GREENFIELD – A few major offices will be contested this year as election season in Hancock County kicks off, with challengers running against the incumbent county prosecutor and a member of the board of commissioners.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton will face competition in the primary from Grey Chandler, a McCordsville resident who was until recently a deputy in the Madison County prosecutor’s office. He left the position this month to open a private practice. He also served as a deputy under former Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin.
Chandler ran against Eaton in 2018. Their race was marked by sharp disagreements over how the office was prosecuting sex crimes and drug cases.
Also on the Republican primary ballot will be a contest between incumbent District 2 Commissioner Marc Huber and a member of the Greenfield City Council, Gary McDaniel.
Another major race, for sheriff, is currently set to be unopposed. No one has so far filed to run against Sheriff Brad Burkhart.
Filing for candidates who want to run in a major party primary will be open until Feb. 4.
Chandler said he decided to run for prosecutor a second time because “I think it’s time for a change.”
He said he thinks the prosecutor’s office has a poor relationship with local law enforcement and that he’d like to restore trust to the office, with more and better communication between offices. He also said he stands by his criticisms that the prosecutor’s office has been too easy on some offenders.
“It’s easy to plead cases down… but it’s not always the right thing to do,” he said.
Chandler also said he would bring back Marie Castetter as chief deputy prosecutor. Castetter held that position until being appointed as a county judge in 2020. She failed to win election to a full term as judge and is now working as a private attorney. Castetter is Chandler’s campaign chair.
From Eaton’s perspective, he said, Chandler’s criticisms don’t match up with reality. Chandler was one of the deputy prosecutors let go by Eaton after he was elected in 2014. At that point, he said, the office wasn’t run professionally and didn’t even have a copier or a fax machine.
“This office was in desperate need of leadership and accountability,” he said.
Eaton said his time as prosecutor has been marked by adding necessary services the county never had before, like adding response teams for sexual assault and child fatality cases. He also said his office has won more cases.
“We turned around a 10-year losing streak on rape cases,” he said.
Eaton said he frequently meets with law enforcement and works in close collaboration with them on many cases. He also recently presented a plan to the county commissioners to add a new software program that would share statistics from the prosecutor’s office publicly, which he said would add transparency to the office.
Aside from the commissioner’s spot, four seats on the Hancock County Council will also be up for a vote. Incumbents Jeannine Gray, Mary Noe, Jim Shelby and Bill Bolander have all said they intend to run for re-election.
County administrative offices that will be up for a vote include the county auditor, recorder, surveyor, assessor and clerk of courts.
Township trustee and board seats will be on the ballot for each of Hancock County’s nine townships. Fortville and McCordsville will also have elections on their town councils.
On a state level, voters can weigh in on the election of a state senator and one of the three state representatives whose districts include portions of Hancock County. So far, no one has filed to run against state Rep. Bob Cherry in House District 53, which includes most of Hancock County.
In House District 54, which includes Hancock County’s Blue River Township, at least six candidates are running. (A story about the early filers in that race will appear next week in the Daily Reporter.)
In House District 88, which includes parts of western Hancock County, including Fortville and McCordsville, Republican Rep. Chris Jeter will have a Democratic challenger from Hancock County, Donna Griffin, in the November election.
The Hancock County Democratic Party is making efforts to inject new energy into a local party that hasn’t had success in years and typically doesn’t field many candidates. A group of local party members gathered at the county courthouse on Thursday, Jan. 13, where a handful filed paperwork to run.
In addition to Griffin, Frank Rock will challenge Noe for the District 2 spot on the county council. Other candidates are Marian Hensley for Buck Creek Township board and Andrea Yovanovich for McCordsville Town Council. Griffin, who was the owner and publisher of the Pendleton Times-Post before it was purchased by the Daily Reporter, also had a long career as a teacher. She said she decided to run for office largely to represent a teacher’s point of view on education issues.
“I wanted to make an impact and be a voice for teachers,” she said. “I feel like they’re not asked to be a part of any of the actual changes and laws except to place the blame on them.”
Griffin, who lives in Buck Creek Township, said she also thinks a voice from that area should be in the legislature to speak about the impact of its rapid industrial development. Her opponent, Jeter, is from Fishers.
Rock, also from Buck Creek Township, is a retired financial analyst and a former president of the AFL-CIO federal employees’ union. After retiring, he said, he began thinking about running for office. He said he thinks the county needs to improve its infrastructure and be more thoughtful about dealing with its population growth.
“I’m here to be accountable and to hold my colleagues accountable also,” Rock said.
Rock said he knows it’s an obstacle to be running as a Democrat in Hancock County. He said many people have a partisan preference simply because it’s the way they and their family members have always voted in the past, but he hopes he can overcome that by meeting voters face-to-face and talking with them about his platform.
“We should vote for the person who can do the best job,” he said.
OFFICES UP FOR ELECTION
Here is a look at the offices that will be on the ballot in the primary, which will be May 3. The deadline to file for office is Feb. 4 in the county election office.
County commissioner: A board of three county commissioners is elected from three districts. The commissioners serve as the legislative body for the county, creating ordinances as well as overseeing county property, supervising the county’s departments, and numerous other functions.
County council: The council consists of four members elected from specific districts and three members elected at-large. They have responsibility for the county’s finances and act as a check on the power of the commissioners. They set tax rates, adopt an annual budget, and more.
County auditor: The auditor keeps the county’s financial accounts, tracks county budgets, and publishes claims. They also work with the Department of Local Government Finance on preparing tax estimates and act as the secretary for county government meetings.
Clerk of courts: Also called the county clerk, the clerk of courts is responsible for filing, recording and entering orders pertaining to the county judicial system, recording wills and other legal documents, and carrying out many of the county’s election functions. The clerk also serves as head of the county election board.
County recorder: The main purpose of the recorder’s office is to process and preserve documents filed in the county, including deeds, mortgages, leases and notices of bankruptcy.
County surveyor: The county surveyor keeps records of all property sections throughout the county and all their legal subdivisions, as well as overseeing infrastructure and civil engineering work.
County assessor: The assessor calculates property tax rates for the county, as well oversees inheritance tax matters and transfers of property. Each county assessor, while elected, reports to the state board of tax commissioners and can be removed by that board.
County sheriff: The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer for the county and is responsible for overseeing the county jail and its prisoners. The sheriff’s office also serves warrants and subpoenas and is responsible for collecting delinquent income tax.
County prosecutor: The prosecuting attorney’s office represents the state of Indiana and prosecutes violators of state statutes in criminal court. The chief elected prosecutor may hire other attorneys to prosecute some cases.
Township trustee: As the chief administrative officer for a township, the trustee prepares the annual township budget and controls township property. The trustee also administers funds for assistance of those in need, often helping with housing and utility costs.
Township board member: Members of the board for each township are responsible for adopting the annual budget, setting the tax rate for township funds, and various other financial matters. Each township board has three members.
Town council member: Members of a town council have wide-ranging powers to set town ordinances and oversee functions like public safety, administration of public buildings, infrastructure, and more. Seats in Fortville and McCordsville are up this year.