Election 2012: Candidate forum: Shelbyville City Council

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By Lisa King

Candidates in attendance: Norris Beckley (D), Stephen Cohn (R), Donna Eaton (D-i), Frank Page (R-i), Nathan Riggs (D), Shane Suttor (D-i), Jon Swindler (R-i), Mike Zoeller (D-i).

Absent because of medical issues: Bob Andriot (R), Alan Matthews (D-i).

D: Democrat; R-Republican; i-Incumbent


Candidates each had two minutes to respond to questions, and those running for Shelbyville City Council went first, headed up alphabetically by Norris Beckley.

He responded to the question that since he had previous experience on the council, what separated him from his opposition?

Beckley answered that he thought the biggest thing that separated him from his opponents was experience.

"It was over twenty years ago that I successfully ran on the city council; that's one of the biggest assets that I bring to this year's election," he said. "I understand government, I understand budgets, I understand how a city operates because of that previous experience."

Norris also said he felt it was time for new leadership, a sentiment that other candidates expressed as well.

"I've seen a certain segment in this community that doesn't have a voice, meaning the African Americans and the Latino community, and I want to represent that voice, and be the voice for that unspoken community, or segment of our population that really doesn't have a voice," he said.

Stephen Cohn went next.

"What decisions have you seen from the council that you might have made differently had you already served on the council?" Doyle asked.

"I don't know if there's any particular decision," he said. "I think the main goal of the city council is to make sure that the police and fire keep citizens safe," he said, adding that other goals include maintaining the streets.

"I don't think the city council's done a bad job, I just think they could use a fresh set of eyes," he said.

Incumbent Donna Eaton's question from Doyle was, "Last year, the city asked for a zoning change from agricultural to industrial for a piece of property that was annexed upon request outside the Shelbyville Bypass. That was not approved by Triple S [planning and zoning commission], but why was it so important that the city immediately annex a piece of farmland and seek to change its zoning status?"

Eaton responded that Triple S did turn the request down.

"The city council had ninety days in order to overturn the zoning board, we did not," she said. "We had a workshop, at which the public could have come, in which we went over every piece of land in the city that was available for industrial use. Many of them were not big enough; they had drawbacks, they had to have roads built to them, different things like that that kept them from being acceptable. It came up for rezone because I believe that property is for sale. So it was a consideration on our part as to whether we would rezone it. We, as a city council, did not overturn the zoning board. I do not like to talk for other people. I did not feel that at the current time, it was ready for any kind of development, I want to see more zoning specs that make the property more acceptable, especially on the bypass, but another consideration is that it is in the comprehensive plan, and that was a community thing, where the community got together and decided what they wanted to see there. When I started my candidacy for city council, my concern is your concern, and I want to do what you want to do."

Frank Page responded to the question related to Speedway's recently seeking to acquire property on Mount Eden Road at the northwest side of I-64 and have it annexed into the city just so it could compete for alcohol sales with nearby properties.

"Do you think it's time the city looks at cleaning up some of its boundaries so that we don't have these ongoing struggles with the county for annexations?" Doyle asked.

Page said that yes, he did think it was time the city looked at its boundaries.

"Not to say that the city or the county needs to pick and   choose what businesses they should want or need, but also what makes the best sense for the county and the city as a whole," he said. He said he thought it was very important that the city and county continue to work together to ensure that they were on the same page in bringing profitable jobs to the community and growing in the right direction, and in thinking about how decisions would impact the community not just in the immediate future but in the long term.

Nathan Riggs responded to a question, "You have many previous roles on decision making boards. What decisions have you seen from the city council that you think that maybe could have benefited from your knowledge and experience and maybe should have gone the other way?"

Riggs said he thought as a practicing attorney, the council could benefit from some ideas he had.

He said he thought the city should have taken a longer look at the sidewalk issue.

"Any time you're assessing fees during an economic recession that's going to cost business leaders money, you're making it harder on them, and you're making it harder for them to keep their businesses where they are."

He cited things the city has done to get businesses to stay downtown, such as not paying occupational taxes and business license fees.

"We don't need to then tell businesses, this is the price of staying downtown, because a lot of them would have no problem moving to another location if they think that cost is too high. That's an issue for me."

Incumbent Shane Suttor's question was, "The city's police chief recently announced his retirement and the replacement has been named. Should the city council have approval process in hiring candidates for such high profile jobs? Are you comfortable with the current way it works?"

