CANDIDATE FORUM: Local leaders, would-be's discuss Elkhart County issues

Apr. 23—GOSHEN — Candidates for Elkhart County government seats and Indiana House of Representatives District 49 met at the Goshen Theater on Monday night for the Goshen Candidate Forum, presented by The Goshen News.

In attendance were Indiana State Representative District 49 incumbent Joanna King and contender Cindi Hajicek; Elkhart County Treasurer candidates Cindy Chadwell and Patty Pickens; county coroner Merv Miller, Elkhart County Commissioner for District 3 incumbent Suzie Weirick and her opponent Steve Boussom; and Elkhart County Councilmen incumbents Adam Bujalski, Steven Clark, and Tom Stump, along with dozens of curious and supportive audience members.

Despite both Republican candidates identifying themselves as conservatives, incumbent Elkhart County District 3 Commissioner Suzie Weirick and her opponent, Steve Boussom, clashed on the Goshen Theater stage.

Boussom was critical of high spending by the county, especially funds allocated for the new court complex.

"I would say that I'll be very careful before I approve any more building of that stature and level of funding," he said. Boussom also said making sure projects are finished and holding people accountable is important to him.

The comment was in response to Weirick's mention of hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending throughout the county. Weirick explained that she was referring to public-private partnerships.

"Partnerships work," Weirick said. "They expand the ever-rising cost of doing business in our community and together we can all be stronger."

Weirick added that partnerships across the county such as Lippert University, a partnership between Lippert and Ivy Tech to offer education to the factory's employees, are beneficial for diversifying the county's predominantly manufacturing economy and skills.

Boussom explained that he does not support public-private partnerships.

"Community organizing is not really something I'm excited about," Boussom said. "I think that there's enough entrepreneurial spirit in the county that we don't need to make sure stuff up that is artificially making new jobs."

Boussom reiterated that specifically, he's against a Vibrant Communities initiative.

"I want the communities to decide for themselves what they want, within their communities," he explained. "The U.N. Agenda, Agenda 2023, I'm against this. I want our communities to do what they want to do. I want people to be free in this county and not to have more influence Klaus Schwabs of the world, the World Economic Forum, the U.N., I don't want one world government, I don't want the way it's been at the moment."

Notably struck by the comment as a participant in Vibrant Communities, Weirick attempted to respond to the comment, but as it was mentioned following the sole one-minute rebuttals candidates were permitted, moderator Sheila Selman disallowed the comment because only one rebuttal was allowed. Weirick asked to use her own three minutes toward the next question to respond, the audience noisily expressed their disagreement.

When contenders were asked about housing in Elkhart County, Boussom noted that he was passionate about individual property rights and gun rights and said he welcomed public input.

"If there's going to be large apartments put somewhere, I think we've got an input on that," Boussom said. "I'm a capitalist and if it makes sense, I'll look at it. If it doesn't make sense, like a solar farm, I would definitely be against that."

Boussom said housing is "alive and well in our county. I see lots of new apartments that aren't even full yet."

He recalled purchasing his first house in Elkhart County and claimed it wasn't in the best area.

"Everybody doesn't have to have the greatest house to start with and you can just start somewhere and then move up," he said.

Weirick did not agree.

"There's a national housing shortage," she responded. "There are more people than there is housing available. ... What we need to do is make sure that we provide access through partnerships so that utilities are affordable for our residents. The housing costs, yes, is an issue, but so is the cost of living. We need to continue to work together to make the resources available so our community can be strong."

A question posed by the public at the end of the night asked how candidates would help secure food supply and issues related to food production.

Boussom said he intends to keep solar farms out of the county, and warned farmers against selling to those industries.

"If you've been over in Bremen off U.S. 6, you can see the blight on the land that that solar farm is taking up," he said. "I am pro-farmer. I know farmers. ... I know a lot of hard-working farmers and I support them and I'll have their best interests in mind."

Boussom also noted that he is supported by Indiana Farm Bureau.

Weirick responded, stating that most agricultural production in the county is animal feed.

"What we need is to increase access — equal opportunities, that's all we need," she said. "Access to safe food, access to healthy food, access to choices. If we want to protect agricultural land, we need to work with farmers and ask how to help them."

Another question posed by the public questioned how they'd use funds directed to the county from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.

Weirick commented that she has negative views toward the IEDC, claiming they took property and water from communities, with aims to increase funding.

