Muncie Resists Candidate Forum

Muncie Resists Candidate Forum

Jeff Speaks at Muncie Resists Candidate ForumI spent the evening alongside other Democrat (district) City Council candidates discussing where we stand on issues in our community.

Thank you to Muncie Resists for providing a platform for voters to learn about myself and other candidates. It was good to see so many people interested in the local election.

Muncie Resists preceded the forum by providing each candidate with a questionnaire. I’ve included my responses to all of their questions here.


What is your professional experience and your qualifications for this office?

I’ve been working in and for the Muncie community for nearly a decade, as a Project Coordinator at the Muncie Visitors Bureau, Outside Sales Manager at Horizon Convention Center and in my former role as Director of Community Relations and current role as Associate Executive Director at Cornerstone Center for the Arts. In these positions I have built a strong network made up of many community leaders, and collaborated with many organizations for the betterment of Muncie. I’ve spent my career connecting people who can work together to make a difference in our community and through that have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge concerning our city’s needs, how those needs are being addressed, and how they could be better served and supported by city government. I see my role as a member of City Council as a natural extension of that.

Ball State has identified community engagement as one of its key priorities in its new strategic plan. What are your ideas and goals concerning this relationship?

As a Ball State Alumni, I’m thrilled to see BSU getting more involved in Muncie and acknowledging that their success is inextricably linked with the success of community at-large. One of the many things Ball State brings to Muncie is positive economic impact, from being our largest employer to the 20k students spending their dollars here. I would like to see Ball State do more to help improve the image their students have of our city, and encourage them to get off campus and explore what Muncie has to offer. Doing so would not only generate more economic activity, but would also leave a better impression with students of our beautiful community, and hopefully entice more of them to stay and put down roots after graduating.

Do you support city-run EMS?

No.

Generally speaking, I’m opposed to the current proposal and would vote “NO”. I am always open-minded and willing to consider new ideas to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of all city services, given those ideas have been properly vetted. I believe it’s the duty of elected officials to be open-minded and explore all options and find the best solution, taking politics out of the equation. If there is verifiable research weighing the impact and feasibility, and shows there is a better way to approach EMS, I would get behind it. We have not seen that research. All we really know is that Mayor and the County Commissioners don’t get along.

The issue, and any changes, of Emergency Medical Services has an impact at both the City and County level. Our leaders, from both government entities, should put personal differences aside and work together on the best solution (if there is even a problem to be solved), for all citizens. It’s their responsibility and one I would take very seriously.

How would you support Muncie’s residents that are food insecure?

According to Feeding America’s 2018 Map the Meal Gap study, Delaware County has the third highest food insecurity rate of the 92 counties in Indiana; however, 25% of the county’s population are not eligible for assistance

The most immediate support we can provide is to find new and better ways to connect those people to resources currently available which can assist them. The long-term support we can provide is to make responsible and strategic economic development decisions to provide opportunities for those people to become more secure.

Would you use city money or property to support a drug treatment facility?

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the average cost for drug treatment is $4,700 per patient a year compared to approximately $24,000 to imprison a person for a year and for every dollar invested in treatment programs yields $4-$7 in reduction of crime.

Yes.

I would absolutely support the use of city property for a drug treatment facility, and provide financial assistance as we would for any other important economic development project.

With the increasingly dangerous public health crisis presented by opioid addiction, would you support needle exchange programs which are proven to mitigate the simultaneous influx of HIV and hepatitis outbreaks?

Yes

Would you set aside a portion of the city budget for local residents to spend through democratic participatory budgeting?

Yes

Everyone can agree we need to support education and teachers.With locked-in property tax caps, state cuts to public education, and a shrinking tax base, where do we get the money to actually support education so the Muncie Community Schools Corporation doesn’t need an emergency manager in the future? Would you support a referendum to into raise the property tax to support MCS students and teachers?

Yes

I would personally support a referendum to allow the voters of Muncie to choose whether they wanted to support additional funding for community schools. Unfortunately, however, matters relating to MCS are not a function of city government, so we are very limited in what we can actually do.

Muncie has more than 2000 abandoned or vacant properties. Would you use city money to address this issue?

Yes

Do you support a landlord registry or taxes on landlords?

No

Imposing additional taxes, fees, or even additional building code requirements upon rental property owners is prohibited by state statute.

