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Candidates take questions

BY SHARON BARDONNER - sbardonner@ftimes.com

Scott Shoemaker and Richelle Lutz took questions from facilitators and the public Tuesday night at the election forum for the Republican candidates for Clinton County Commissioner - District 3.

The forum was led by Clinton County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shan Sheridan at the Chamber’s office in downtown Frankfort.

Shoemaker is seeking his second term as commissioner. He prevailed against incumbent commissioner Skip Evans in the 2014 Republican Primary, 2,557 votes versus Evans’ 759.

Deputy chief for the Frankfort Police Department, Shoemaker has also served on the Clinton County Council and Frankfort City Council.

In the same primary, Lutz lost her bid against incumbent Alan Dunn to represent Clinton County Council District 4. Dunn claimed 897 votes compared to Lutz’s 172.

Asked to cite the county’s top three accomplishments over the past five years, both candidates put IU Health’s assuming management of the Frankfort hospital at the top of the list. 

“IU Health has done a good job,” said Lutz. “Whether they can expand or not will wait to be seen.”

Shoemaker agreed, reminding constituents of his previous statement about the hospital. “I said, ‘The county needs to get out of the hospital business.’”

According to Shoemaker, based on IU Health’s facility study, he expects the building will be officially transferred to IU Health.

Shoemaker also cited the improvements in staffing and equipment at Clinton County EMS and the abolishment of the Clinton County Fair Board and its replacement by the Clinton County Fair Council as the other two top accomplishments worth noting. 

Lutz’s list also included the county’s efforts to clean up decrepit properties but criticized county officials for not establishing a fund to help homeowners improve their properties rather than taking them over and razing them.

Lutz stalled, however, when attempting to find a third item to add to her list of the top county improvements.

Regarding properties in disrepair, Shoemaker noted that the county had succeeded in working through the list, having, in some cases, battled with property owners up to five years to do so.

Shoemaker said the top improvements he would like to see are to get more people to live in the county (he noted that the county’s outlying - non-Frankfort - population has increased) and working with the City of Frankfort to expand sewer and water utilities to I-65.

“We need jobs first. We need to bring business here,” said Lutz. “Taking utilities to 65 is not an issue right now.”

According to Lutz, the county’s lack of high-paying jobs is what is stifling population growth.

Many of the manufacturers have open positions paying $16 to $20 per hour but lack qualified talent to fill them, so the Chamber and the county have been working with Ivy Tech and the high schools to provide training opportunities, said Shoemaker. 

Although running for commissioner, Lutz said another problem with the county is the number of council members who serve only to qualify for insurance, noting that the county pays $76,804 for six elected officials’ insurance benefits.

If the insurance is such as compelling reason to run, asked Shoemaker, then why are there three council members running unopposed?

“The benefits are not enough to fill them,” he said.

The candidates were also asked what solutions they would offer to mitigate opioid addiction locally, and Lutz proposed the purchase of the abandoned eastside CVS building for a city-county rehabilitation center. 

“We could have our own institution right here funded by the city and the county,” said Lutz. She suggested officials work on “finding a building and getting someone to run it.”

Lutz also said that the local drug problem is another reason people don’t move to the county.

Shoemaker explained that the county has been supporting the efforts of law enforcement, EMS and agencies such as Healthy Communities for Clinton County in their drug abatement efforts. He also noted United Way and Center Townships initiative - United Against Opioids - as a positive step. 

Putting people in jail for drug crimes is also a first step, he said. “That’s where treatment starts for some people.”

Both candidates cited their opposition to wind farms. 

“I think the issue has been discussed to death,” said Shoemaker, reiterating his statement made after filing to run that he was against development.

Lutz, too, said she was completely against wind farms in Clinton County.