Candidates participate in mayoral forum

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Candidates discussed a wide range of topics during a Seymour mayoral forum Tuesday evening in Seymour High School’s Earl D. Prout Auditorium.

Democrat Rexanne Ude and Republican Matthew Nicholson answered questions on topics as diverse as how to improve the quality of life in the city, the workforce and economic development, youth and education, health and diversity in front of a crowd of 164.

The event was organized by The Tribune, Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce and Jackson County United Way. Julie McClure, editor of the Columbus Republic, moderated the forum.

Ude, 62, and Nicholson, 41, emerged as the nominees of their respective parties from the May 7 primary and will face off in the Nov. 5 general election. Whoever wins will succeed Mayor Craig Luedeman, who chose not to seek a fourth term term.

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At the beginning of the forum, McClure said city government will see sweeping changes in leadership after the election.

In addition to having a new mayor, the city will have a new clerk-treasurer after Republican Fred Lewis decided not to seek reelection. It was a seat he has held since 1991.

Many of the city council races also feature political newcomers.

McClure asked how each candidate about how they would lead city government in the midst of such changes.

Ude said she would rely on her leadership skills throughout her years working as the executive director of Girls Inc. of Jackson County and Schneck Medical Center.

Ude said she led Girls Inc. when it had little staff and an inadequate building, but was able to grow the staff and raise money for a new multi-million dollar facility.

Ude said she also has helped lead the Schneck Foundation to raise more money than ever.

"Good leadership is not one person though," she said. "Leading is one thing, but working together with individuals and having teamwork is key."

Nicholson, who has served as District 2 city councilman since 2016, said he has taken the opportunity to learn as much as possible during his time in office.

He said he has taken advantage of courses and seminars on local government that the state offers and more.

As the owner of B2 Bikes and Boards, Nicholson said it also has taken leadership and determination to be successful. He said he learned a lot from the economic downturn a decade ago.

"I know I can help lead the way for the next group," he said.

During the workforce and economical development portion, McClure said the next mayor will be expected to travel abroad to seek industrial development and asked each what they would say about the city and what they would expect to bring back.

Each credited Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. with work over the years to create a good job environment in Seymour and Jackson County.

Nicholson said the mayor would be expected to be the "biggest cheerleader" the city has when traveling abroad and talking about the great things happening in Seymour.

He said the mayor needs to look at diversifying what the city already when it comes to industry and should think about adding technology jobs.

Nicholson said the city of Zionsville attracted a technology firm that ended up providing hundreds of high-paying jobs and Seymour could pursue something similar.

"If we can bring back those jobs, we’re going to be in a better place," he said, adding the city should pursue efforts in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Jobs program for skills training opportunities for residents.

Ude said she would approach companies about Seymour’s geographical location as it is close to major cities and that the city has an airport, an opportunity zone with tax benefits and two industrial parks.

"One of those parks has a lot of shovel-ready space," she said. "I would go with questions about what the company is looking for, but also ask them what they would plan to do to enhance our community."

McClure also asked a question about what infrastructure projects were needed to entice some development. 

Ude said the sewer system on the south side of the city and the Burkhart Bypass will help spur some development when completed.

"There also is lighting in downtown that is obsolete," she said, adding other areas in the community could be looked at for development and the city should complete the projects it has planned.

Nicholson said a planned Second Street project would "change the face of downtown" and could lead to new development in the downtown district.

He also said sewer drain improvements would help businesses and the community as a whole.

When asked what youth programs each would pursue, both said bringing youth from the community together would be essential to improving what the city has to offer.

Nicholson said he supports a mayor’s youth council where he could be advised on issues facing youth.

He said it would be important to listen to the kids because they may want different things than what the adults who are making decisions want.

“We’re not going to give them free reign, but we can give them the ability to give input,” he said.

Ude said the city should take an inventory and see what youth are and are not using throughout the community. She said the city should not only focus on bringing new things to the community, but also leading youth to what the city already offers.

Some projects could be completed quickly with few resources like pickleball, which has grown across the nation as a recreational activity. Other projects like a splash pad, which Ude said she’s heard many people ask about, would require more resources, planning and input from the public.

Candidates also were asked about what health initiatives they would pursue if elected.

Ude said Jackson County had a lower ranking than its surrounding counties and would like to replicate ideas that have been implemented in Hamilton County, which has the best ranking in the state.

She said the city could serve as an example to residents and local businesses by creating wellness programs for city employees.

"We can then look to see if companies can implement our ideas and sort of lead by example," she said.

Nicholson said the city could create more opportunities for better health, but not specifically pursue or fund certain initiatives.

"At what point does the government overstep its boundaries?" he asked. "I don’t think we can pay for smoking cession programs."

Nicholson said Crossroads Community Park has an exercise pad, which creates the opportunity. He also said there are federal funds available to help clean up environmental sites that could reduce chronic illnesses.

"A project like that would have benefits for the next 40 or 50 years at least," he said.

Conflicts of interest also was brought up at the end of the forum. McClure asked how each candidate would navigate their respective conflicts of interest if elected mayor.

Ude, who’s brother Dave Earley is a councilman and nephew, Drew Storey, is seeking the council at large seat, said it would not be difficult to remove herself from any situation where there could be a conflict.

"Personal issues come second when you’re mayor and your primary focus what is best for all," she said, adding she would recuse herself if necessary.

Nicholson, who owns his own business, said he has not had to abstain from a vote during his time as councilman. He said his business could benefit from a trails plan, but those decisions are out of the mayor’s hands because a committee is assigned to make those decisions.

“The committee is creating the results,” he said. “If I made it four years, I am pretty sure I can make it four more.”

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