In the case of any landlord registry, I believe the best solution is to collaborate with renters, landlords, and landlord associations to find a workable and fair solution for all, with the emphasis being on “solution.” The recently rescinded landlord registry attempt by the city was not clearly defined in its objective, scope, or execution, and as a result, created bureaucracy without actually solving anything.

What would you do to improve code enforcement on substandard housing?

Again, state statutes limit what can be done at the city level in terms of regulating rental properties, which I think we can all agree are the main thrust of our housing problems.

We do currently have, however, a number of ordinances already in the city code regarding the maintenance and upkeep of properties. As a city council member, I would support directing more resources towards improving enforcement of those laws and demand more accountability from the departments tasked with enforcing them.

How much money should the city spend, as a dollar value, or as a percentage to improve property conditions in residential neighborhoods? How much should the city spend on the downtown? How much should it spend on McGalliard?

How would you balance these priorities?

That’s a difficult question to answer. There are so many variables involved, both in terms of need and resources available, that if anyone were to try and just offer a pat number or percentage, that would tell me that they don’t fully grasp the complexities involved.

Take the recent downtown streetscape project, for example. Anyone who followed the development of that project knows that there were immense complexities of old infrastructure, various utilities, traffic, drainage, etc. to consider in the design process; and then a whole new list of challenges that emerged once construction actually began.

And that was just an eight square block area.

That being said, I would welcome and support any collaboration between the city and various neighborhood and merchant associations, Downtown Development, etc. to make appropriate quality-of-place improvements.

It’s also important to remember that I would be representing a specific district, so my personal priority is going to be focused there. Now, if you want to talk about improvements on a district level, we currently have a situation in District 2 surrounding the vacant Storer Elementary School and the fact that District 2 is lacking in public park space. I think, and many of the district’s residents agree, that the school property could be converted to a public park and solve both problems, and I would support and encourage that.

Should the city subsidize development to attract new, higher income residents?

Maybe.

Not necessarily subsidize, but certainly incentivize, and even then, it would have to be on case-by-case basis.

Should it subsidize development that supports current low income residents?

Yes.

The city currently does this, through development bonds and economic development funds, and I would support responsible and strategic continuation of these practices.

How would you balance these two priorities to attract new, higher income residents and support current low income residents?

The two are not mutually exclusive and, through a strategic and collaborative approach, can both be achieved.

What would you do to improve transparency and citizen participation in economic development decisions?

The Muncie Redevelopment Commission currently holds public meetings. Also, all city council meetings, where funding decisions are made, are open to the public and public comments are welcomed.

There is always room for improvement when it comes to making these meetings as accessible as possible and to invite public input. For example, agendas of upcoming meetings, minutes from past meetings, etc., can and should be made available on the city’s website, and while I do support that, that’s not a function of City Council.

Would you prioritize tax breaks for locally owned and operated businesses over big box stores?

No.

There are already tax incentives and abatements available for businesses of all sizes to help support and facilitate investment and I would support and assist any businesses that wanted to avail themselves of those.

Also, trying to define what constitutes a locally-owned business versus a “big box” store would be fraught with difficulties and ultimately become unfair to one or the other.

For example, is a Muncie-based business owned by someone who lives in Yorktown, Selma, Daleville, or Eaton considered “locally-owned?” Likewise, would a Muncie-based chain, such as the former Marsh Supermarkets be considered “big box?”

Would you support a ‘big box tax’ on the large footprint retailers that are undercutting local businesses?

Again, even if such a thing were legally allowed, which it isn’t, defining such in an equitable way would be near-impossible.

While I fully support local businesses, it is also important to remember that attracting investment from outside the community is key to that community’s development and economic growth.

What would you do to level the playing field between big box stores and local stores? How would you incentivize small business development?

Because I have never owned a business, and don’t have first-hand knowledge of the challenges they face from city government, I would want to meet with a number of local business owners (both long-time and new business owners) to determine the best path forward and ways to minimize as many challenges as we can. I would lean on the expertise of those business owners to develop incentives to help them succeed.

What measures are you willing to take to ensure the viability of Muncie’s downtown once the Justice Center relocates (leaving many large vacant structures in its absence)?

Although it’s certain the current Justice Center relocating outside of downtown will have a negative economic impact, it’s too premature to know what the true extent of that impact will be.

As a city council member, all I can really do is support the efforts of Muncie Downtown Development Partnership and our economic development officials to determine what that impact will be and how best to move forward to mitigate it.