"The IEDC does not need to do projects like that," she said. "What the IEDC does need to do is be fiscal stewards of our tax dollars back to our community."

She addressed the Regional Cities initiative and the READI Grant, and explained that those initiatives, where the individual jurisdictions decide how the money is spent are strongly preferred.

"I totally am saying that we need more local control," Boussom said. "I will be warning against any of those community organizations, other organizations coming in and telling Elkhart County what to do, I'm against that, and I think that we've got a lot of smart people in this county and we don't need someone else telling us what to do."

Boussom and Weirick were also asked by the audience individual questions. Boussom was asked if he thought spending was transparent, which he did.

"When I can sit with each elected and appointed director of each department and see what their budgets are that's something that would make it more transparent for me," he said. "I'm going to be very open, not change my cell phone number. I'm going to be available to the people and I'll talk to you. I'll respect you and I'll listen."

Weirick was asked why the county needs the Vibrant Communities initiative.

"The best way to attract talent is to make something that people want to come to be around," she said, adding that many community surveys and focus groups determined the top priorities. "I maintain that if we are not representing and sitting with the people we serve because we're not talking to them, why are we here?"


Elkhart County Council incumbent republicans Tom Stump, Adam Bujalski, and Steven Clark are running unopposed. Previously there were four candidates on the Republican primary ballot, but Ben Haviland's candidacy was contested and his name was removed. Still, Stump, Bujalski, and Clark took time to talk about their work on the council and their plans for the future should they be re-elected in November.

The three councilmen agreed that being fiscally responsible and saving for poor economic circumstances is an important aspect of their tenure on the council. They also agreed that the most money in the county is spent on roads, and behind highways right now are parks and law enforcement and prosecution.

"I think one of the most important things we can do as council is make sure that those departments are funded adequately because we all depend on safety, we all need safety wherever we go," Stump said. "I view that as one of the most important things that I have control over."

Clark noted, as a former prosecuting attorney in the county, that funding law enforcement and prosecution is important to retaining trained professionals.

"It's hard when someone's going to make 40% more than you and they work 10 minutes away," Clark said. "So then what we have to do is we continually hire new people and that's where lawsuits come in because people aren't adequately trained. We need that longevity in that."

Stump and Bujalski both said a top priority for them is finishing C.R. 17 up to Ind. 6. The current "Super 4" (four lanes with limited access) will be a "Super 2" from C.R. 38 south, they confirmed.

"It's an important corridor as we continue to develop that area of the county," he explained. "We have great connections with St. Joe County and we need to work towards the south as well."

Bujalski and Clark both mentioned infrastructure of the dark fiber.

"It's not just roads anymore," Clark said. "It's the wave of the future and how are we going to recruit businesses in the 21st century if people can't connect to the internet?"

Clark and Bujalski also said the county does not have enough parks or housing.


Both Republican county treasurer candidates attended the forum — Cindy Chadwell, the recording secretary for the Elkhart County Council and an employee of the auditor's office, and Patty Pickens, current Elkhart County auditor. The incumbent, Tina Bontrager is not running for re-election.

Chadwell said she did feel like the current administration has done a great job "but there's always room for improvement." She addressed customer service, increased revenue by investing in different ways, and increased security.

"With the scams and everything going on electronically, we need to be in constant contact with our IT and different programming to keep abreast of that so that taxpayer money is safe," Chadwell said.

Pickens said with the high turnover in the treasurer's office recently, her biggest concern would be cross-training herself and others.

"At the auditor's office that's one thing that we've been big on is making sure everybody is cross-trained," she explained. She did not agree with Chadwell about investments, stating that the county is receiving a good turn on investment "just from our standard checking accounts, so there's not a whole lot we can do there currently, but definitely down the road that is something to look at."


Alone at the mic, Elkhart County Coroner Merv Miller told guests in attendance that the biggest need of the coroner's office is their own space to identify bodies.

"My office is actually inside the administrative building, and our refrigeration unit is inside the Elkhart County Jail," he explained. "When we take families in for positive identification, it's not the best atmosphere to take them and it would be nice to have a quiet separate space. ... It's the same space they bring in inmates, so you never know when they're going to be bringing someone in."

Miller said some families are so upset about it that they tell him the coroner's office can't take their deceased loved on to the jail.

"Now we're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place and it's like, 'Well, where do we take them?'"

His opponent, Rich Egnor was not in attendance.

Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at or at 574-538-2065.