GREENFIELD — Five county commissioner hopefuls squared off Friday night in a debate in hopes of winning voters ahead of the May 3 primary.
The candidates, all Republicans, are vying for two open seats on the three-member board, which acts as the county’s executive branch of government.
Friday’s debate focused on increasing funding for road maintenance and repair and putting plans in place to boost public safety initiatives.
The District 3 race pits incumbent commissioner Brad Armstrong, who’s completing his second term on the board, against Matt Holland, a newcomer to public office. Both candidates live in New Palestine.
The candidates are running to represent residents in Blue River, Brandywine and Sugar Creek townships.
Republican candidates John Jessup, Randy Sorrell and Randy Harrison are competing for the District 1 seat, which includes Vernon, Green and Brown townships. Incumbent Tom Stevens, who is finishing off his second term, is not seeking re-election.
In front of a crowd of about 150 spectators, Armstrong touted both his experience in public office and as a private business owner as qualifications for a third term. He cited the county’s low unemployment rate and decreased debt as indicators of his aptitude.
He’s also a long-term planner, he said. He cited the county’s overcrowded jail as one area where the future board of commissioners will need to be proactive.
“You have to fix today’s problem, and you also have to look 10 years down the road,” Armstrong said.
Holland, a lieutenant with the Greenfield Police Department, said he could lend expert advice to two public safety issues facing the county: an overcrowded jail and a heroin problem.
Holland said he wants to increase public funding set aside to support drug prevention and mental health organizations to make recovery more attainable for addicts.
“They need help. They don’t need to be locked up,” Holland said. “That will help reduce recidivism in the long run.”
Harrison, a self-employed financial adviser and founder of the Tea Party of Hancock County, told the crowd gathered at the Hancock County Public Library he has watched the county commissioners closely over the years and wants to see a more transparent local government.
“It seems things happen behind the scenes, and all of a sudden, they show up out of nowhere,” Harrison said.
He also wants to rein in borrowing for county projects.
Jessup is a construction project superintendent from Shirley who is currently serving his sixth year on the Hancock County Council. Pointing out he is a father of six, he emphasized the importance of approaching decisions with local families in mind.
He said he’s ready to transition to the board of commissioners and places county road improvements as one of his top priorities — a point on which all the candidates agreed.
The candidates were divided, however, on what the commissioners’ role should be in moving forward the proposal for a new fairgrounds — a $30 to $40 million project that is a point of contention among current board members.
Jessup said he’s not ready to proceed on the county fairgrounds until he sees a more detailed funding plan.
“If there’s not a way to pay for it, then there’s just not a way to pay for it,” Jessup said.
Sorrell, an attorney from McCordsville, is also a member of the county council. He told the crowd he is civic-minded and, as the longest-serving member of the Hancock County Economic Development board, is dedicated to bringing development to the county.
Sorrell echoed other candidates’ statements about the need for more road funding and long-term plans to address community public safety issues.
In his concluding remarks, Sorrell referred to his decision to run for public office as the culmination of his professional and personal life, which he said has been marked by years of volunteer service.
“This is the capstone of my career,” Sorrell said.