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Debates heat up for county candidates

Debates once again heated up Wednesday as Election Day draws near for candidates in Howard County.

The debates, put on by the Kokomo Tribune, Kokomo Perspective and the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Association, opened with Howard County Circuit Judge Lynn Murray debating Republican challenger Richard Russell to start the evening.

Murray stated that her two primary jobs as circuit court judge are to hear and decide disputes and aplly the rules of the law to nearly 3,000 cases that go through the court every year.

Formerly serving as a special judge for eight years in Tipton County, Russell has experience as a deputy and chief deputy prosecuting attorney, and experience as a professional mediator.

The two agreed that juvenile offenders are a huge concentration of the role of a judge.

The root causes of juvenile offenders are the root causes of adult offenders,” she said. “That is substance abuse and mental illness. In the juvenile area in Howard County, we have really come to the forefront of dealing with these two issues.”

Russell said the issue lies with the makeup of the family, which needs to be a focus of the community.

“I think the root causes are still there, and I believe the family needs to be paid more attention to in this community,” he said. “The family is where the problems with juveniles start.”

Both Murray and Russell agreed that the county’s Kinsey Youth Center has done its part to provide support for troubled juveniles, although Russell believes the rise in juvenile cases is more systemic.

Russell often agreed with and supported the work done by Murray and members of the court, rarely questioning her stance on a variety of topics.

Three candidates vying for the Howard County Commissioner seat then took place in an often-heated debate on subjects ranging from economic development, the implementation of wind energy and whether the county is overstaffed or over-budgeted.

Independent candidate Leonard Baxter, a farmer and Delphi employee, and Democrat candidate Mike Barger, an employee of Chrysler, took turns firing at incumbent Paul Wyman, who pointed to the county’s growth and the fact that it has remained debt-free during his time in office to support the work he has during the past term.

“We are debt free as a county government, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many governments across the nation that can claim they’re debt-free,” he said. “We have a very strong cash position, with over $2 million set up and we returned $860,000 back to taxpayers.”

Both Baxter and Barger, however, attempted to poke holes at Wyman, including on the issue of wind energy, which was recently halted in Howard County after commissioners cut ties with developer E-ON after an intensive six year process.

“I believe that windmills do not belong in Howard County,” he said. “When you look at the location and how close they are to houses, the World Health Organization says that’s not the right thing to do.”

Wyman responded that “the process worked” during negotiations with E-ON and by listening to concerned constituents who were against wind farm development.

“The people spoke, the commissioners listened for many hours and sat at the kitchen table of many homes in Howard County,” he said. “We went back to E-ON and got concessions, but the concessions weren’t enough for the people. They continued to speak and we got our way out of the contract at no cost to Howard County.”

Barger mentioned on several occasions that commissioners should be doing more to bring in economic development for new business in Howard County instead of being so fiscally conservative.

“We need to invest in our community by offering incentives to bring businesses here,” he said. “It is absolutely imperative.

“We need to be reaching out to companies to be building right here in Howard County,” he added.

Wednesday’s debate concluded with District 30 State Representative Democratic challenger Chuck Sosbe engaging with incumbent Mike Karickhoff. The more free-wheeling debate format that saw the pair sound off on broad scale topics like the elimination of the business personal property tax, ethics reforms, same sex marriage and charter and public school funding.

“This bill is bad for this community,” Sosbe said. “It should have never been passed.”

Karickhoff disagreed with Sosbe when he was challenged about why the bill wasn’t studied more before being passed into law.

“Nothing in that bill has any affect, nor will it take effect in any county in the state of Indiana unless the local officials elect to enact it,” he said. “Quite frankly, I don’t think they’re going to enact it without replacement revenue.”

Sosbe and Karickhoff spent a good chunk of their time going back and forth on the merits of charter school education and its place in the public school funding model.

Sosbe was outspoken about the need for better monitoring of charters, while Karickhoff was adamant that charters simply provide another avenue for children to receive an education.

“We need charters to be better scrutinized and have somebody see if they are performing up to state standards,” Sosbe said. “They need to have the same rules as all public schools have.”

“The fact is, until we fix the family, we’re not going to fix public education,” he said. “The root of the problem boils down to hungry kids, whether they had a good night’s sleep. Those are the real issues.”