Mayoral candidates address community health and safety issues

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

The health and safety of Seymour residents is a major talking point for the next mayor, and candidates have different ideas on what needs to be improved.

During Saturday’s mayoral candidate forum at Celebrations in Seymour, seven candidates discussed what they would do if elected to make the city a healthier and safer community for all.

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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.

Rowe, 43, said the local police and fire departments do a great job of helping curb safety problems in the city. The biggest issue is dealing with the drug crisis, he said.

“We need to educate our children at a young age on the dangers of drugs created not only for the user but also for the larger community,” he said.

He supports organizations that provide services to help those who are addicted to drugs and said there is a need for more outreach programs.

“This problem did not start overnight and will not be resolved overnight,” he said. “But I feel if we put the tax dollars in the right places, we can help curb this epidemic.”

Rowe also said the city’s sidewalks and parks and recreation facilities need updated and utilized to their full potential.

“It is hard for a child to ride a bike on a sidewalk that is crumbling,” he said.

He wants to continue efforts to improve parks and bike paths, too.

“The nicer our city outdoor amenities, the more that people will use them,” he said.

Jacobi, 43, said she recently saw a man and a child flying a kite in the baseball field at Shields Park as well as people having picnics and kids playing on the playground.

This is her vision for safety in Seymour, she said.

“Seymour overall is pretty safe,” she said. “It is a community where children and adults can walk or jog and not really be looking over their shoulder. Bars are not required to keep out intruders.”

But there are some areas of the city that have become a beacon for citizens that are addicted to drugs, she said.

“To facilitate a safe environment, the city needs to support the police and fire departments with what they need to be successful,” she said. “It should sponsor and support efficient and effective management of these resources.”

She also would work with zoning to investigate ideas that have worked in urban areas in other cities and would be adaptable here, she said.

Where safety is a public responsibility, health is an individual responsibility, she added.

When it comes to being healthier, Jacobi said there are plenty of organizations in the community that are better equipped and more knowledgeable to deal with these issues than city government. The city should support those efforts, however, she said.

Jackson County ranks 55 out of 92 counties for health outcomes and was selected in 2016 to receive a grant to address its high obesity rate, Otte, 35, said.

To make Seymour healthier, he said there has to be communitywide buy-in to address all aspects of health.

“Not just physical but also our mental and emotional health,” he said. “It’s become the social norm to rely on substances to deal with stress living in today’s world. If we have a hard day at work, we pour a drink to take the edge off. Depression, anxiety, pain, there’s a pill for that, and our kids see this.”

The safety of Seymour ties directly into the mental health of its residents, he said.

“Prioritizing our mental health will ultimately improve our physical health and safety as a community,” he said.

In the past, the primary approach to the drug issue has centered around the supply and getting the drugs off the streets, Otte said.

“We’ll never be able to eliminate the drug supply, though,” he said. “We need to shift our focus to the demand, changing how we deal with the stress in our lives.”

As mayor, Otte said he would leverage resources for mental health and rehabilitation to address addiction.

“If we can reduce the demand for drugs, we can be more successful in our approach to reduce the supply, as well,” he said.

It’s also important for the mayor to be an example of a healthy lifestyle, he added.

“I want to be that example for our community, from what I buy in the grocery store to being seen at CrossFit or when I’m running along on the streets with my dog, Bradshaw,” he said.

Joray, 59, said as mayor, he would address safety through public town hall meetings with different neighborhoods being involved.

“We would talk about their concerns, ideas and improvements for the community,” he said. “I would take this information and put it together in a portfolio of low-risk, high-return projects. I would prioritize those projects and proceed in getting them done.”

To be a healthy and safe community, Joray said Seymour has to address the drug issue.

“Certainly, the best way to do this is cut off the supply,” he said.

To accomplish that, Joray said it would require working with the county judges to hand out maximum penalties for drug dealers.

He also said he would be in favor of creating a joint task force between the county and city and neighborhood watch groups that can help locate drug activity.

As far as being healthy goes, he said the city’s parks and recreation department provides a lot of different activities that people can do to stay healthy.

“Healthy is really a personal responsibility which is taught at an early age in our school system,” he said. “Schneck Medical Center does a great job with health fairs and classes that teach good health habits. The information is all around us every day.”

Recently, Nicholson, 41, took part in a wellness program where he learned there are eight areas of health and wellness.

“I realized that there is more to being healthy than just physical health,” he said. “If physical is what you’re looking for, we have more than a handful of gyms in Seymour along with a fitness court and a blossoming trails network that I’m proud to be a part of creating.”

Spiritual well-being is covered by the many churches in the city, he said.

“But I do wish they would get together for some fun community events,” he said.

Seymour Main Street and the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce are working to offer people opportunities to improve their social wellness through different events and activities.

Several area churches offer Financial Peace University to help people manage their money better and get out of debt for improved financial wellness, he Nicholson said.

“Emotional wellness is a little trickier,” he said. “But I found as my other seven areas went up, my emotional wellness increased, as well.”

For environmental wellness, Nicholson said Seymour has an above-par recycling program, and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is located just outside city limits but soon will be accessible by foot or bike from within city limits.

“We have great resources like the Jackson County Public Library, various nonprofit agencies and the Jackson County Learning Center that can help you work on your intellectual wellness,” he said. “So where we begin is seeing all the amazing things we have and trying to make them shine a little bit brighter and helping each other find them.”

Ude, 62, said it’s unfortunate Indiana and Jackson County rank so poorly in health rankings.

“This does not demonstrate a healthy community,” she said. “A healthy community is defined as a community in which all people have access to services and conditions that contribute to physical, mental, environmental and economic health.”

Community safety reflects unlawful, unsafe, violent acts in neighborhoods and homes and also injuries caused unintentionally through accidents and speaks to both group and personal security, she added.

“As a community, we have available to us a variety of different physical activities through our trails, parks, swimming pools, skate park, fitness court and youth and adult leagues,” she said.

But the city needs to ensure it is educating on proper use of those facilities and creating safe routes in low-risk areas that are well-lit and highly visible and promoting their use, Ude said.

Citizens need to be educated on how to use the equipment that is being made available, and the city must make sure equipment and facilities are maintained, she said.

“And we need to be educating and training coaches and officials and parents on health advantages as well as safety issues,” she said.

To improve public safety, Ude said the city has to consider the challenge facing law enforcement agencies everywhere to balance resources and services at levels within budgetary restraints and community desires.

“Law enforcement agencies are experiencing increasing demands for more effective decision-making, more efficient management and resources to achieve government outcomes,” she said.

As mayor, she would use a four-prong approach to the health and public safety of Seymour, she said.

“Define the problems, identify risk, develop and test preventive strategies and include health care providers and law enforcement agencies to ensure widespread adoption,” she said.

Kelly, 61, said it can be difficult for residents to get a good, healthy meal because it’s quicker and easier to get fast food.

“Unfortunately, sometimes, it takes a heart attack or a stroke to get your attention to want to start eating healthier or get more exercise,” he said.

There are areas in the city, he said, that are high crime areas, and police need to increase their patrols to try to get a handle on what’s going on.

“Sometimes, that’s easier said than done,” 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