Candidate Q&A: Fairfield Township trustee, Casanova vs. O’Brien
Democrat Monica Casanova and Republican April O’Brien are vying to for the position after a tumultuous four years for Fairfield Township
As things continue to roil in Fairfield Township, with the effort to oust Trustee Taletha Coles led to her resignation in October, Democrat Monica Casanova and Republican April O’Brien are vying to replace her for the next four years.
Here, Casanova, a mental health case manager and a Fairfield Township Board member, and O’Brien, owner of Sacred Grounds Coffeeshop, answer questions about their approach to the four-year position that oversees emergency township assistance, township cemeteries and supporting fire protection.
Fairfield Township includes much of Lafayette, along with unincorporated areas north and east of the city.
For more: Find bios of each candidate, along with information about where and when to vote, along with links to other candidate Q&As in other races, at the end of this article.
Why are you running?
Monica Casanova: I am running because I want to improve Fairfield Township services. I saw a failure of leadership and broken trust. I've been a community activist and have grown up in Lafayette. I have seen it evolve and become more diverse. I am part of that diversity and feel invested in the positive outcomes of the community, particularly around issues of poverty and race.
April O’Brien: I manage the coffee shop Sacred Grounds, which is located next door, and became aware that it was difficult for citizens to apply for assistance. I personally worked with people that needed help by encouraging them to apply, only for them to be denied or they found it difficult to apply because the office doors were locked and couldn’t get help. As a concerned citizen, I began to attend board meetings over a year ago to find out what was happening. Then I realized how I could help.
What are two priorities you want to get done during your term, if elected? And how would you get those done?
Monica Casanova: The two priorities that I want to get done during my term would be to reduce barriers to township assistance by opening the office and simplifying the application process while still adhering to Indiana statutes. Secondly, I want to rebuild trust within the community by ensuring that financial records are transparent and available to the public online and in print.
April O’Brien: Open Doors, Open Records: It is essential to immediately make the office open for the board, the staff and the clients. We will immediately be accountable to the residents of Fairfield Township. Township assistance will be a major goal for 2023. As trustee, I will be treating clients with kindness and compassion. With the current recession, I believe citizens who may have never needed assistance will be entering the doors.
The past four years have been rough for the township’s administration, ending with the resignation of Trustee Taletha Coles. What is your assessment of the state of the township trustee’s office now, and what’s your plan to stabilize things?
Monica Casanova: The office is in disarray and needs to be stabilized. That will happen with the election of a new trustee who will need to rebuild the office with the help of other stakeholders such as the Department of Local Government Finance, the State Board of Accounts, current and previous township trustees, Indiana Township Association, the Township Board and former employees. It will take time, but communicating and updating the community about progress will go a long way towards rebuilding trust and stability.
April O’Brien: First of all, I have a good network of people who are willing to come alongside and help rebuild the office. This includes Bill Jones, Tippecanoe Township trustee, who was responsible for helping Wabash Township out of their mess in 2022. I’m confident using my management skills, I will be able to hire quality staff and train them to run the office, including the case management aspects of township assistance. I have formed two boards for other organizations previously, and I know the importance of collaborating with each member. They all bring different skill sets which are an asset to the office and community.
What is your view of the township board and the responsibilities of the trustee?
Monica Casanova: The trustee is the executive of the township. The board is the fiscal body of the township. The trustee aids those in need and works with organizations within the community to provide aid. Oversees the Greenbush Cemetery and works with the fire department chief to provide funds for the fire department. The trustee creates a budget for the board to approve. The trustee and board work collaboratively together to provide checks and balances. The board and township trustee create a budget that is best suited for the township's needs.
April O’Brien: From a statue point of view, the board reviews, modifies and adopts the budget presented by the trustee. The Township Board should oversee the operations of the office. It is important to help establish internal controls that provide check and balance to the township management. As trustee, I will work with the board to implement a process of approving financial decisions. I want to collaborate with the board to better serve the needs of the community.
What, if anything, would you do to improve fire service in the unincorporated portions of Fairfield Township?
Monica Casanova: I will observe the contract that is in place with the Lafayette Fire Department and back pay them the funds that they expected per the contract that was in place. I will meet with the fire chief and Lafayette Firemen’s Union to better understand their needs and concerns to make sure we create a positive partnership for the future. It is important to provide the fire department with funds to continue to serve the unincorporated portions of the township as needed.
April O’Brien: I will honor the contract that has already been put in place for the unincorporated area of the township. I have already reached out to Lafayette Fire Chief Richard Doyle. I have also met with PAC, which is the political action committee as well as the fire department’s union to listen and identify the current needs of the department. I have spoken with multiply firefighters individually. I understand a priority will be to re-establish a good working relationship with the fire department.
What is the biggest challenge facing Fairfield Township in the next four years? How would you propose to solve or deal with it?
Monica Casanova: The biggest challenge is to organize and get the office back in order and open the doors with a positive welcoming presence. I want to make township experiences positive by assisting and responding to clients who need help urgently and by responding quickly. I will work to rebuild trust and credibility within our community.
April O’Brien: Restore trust within the office as well as transparency to the citizens. Open up doors to the community making assistance accessible and serving the clients with kindness and compassion. As well as working with the board to establish internal control to help with accountability.
What are two things that separate you from your opponent and make you the best fit for the job?
Monica Casanova: I have managed a local unit of government. Units of government operate very similarly with how they are funded, operated and the rules and regulations. I have worked closely with the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance and the State Board of Accounts. I also understand the relationship between governing boards and the executive side, having served in both capacities. These experiences mean that I will be able to hit the ground running on day one. I understand the importance of working with a board to create a sustainable budget.
I have worked as a case manager assisting mental health clients navigate the resources in the community. This makes me both familiar with the needs of our community members and has helped me develop a wide range of connections with the organizations in the area. I see the Trustee’s office as part of a larger network of local groups helping those in need. I would work on building those relationships and creating partnerships to reduce barriers to those seeking assistance.
April O’Brien: With years of running my own business, I know the importance of hiring and training staff, budgeting, managing finances and especially financial accountability. I know the importance of utilizing the resources of a board, I was responsible for forming a board for the school The Crossing, which is a work-based school for high school students that are struggling. I have the ability to Listen, Learn and Lead. I was raised with parents who walked many people through very difficult situations at times. I've dedicated my life to helping those who faced the tallest hurdles and had the greatest degree of hopelessness. Kindness and compassion go a long way when working with people with needs.
BALLOTS, ETC.: Who will be on your ballot? Need to check your voter registration? That and more, available at Indiana’s voter portal, Indianavoters.in.gov.
EARLY VOTING: For a list of early voting sites in Tippecanoe County ahead of the Nov. 8 election, here’s the schedule.
Occupation: Mental Health Case Manager
Education: B.A. Education; MLS (Master Library Science); MA (Public History)
Past elected positions, if any: Appointed to Fairfield Township Board 2022, Democratic candidate for Tippecanoe County Council 2020
Immediate family: Husband, Neal Starkey. Daughters: Ella & Violet Starkey
Your campaign site online: www.casanova4office.com
Occupation: Sacred Grounds Coffeeshop/ small business manager
Education: 2½ years Ivy Tech/Purdue
Past elections: None
Immediate Family: Trent O’Brien (husband), Mieka (daughter), Ezekiel (son), Eden (daughter), Mira (daughter)
Your campaign site online: On Facebook, April O’Brien for Fairfield Township
FOR EVEN MORE: A TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE CANDIDATE DEBATE
Here are links to a Fairfield Township trustee candidates debate the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette and WLFI hosted Oct. 6 at Lafayette Jefferson High School.
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