Mayoral candidates address opportunities, challenges of growing diversity


This is the sixth and final part of a series that takes a look at how candidates for Seymour mayor plan to address issues if elected.

Candidates running for Seymour mayor want the city to be an inviting and inclusive community for all residents.

A growing Latino population and increasing diversity at local employers like Cummins Inc., Aisin and Valeo provide the city with an opportunity and challenge to build better relationships with the city’s immigrant population.

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During the March 30 mayoral candidate forum at Celebrations, seven candidates addressed what they would do to foster improved communications with immigrants and increase their participation in citywide programs and initiatives.

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.

Jacobi, 43, said she believes immigrants should receive the same level of services provided by the city as all citizens, including police and fire protection, public transportation and access to parks and recreation.

“The immigrant population wants safe and secure neighborhoods, as we all do,” she said. “All of our citizens of Seymour should be treated with respect and without prejudice.”

Any resident, immigrant or not, who chooses to break the law and cause harm to the community should be subject to due process of the law, she added.

“The majority of our first generation immigrants are hard-working residents who are making an effort of assimilation into their new homes,” she said. “We should encourage assimilation, legal documentation and programs in our churches and schools that can help facilitate a connection to our community.”

As for immigrants who are in the country illegally, Jacobi said she is sure they are aware of the risks and sacrifices of doing so.

Having a strong relationship between the police and the community is very important, she added.

“We have many wonderful officers who are very involved in this community,” she said. “Positive police presence exists in Seymour, Indiana.”

But the city needs to continue to foster open communication between law enforcement, businesses, schools and residents, she added.

“Relationships are built and maintained with respect, honesty and the ability to listen,” she said.

Kelly, 61, said the biggest issue the city faces in regards to the immigrant population is the language barrier.

“I was going door to door and I got in a neighborhood where I probably knocked on 10 doors and eight of them didn’t know what I was saying,” he said. “It’s hard for the police department to be able to take care of problems if you can’t communicate with them.”

He said the answer may be to hire more Hispanic police officers and translators and have all city employees take a basic course in Spanish.

“The population is growing and they’re here to stay,” he said. Better communication is the most important step to improve relations, he added.

“We’ve got to be able to communicate to solve problems,” he said.

Kelly said he would be in favor of implementing a service to help immigrants get legal citizenship.

“That way they can be a productive member of the city and pay their taxes,” he said. “They want the same thing as everybody else wants. They just want a home and to be able to take care of their family.”

Ude, 62, said, approaches to improving relationships need to focus on ensuring members of the community are free from fear and freedom from want. The city is expected to embrace both individual and group oriented concerns, she added.

“A core characteristic will need to be a bottom-up focus with both security creation and stabilization as the outcome,” she said. “There should be focus on short-term and long-term solutions to this issue in our specific community based on local data.”

Relationship building between law enforcement and the immigrant community is not going to be solved by the mayor alone, Ude said, but will require a multi-disciplinary approach.

“Solutions will need to include cultural education, communication skills, engagement, collaborative spirit, acceptance and understanding,” she said. “As mayor, I would be a champion to this initiative and bring together the individuals and groups that could best facilitate a bottom up approach for positive change to happen.”

Joray, 59, said as a bus driver for Seymour Community Schools, 85 percent of his riders are Latino.

“Those kids are the most polite and respectful kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving around,” he said.

But that doesn’t change the fact people choose to come into the country illegally and should be held accountable for it, he added.

He doesn’t agree with a policy that uses local resources to search for undocumented residents and arresting them though.

“They’ll just be out the next day,” he said. “I think the answer lies with the federal and state government.”

Joray said the country is being overrun at the southern border and detention facilities are full, so many undocumented people are being released.

“Our do nothing Congress must address this issue or it will get a lot worse,” he said.

He also thinks the state could do more to address the issue of undocumented residents by requiring all employers use E-Verify, a web-based system that confirms eligibility to work in the United States.

“We need to talk to legislators to make us the third state to enact such a policy,” he said. “I do understand why people would go through so many hardships to get to this miracle that we call the United States of America. We are so blessed to be born in such a great country.

As executive director of READ Jackson County/Plaza Latina, Nicholson, 41, said he has seen how amazing the immigrant community can be.

They have a strong sense of family that we can all learn something from, he said.

“I had one learner in class that had dinner every Sunday with her family, mind you, her family lived in the four corners of Indiana,” he said. “My own brother at that time lived four blocks away and I would see him every couple of months.”

He’s also learned first hand it can be a difficult community to “break into,” he said, especially if you have any authority, such as law enforcement.

“I would want to ask the immigrant community, ‘How do we connect?’” he said. In 2017, the city participated in meetings with the immigrant population.

“These meetings worked well, but they didn’t host very many and I don’t believe any have been held since,” he said.

One of the things he would like to implement as mayor is what he calls curbside chats, where twice a month, he and other city representatives would designate a location and go out in an evening to spend some time hearing concerns from residents.

The meetings could be held at parks, downtown and at local businesses.

“I see this as a chance to meet every citizen, whether they’re an immigrant or a lifelong resident like myself,” he said. “Basically, I want to make sure everyone knows their voice is being heard.”

Rowe, 43, recognized city employees and said they work for all citizens of Seymour.

“Our immigrant community is part of our community as the law provides,” he said. But focusing on one group is not what he would do as mayor, he said.

“Planning specifically for one safe, healthiest, most successful community is good, sustainable, healthy planning,” he said. “Targeting or specific planning for one heritage versus another is not part of the dream I have for our small town.”

Otte, 35, said the relationship with the immigrant community, including undocumented residents, is difficult across all sectors, not just the police department.

As a Jackson County United Way board member, Otte said reaching out to serve the Latino population has been a top priority. But there has been minimal success connecting despite many efforts, he added.

“If organizations providing services can’t connect, it will be even harder for police,” he said. “Fear, lack of trust and communication are barriers we need to address and that will take time.”

As mayor, Otte said he would look at all departments within the city and evaluate how to overcome barriers. That may include hiring Spanish-speaking employees.

“We must build real relationships to overcome fear and lack of trust and it would be my responsibility as mayor to personally find a common ground,” he said.

It’s important for all people in Seymour to view police officers as guardians they can trust as approachable partners, he added.

“The appointment of the next chief of police is going to be one of the most important decisions the new mayor will have to make early in the term,” he said. “I would look for a candidate who has a vision of building relationships within the department and the community as well as bringing innovative strategies on the way we approach issues like drugs and safety.”

Otte said the city can’t continue to approach issues the same way it has in the past.

“The world around us is changing rapidly,” he said. “If we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, we can come together as a community and make real impact on the issues of today to leave a better future for the next generation.”

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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


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