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Incumbents hope their experience isn't a drag

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GREENFIELD — Candidates challenging longtime incumbents say they’ll focus more on issues this spring than pointing out to voters that up to a quarter century in office is too long.

The Republican primary election ballot has several contested races in which the incumbents are seeking a third, fourth or even seventh term.

And while challengers say there’s certainly a legitimate argument that their opponents have been in office far too long, they’d rather focus on issues that would show the community why they have fresh ideas for county spending, roadwork and more.

“I think 24 years is probably long enough, but there are other things that concern the people,” said Bruce Fleming, who is challenging six-term county Councilman Bill Bolander. “Obviously, the people who are voting don’t care about shortening peoples’ terms because they wouldn’t leave them in 24 years.”

New Palestine residents Fleming and Bolander will face off in a District 4 race to represent the southwestern part of the county.

Fleming says he’d much rather focus his campaign on local government spending and finding ways to make county government more transparent to the public.

But Bolander says his track record for keeping the county fiscally strong will speak for itself, and experience should count for something.

Bolander joins Tom Roney and Jim Shelby as the three longtime council members seeking re-election. Combined, the trio has more than 60 years of experience on the council. John Jessup is also seeking re-election, but for only his second term.

Bolander says since three members of the council are still fairly new to county government, it’s good to have some members with historical perspective on how money has been spent in the past. That can prove especially useful, he added, when it comes to figuring out the complicated stipulations for how tax dollars can be used.

“I hope (voters) perceive me as doing a good job and doing what’s right for the county and keeping us fiscally strong,” Bolander said.

Roney can’t quite recall how many years he’s served, but he does know he has the longest tenure.

“I don’t know how long I’ve been on; I can’t remember what term it is,” he said.

Roney knows he’s served at least six terms; exactly how many years is uncertain because he was appointed more than 24 years ago to fill a vacancy of a former councilman who was moving out of the district.

Roney says he was ready to step down this year and wanted to find another farmer to fill his shoes. Roney is the only farmer among all of the county council members and commissioners, he points out, and the agricultural community needs a voice.

“Hopefully I’ve got a good record up to this point, and I do bring a lot of experience, not only just from being on the council but also business experience and things I’ve done over my career,” Roney said. “I’ve been on here probably long enough, but I’m willing to serve, and a lot of people were hoping I would serve. I had several people that said, ‘You need to keep going. Don’t retire, because we need somebody on there to represent agriculture.’”

But Roney does have a challenger. Carolyn Flynn is also seeking the nomination in the District 2 race to represent McCordsville, Buck Creek Township and the western half of Center Township.

“I’m not going to make (his years of office) an issue. I don’t intend to,” Flynn said. “But if people want term limits, they’ve got it right in front of them. It’s called an election. If they’re for term limits, they can do that every time there’s an election.”

Flynn, a tea party member who regularly attends council meetings and often criticizes government spending, points out that a newcomer can bring a different perspective than somebody who’s been in office a long time.

 “Tom Roney is a good guy. If I could run against any of the other candidates, I would have. My campaign slogan is ‘A fresh perspective,’ and I think that’s what I’m going to bring to it.”

Challengers have come and gone over the years for the longtime council members. Shelby is uncontested this year in seeking his fourth term for District 3, which covers most of the city of Greenfield.

While Shelby says he can understand why some may say longtime incumbents have too many years under their belts, he hopes he’s viewed as one who has tried to get the county into a healthy financial position – not living day to day waiting for the next big fiscal hit to throw the budget into shambles. All three longtime council members say this is probably their last election.

“I hope they look upon me as someone who’s still looking for new things, new ways to do things,” Shelby said. “If I felt that I wasn’t, then I wouldn’t want to run again, because I do believe you need to pass the baton around.”

County Commissioner Derek Towle thinks he still has a lot contribute, too. He’s seeking a third term and has two opponents in the GOP primary: county Councilman Marc Huber and newcomer Richard Walker.

Huber says Towle’s eight years in office does not necessarily raise red flags. Huber would rather point out his own qualifications for the job.

“As a new member of the commissioners, I’d have a few new things to bring up,” Huber said. “A lot of it is, myself and several people who have encouraged me to run, are just not overly thrilled with the way the county is headed.”

Walker plans to focus his campaign on getting county roads in a better condition. But he thinks Towle’s years in office could also come up as an issue.

“I think anybody who’s been in eight years has been in plenty,” Walker said. “Somebody else needs to be in there.”

All of the longtime incumbents say one of their strengths is knowing the ropes of tricky government funding, and the first few years of office is a big learning experience. For Towle, the longer he’s in office, the more he’s able to get things accomplished.

Towle said he remembers first running eight years ago and never really thought he’d seek a third term. But he says there are plenty of projects he’d like to see to completion. He also enjoys problem-solving.

“I like to listen to people,” he said. “I can’t always solve their problems, but I want to give people a voice to express how they feel about what may be going on in their lives that are important to them.”

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