Mayoral candidates answer readers’ questions

Two men have stepped up and put their name on the ballot in hopes of being the mayor of Seymour.

Republican Matt Nicholson, 45, has held that title since 2020, and Dan Robison, 50, director of the Jackson County Chamber, is his challenger.

With early voting for the May 2 primary election underway, The Tribune asked readers to submit questions to ask the mayoral candidates.

What do you believe can be done to bring more life to our downtown with its many empty spaces? 

Nicholson: I would start by encouraging everyone to park their car and go for a walk in beautiful downtown Seymour. As you walk, imagine what business it is that you want to see those spots become. Now, I know it is easy to imagine a walk and answer this question, but I really need you to take that walk because you may find something you didn’t notice as you drive by. Often, I find myself talking with Bri Roll from Seymour Main Street on what is going on with privately owned buildings and trying to solve how to get them back to being a productive part of our downtown economy. We often speak of the fact that we have several restaurant choices and see parking in several blocks full on a Friday night. We see that first-floor occupancy is higher than in many of our neighboring communities, but we are lacking in evening hours to go with the food choices we have. We are seeing progress on many of these fronts, but the best way to “bring more life to our downtown” is to get more people involved. Get people walking around and finding our new stores along Second and Chestnut streets. Help those dreamers who are thinking of starting a new business make contact with possible locations to chase those dreams as I did in 2003 when I started our family business. During one of our Brookings Study focus groups, we found that our teens like visiting downtown, and during our 2023 teen survey, we found that their ranking of downtown was higher than the 2022 adult survey. This tells me that there is hope for downtown, but we have to as a community get involved with organizations like Main Street to help make it happen because if we don’t, all the hard work on projects like their streetscape plan won’t accomplish much.

Robison: As mayor, I will lead the development of code enforcement ordinances that when consistently enforced will raise the standard of downtown buildings and properties. While I believe that code enforcement is necessary, I also believe that the city, in partnership with organizations like Seymour Main Street and others, should be first up to offer resources and guidance to funding opportunities to help stabilize our historic downtown and raise the standard of our downtown experience for residents and visitors.

What can the city do to encourage investment into businesses that can help with entertainment for youth, teens and the community as a whole? This is besides youth baseball, softball and soccer programs offered through the parks and recreation department. 

Nicholson: Over the last three years, I have and will continue to encourage economic development on many different fronts, including entertainment. While I can encourage the return of a bowling alley, skating rink or movie theater, it will take a sound business plan to make them a reality. It will take investors that are willing to, as Jim Potts used to say, “Get in the game.” Right now, we have a chance for someone to open such items, and the possibility is there for someone to start a successful business around entertainment, but it won’t happen without someone willing to take a risk. The concept of public-private partnerships exists, and some communities are willing to invest tax dollars, but each proposal must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to see if it makes sense and if it is a risk the taxpayers are willing to take.

Robison: The most important thing the city can do is to simply create a community environment that is attractive to businesses that offer these much-needed quality of life amenities. Low taxes, good roads and less crime go a long way in conversations when you’re talking with folks who you want to invest in your community. As mayor, I will continue to help create an environment in Seymour that is vibrant and attractive for businesses.

How can you get more financial participation from all of the big businesses and manufacturing companies to improve our city? 

Nicholson: To get more participation, you have to keep working with them. You have to offer chances for them to be involved, like the current READI project at the Jackson County Learning Center where we have corporate partners, educational partners and the city helping bring new learning opportunities to the area and creating a chance for their employees to advance in their fields. We cannot and should not expect corporations to offer up cash to help with every idea that is presented because of their size. Partnerships have to benefit the partners involved. We can also continue to support chances for them to help our community out via volunteer hours in our nonprofits, schools and parks with events such as Day of Caring by Jackson County United Way. These hours, while not financial, do add up and help all the above mentioned save money on labor.

Robison: If our larger stakeholders see that the community is putting in the work, creating real partnerships and developing plans and projects that make sense, they will want to be a part of it. We have to be able to cast a vision of something that captures their attention and connects with their mission in the community. Once we have their attention, we will see an increase in participation from all community stakeholders, regardless of size. I appreciate all that our stakeholders already contribute to our community and want to work to produce more partnerships that help move us forward.

In what capacity is the city currently performing well? Outside of attracting businesses, what is one area in which the city needs to improve the most? 

Nicholson: Currently, we are doing well in securing donors and grant funding in many areas. In 2021, we were able to open nine holes of disc golf through private donations. In 2022, we expanded to 18 holes with 75% of the total project being from private donors. This is just one example of where we are working well. For the other side of the question, I would say that I need to do a better job of getting members of the community to reach out when they have questions. I have still yet to find a dart or dart board at city hall for selecting road or sewer projects to be worked on. We know where our troubled spots are and are regularly trying to work on solutions for those troubles. We are happy to share what can be shared when asked. We are currently working on an infrastructure portal for the community to be able to find information on current projects related to roads and sewers, but that takes time to develop before we are able to publish it.

Robison: I believe the clerk-treasurer’s office is performing well. Over the past few years, that department has made improvements to the utility payment system and has transitioned city employees to a payroll format that is effective and efficient. The area where the city needs the most improvement is simply leadership. Seymour needs a mayor who will surround themselves with the best, most qualified leaders who can tackle complex issues and deliver the results that taxpayers expect and deserve.

Describe your view on what role the mayor plays in municipal government. What are and aren’t the responsibilities of the job? 

Nicholson: The role of the mayor is that of the executive branch of government. The mayor is to appoint department heads and see that their departments carry out the ordinances established by the common council, the legislative branch. The mayor’s role is to prepare a budget and present it to the council for approval or reduction. It is to oversee the day-to-day operation of the city of Seymour. Now to get past the mayor’s role as defined by Indiana Code. To be on the lookout for possible projects that will make our community a better place for future generations to come. To be the voice that says no when something doesn’t make sense, even if it may upset some. To always be seeking out partnerships and build relationships with possible investors. The role the mayor plays in municipal government is much deeper than most will ever know. The mayor is the biggest advocate for our community on many fronts. They must move from meeting to meeting and topic to topic in an instant and be able to stay on task. They must be able to help inspire and prepare future leaders for their chance to shine. The mayor in a community the size of Seymour is many things on any given day and must be able to adapt to their environment along the way. From helping throw trash to meeting with corporate executives, the mayor must be ready to go on short notice. While I might not have had to learn so many different roles over the last three years, I am glad that I did because I feel it gives me a better understanding of the process and what equipment is needed to perform the jobs our team members do. Each team member is a valuable part of making Seymour what it is, and we couldn’t do it without them.

Robison: As mayor, I will play three major roles: Leader, manager and representative. I will lead the city and develop, cast and execute a vision that will help move the community toward the best version of itself. This will be accomplished by understanding the issues at hand, developing a plan for improvement and then executing that plan. I will manage the city and be responsible to see that the services that the taxpaying citizens expect are delivered consistently. I will accomplish this by appointing the best, most qualified department heads and staff, delivering clear expectations and then empowering that staff to do their absolute best every day. Finally, I will represent the city and serve as the face of the community when interacting with other community and business leaders.