businesses and not look elsewhere to spend our discretionary dollars,” he said.

Rowe would also like to see more youth get involved with parks and recreation programs and would focus efforts on marketing what is available to the underserved population.

“I grew up in a family that many would have termed poor, but I always had a chance to be involved in park and rec,” he said. “I always enjoyed it back then, but more importantly, looking back, I can see that it taught me so many important life lessons.”

Ude, 62, said there are documents and plans that have been developed that identify focus areas in terms of what young adults and families desire.

As mayor, she said she would evaluate the suitable use of city resources to assist with such initiatives.

“I would encourage efforts that avoid working in silos, utilize and focus on action steps identified within existing frameworks and foster coming together to build collective community capacity,” she said.

Continuing to support the work that has already been completed, Ude said she would emphasize progress for the benefit of all and ensure efforts are focusing on moving beyond personal agendas so that maximum impact can be achieved.

“The role of the mayor’s involvement might be and look very different,” she said. “At times, the mayor will act as a champion for an initiative, be an ambassador or advocate or other times, will most be effective as a lead partner or to simply help to identify and recruit support and there will probably be times to simply rely on the wisdom, knowledge and expertise of others.”

Quality of life and place has no magic role, Nicholson, 41, said.

“During my time serving on Seymour City Council, I’ve learned Seymour is a beautiful jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “And we have to make sure all the pieces shine.”

But he doesn’t believe new resources are the right solution.

“I believe we have great resources in place that we need to help shine even better,” he said. “For some, the parks system is a high priority.”

In the near future, the city will have to take a serious look at the city pool, he said.

“I encourage seeing that to completion with sensibility,” he said.

As for attracting new business offerings to the city, Nicholson said the mayor cannot offer financial support but can offer that support to groups like Seymour Main Street, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. and the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce so they can help in that area.

Another priority for residents is to see the city cares about its community members, he said.

“Our partnerships with Jackson County United Way along with individual agencies like Boys and Girls Club, Cold Night Out, those are key,” he said. “With our support, quality of life has gone up and will continue to go up for all, not just a select few that that magic bullet project might hit.”

Joray, 59, applauded the city’s parks and recreation department’s efforts to create new programs like the adult dodge ball league to get all ages involved.

With the East Fork White River running just outside of the city, Joray said the city needs to encourage the private sector to attract businesses that utilize the river as a destination for canoeing.

“I think it would be a very successful thing, White River Canoeing and Rafting,” he said. “It would be a great big hit.”

He also visualizes a joint effort between the city, Seymour Community School Corp. and Schneck Medical Center for a version of a YMCA.

“I don’t know what that looks like right now, but it would be nice if those three entities could share the cost of that project, and I think it’s a feasible project,” he said.

Another initiative he would support is closing downtown streets on the weekends to allow for live music and dancing in the street.

“So let’s go have fun,” he said.

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Seymour mayoral candidates for the May 7 primary election

Democrats: Tyler Henkle, Mike Kelly and Rexanne Ude

Republicans: Bridey Jacobi, Tom Joray, Matt Nicholson, Nathan Otte and Matt Rowe