GREENFIELD — Sitting before a crowd of voters Friday night, John Jessup and Brandon Perry admitted they share many of the same goals.
The public debate between the District 1 Hancock County Commissioner candidates was marked by more agreement than debate, with the contenders presenting similar platforms and complementing one another on their ideas for bettering the county’s policy-making board.
Republican John Jessup, a current county councilman serving his second term, and Democrat Brandon Perry, who has unsuccessfully run for state representative and Vernon Township trustee, told voters gathered at the Hancock County Public Library they want residents to have a voice in every step in county government.
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As the county tackles pressing issues — including overcrowding in the local jail and a controversial $18 million proposed fairgrounds project — residents should be invited to weigh in, they agreed.
Jessup, a project superintendent for a construction company in Indianapolis, called for county meetings to be held at varying times to make it easier for residents to attend. The board currently meets Tuesday mornings. Jessup suggested rotating between morning and evening meetings in an effort to make the process more accessible to those who work during the day and can’t normally attend.
The commissioners should be thinking of the public their decision affects — regardless of how many of them speak out during the process.
“Just because every issue doesn’t spark a room full of people … we should be acting … as though the room was full of taxpayers,” Jessup said.
Perry, a security officer for U.S. Security Associates in Indianapolis, said he agreed, saying the commissioners should invite constituents to share their thoughts before the board makes decisions, adding that the board might consider reserving time at each meeting for public comment. He also said he’d make himself available to residents in the evenings so they can ask questions and provide input.
“Decisions in this county should not be made by just a few people in a conference room,” he said.
Perry said he would take that approach any time he’s making decisions that affect taxpayers.
Before deciding whether the county needs to build a new $25 million new jail to accommodate overcrowding in the facility, Perry said he would meet with residents to give them a chance to offer alternate solutions. Additionally, county officials should consider lighter sentences for low-level offenders, including those facing drug and alcohol charges, he said.
Jessup said building a new jail is inevitable, but in the immediate future, county officials need to give the county sheriff more flexibility to move inmates to out-of-county facilities with open beds.
Jessup used the debate to tout his experience in local government; he’s familiar with the issues facing Hancock County and can hit the ground running, he said.
Perry told voters he would use his position on the board of commissioners to protect the interest of working families and fight to bring economic development that provides job opportunities to local residents.
The victor Nov. 8 will represent residents living in Vernon, Green and Brown townships and join commissioners Brad Armstrong and Marc Huber.
The candidates’ likenesses became a bit of a running joke throughout the night, with the contenders admitting they came to the table with many of the same values and promises for voters.
“If I wasn’t sitting here, I think I might vote for the guy,” Jessup joked.
Perry, letting out a hearty laugh, replied, “Likewise.”