Suttor explained the city's hiring process, saying that a committee makes a recommendation to the council. He said he did not have a problem with the person who was chosen to replace Chief Bob Schutte, police Maj. D. Goodwin, but that he would have like to had had a say in the matter.

"The mayor appoints somebody to the position, and that's kind of way the rule is, and we don't have a whole lot of choice in that," he said. "I accept the mayor's position, and we'll back him up."

To incumbent Jon Swindler, Doyle said, "The city of Shelbyville actively is helping with private concepts for converting the old Blue Gables Motel into retail space and to create the city center around the Shelby County Community Theater. Why is this an apparently appropriate role for the city?"

Swindler replied that he thought it was important for the city to take a role in reshaping Blue Gables because, "It's the footsteps into downtown."

"We want our downtown to thrive, and what better way to have an opportunity to improve the gate into our downtown area. I think it's going to greatly improve the opportunity for business to look at downtown Shelbyville and to be a place where people will say, this is a great downtown, it's thriving, and I'm really excited about that project."

To incumbent Mike Zoeller: "Some community, large and small, are merging their city and county governments into one. What do you think of that concept, and why or why wouldn't it work in Shelby County?"

Zoeller said he thinks that concept works best in counties where there is only one city.

"In Shelby County, we have two cities; Simpsonville is kind of independent on their own, and they do their thing," he said. "We work close together with the county as often as we can, and I think because we work together closely with the county, with the way the government is set up today, I think that works OK and I don't know if we would get many more benefits if we were all one, because I don't know if we're quite big enough."

He cited Bowling Green, Lexington and Louisville as having merged governments, saying, "I don't think there's many communities our size that have just one government. I'm kind of partial to being on the city council, and I enjoy doing it, and I'd like to keep the city independent."

The city council candidates then had two minutes to talk about any topic they chose.

Beckley talked about his love for his community and how he was native to Shelbyville and had a chance to locate elsewhere, but chose to remain in the community and raise his family and make difference.

Cohn said he and his wife moved to Shelbyville four years ago, and one of his biggest issues, something that Beckley mentioned also, is to encourage job creation in Shelbyville, as well as to address the city's borders, which he said looks like a jigsaw puzzle.

Eaton talked about reaching some goals she had going into her tenure on the city council, such as being assessable and available to the people, and keeping taxes down, adding that she has never voted for a tax increase, and that the city has done well during her time on the council in building service and keeping and recruiting industry.

Page said he has enjoyed his first term on the city council and echoed Beckley's sentiments of being raised in Shelbyville and making the decision to remain in the community and raise his family. He cited his banking background of 20 years and extensive community service, serving on several boards.

Riggs talked about the recession and how it affects every aspect of the community, from divorce to criminal activity caused by unemployment, and decreased funding from the state to local bureaucracies. He mentioned an increase in foreclosures, and how local issues affect national politics. He said that caring about the political process could only be beneficial to everyone.

Suttor mentioned accomplishment the council has seen during his time on it, including planning for the future, with the East End Study, Discovery Gym, and his hands-on involvement in riding with police, code enforcement and public works, and thus gaining insight into the needs of both citizens and city employees.

Swindler said he was inspired by the candidates' enthusiasm for their community, and that was one thing that makes Shelbyville great. He commended their courage in running for office, and said he and his wife had moved from Lexington back to Shelbyville to raise their family. He reiterated others' views of the importance of job creation, saying it was a critical consideration and said he looked forward to the growth of the 7th Street Corridor.

Zoeller talked about his roots in the community as well, mentioning that he had worked for 17 years as an assistant principal, and that he has been on the city's budge committee all eight years that he has been on city council. He stressed how the city has built up its fire and police services and has been able to give city employees a raise every year and how the city has helped charitable organizations and given tax incentives.

Doyle read statements from Andriot, who was ill and could not attend, and from Matthews, who was absent because of a medical procedure he had scheduled for the next day.

Andriot's statement said he was running for council because he was a longtime Shelbyville business owner and wanted to see diversity in business and wanted to protect and preserve history in the community.

Matthews' statement said he was running for another term on the council because he wanted to promote job creation and give young people a reason to want to remain and raise their families in the community. He cited problems from an illegal resident population and from drug crimes.