Do you support tax increment financing?

Yes.

If used responsibly and strategically, TIF can be a powerful economic development tool. I do not agree with Muncie’s current approach to TIF (consolidating all of Muncie’s TIF districts, providing non-profit organizations who pay no property taxes buildings within the TIF, little to no oversight or scrutiny of plans for the use of TIF), and think we should be much more selective and thoughtful in projects supported through bonds and with TIF dollars.

I think that it’s equally important, however, to educate people on how TIFs actually work and what their true impact is. There are some people in our community who have, in pursuit of their own agendas, seized upon the general public’s lack of knowledge and worked to make TIF into a convenient boogeyman and suggested that eliminating them will magically solve all of our problems. That is patently untrue and perpetuating that myth only muddies the water and makes coming up with actual solutions more difficult.

How would you improve transparency and oversight over current TIF spending?

I would encourage the Mayor, and the Muncie Redevelopment Commission, to make all bond agreements/obligations and projected/current increments available on the city’s website. Additionally, I would encourage the Mayor and the MRC to make all documents available to the public, by request. I would also scrutinize and meticulously question every request to City Council for bonds and the designation of any new TIFs or economic target areas by meeting with those economic development officials outside of the council meeting to hear their comprehensive plan before making a decision on my support or lack thereof.

Do you think Muncie has an image problem?

Yes.

If so, what would you do to address it?

Having served on the Muncie/Delaware County Chamber of Commerce Image Committee, charged with improving the overall image of our community, I’m acutely aware of Muncie’s image problem. The problem is multi-faceted and there is no quick and easy solution to resolve it, but there are ways we can.

First and foremost, we need to rid city government of corruption in every way and reestablish trust between the people of Muncie and their government.

Secondly, we need to work with BSU to improve their student’s impression of our community and encourage them to explore Muncie and welcome them off-campus with open arms.

Thirdly, we need to work to improve quality of life initiatives which are all-inclusive to the community to give citizens pride in where they live.

Fourthly, we can continue to support initiatives at the neighborhood level which seek to improve conditions where our citizens live.  There are many things, big and small, we can do to improve the image of Muncie and we should work aggressively and collaboratively to do so.

Would you support a City Council resolution to encourage the state legislature to redistrict?

Yes.

Indiana is still one of the 5 states without a comprehensive hate crimes law. What would you do to protect the most vulnerable populations in Muncie from hate?

The City of Muncie currently has a comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance which protects all its citizens from discrimination. Although this is a needed and important step in providing equality to all our citizens, it doesn’t guarantee protection from and harsh penalties for committing hate-crimes. I would encourage my fellow council members and the Mayor, along with other entities and organizations with influence in the city, to sign and pass a resolution encouraging our state legislators to pass strong hate crime legislation at the state level.

There remain discriminatory neighborhood covenants in Muncie. Would you use this city resources to rid Muncie neighborhoods of these covenants?

Yes.

Would you use city money to test homes for lead in the water?

No. I would however support a resolution requesting that the water utility to periodically test for and report the findings of residential lead levels.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has given Indiana a “D-” for its gun laws. Would you support a city resolution calling for state and federal legislatures to act by passing common sense gun laws, including universal background checks and stronger domestic violence gun laws?

Generally speaking, yes.

What are the duties of the position for which you are running, and how would you push the traditional roles to achieve progressive aims?

The role of a City Council Member is to act in the interests of their constituents concerning legislative and financial matters. I would work hard to represent the citizens of the 2nd district while collaborating with others to find the best solutions to issues facing the community at-large. Collaboration, and public input are vital to building trust in the community and I would work to achieve that in any way possible.

How do you propose growing the Democratic Party?

The first thing the local Democratic Party needs to do is regain the public’s trust. Our most recent corruption scandals have uncovered a systemic problem that has pervaded the current administration and beyond.

One of the reasons I personally decided to run for public office is also, I think, one of my biggest advantages: I’m not from a political family, I’m not associated with the current administration, and I’m not part of the 214 machine.

For too long, we’ve seen the same faces, same names, and the same scandals over and over again, sometimes spanning multiple generations. And while there are good people doing good work in the party as it exists today, they are overshadowed and tainted by others that have gotten just a little too comfortable with power.

We have to address that first. Only then can we hope to heal the rift between the two factions and look at bringing new people into the fold.

(Photo: Muncie Resists)

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