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Candidate Q&A: Tippecanoe County commissioner, Brown vs. Werner
One of three Tippecanoe County commissioners seats is on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Republican Tracy Brown, former Tippecanoe County sheriff, is running for his third four-year term against Democrat James Werner, a deputy assessor for the county, in District 1.
Commissioner candidates run in districts according to where they live, but voters across the county will have this race on their ballots. Commissioners are elected to four-year terms as the executive branch of county government, overseeing policy.
Here, Brown and Werner, both Lafayette residents, answer questions about their approach.
For more: Find bios of each candidate, along with information about where and when to vote, at the end of this article. Expect Q&As with candidates in other Greater Lafayette contests in coming days.
Why are you running?
Tracy Brown: I have spent my entire adult life serving others, as a career path and as a volunteer in several local nonprofit organizations. Public service is a calling, and those of us who choose this life do so knowing that it will not be easy. Each time I have decided to run for elected office, I have asked myself, “Do I have the energy, passion and strength to do what needs to be done, and can I make a difference?” I do and I can! I love our community and all it has to offer. I work with an incredible team comprised of my fellow commissioners, David Byers and Tom Murtaugh as well as Mayor Tony Roswarski, Mayor John Dennis and countless others who play a vital role in local government and economic development. It is my strong desire to continue to be a member of this team.
James Werner: I would like to bring better management to Tippecanoe County government and provide some accountability for money that is spent by departments who answer to the county commissioners.
What are two priorities you want to get done during your term, if elected? And how would you get those done?
Tracy Brown: The demands on our annual budget are significant when it comes to ongoing operations and new infrastructure projects. Those infrastructure projects include roads, bridges and buildings for county operations. We work with elected and appointed officials in county government to prioritize those projects. Many will take months, if not years to complete. With that said, there are two projects, one external and one internal, that are important to our community.
The need for wastewater services in the northeastern part of the county has been identified and widely publicized over the last two years. This area includes the unincorporated communities of Americus, Buck Creek and Colburn. County government has pledged American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the project, and I am working with a citizen’s group and other government officials to move this high priority project forward. We want to launch the project in 2023.
As we look to the future, we should be examining the processes currently utilized in every level of county government. I want to form a government optimization team to review what we do and how we can perform better. Technology is continually evolving and so are the expectations of those we serve.
The team should be comprised of talented staff members who work with elected and appointed officials across county government. Citizen input is a critical component in the process, and I see this as a long-term effort to improve the delivery of governmental services.
James Werner: Promoting countywide use of electronic documents and electronic signatures to reduce paper waste and save money now spent on data entry, scanning and shredding documents. This technology already exists and is paid for by the Tippecanoe County assessor. The city Of Lafayette uses this technology for building permits but the county commissioners and their IT department have failed to promote the technology countywide and actually pay five times the cost for a duplicate electronic building permit contract that does not even work.
I would help eliminate duplicate government contracts for services and push for reforms in the county Information Technology Department to better serve other county departments and the general public.
What is the biggest challenge facing Tippecanoe County in the next four years? How would you propose to solve or deal with it?
Tracy Brown: Local government and Greater Lafayette Commerce work very hard to attract new businesses and jobs to our community. The biggest challenge is developing and retaining a workforce to support our efforts. To answer the challenge, area school corporations launched the Greater Lafayette Career Academy. The Academy offers students college and career readiness programs to prepare them for a career and the workforce. In addition, Greater Lafayette Commerce works with local manufacturers and Ivy Tech Community College to promote career options in our area schools. We are also very fortunate to have Purdue University as another partner in our efforts. Purdue is a major employer in the region, and its student population serves as a talent pipeline for area businesses. Collectively we are on the right path to grow our workforce, but it will take time, so our efforts must be sustainable long term.
James Werner: As our county’s population continues to grow we are seeing rising crime and more pressure placed on infrastructure, government services and the environment. While working on a project for the city Of Lafayette using geocoded 911 call data I was shocked to find out that the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department did not have a crime data analyst on staff and that our health department was not using the multi-million dollar GIS systems that are available to combat addiction, mental health or poverty. I would be an advocate for smarter ways to handle crime, the environment and infrastructure using technology the county already pays for, that for the most part is not used effectively by the departments who answer to the county commissioners. It is increasingly more important to have this technology and capable, competent personnel in place before the next pandemic or major emergency hits. It’s also a more transparent and fiscally conservative way of doing day-to-day business as well as being environmentally friendly and convenient for taxpayers accessing services.
What is the best thing the county can do in the next four years to position itself to improve the local economy and the job market? And how would you get that done?
Tracy Brown: Great jobs boost the economy overall, but job growth will mean that we will need adequate housing and even ancillary services like childcare for our new workers. The recently awarded Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grant provides an opportunity to assist private individuals, nonprofit organizations and faith-based childcare centers in obtaining the appropriate state licenses to operate a childcare center. This is just another example of how collaboration and teamwork bring common sense solutions to benefit the entire community. I will continue to support these, and other efforts related to workforce recruitment and retention.
James Werner: Cutting government waste and spending in order to reduce the tax burden on new businesses and residents will keep us at the top of the list for employers and families.
It is also important that we maintain our infrastructure and take smart measures to protect the environment and our natural resources. As commissioner I would provide leadership for Area Plan, the parks department, health department, highway and other government agencies that answer to the board of commissioners to make sure they are doing job they are paid to do, which is to keep our community safe, healthy and prosperous.
Name two ways you’d have county do to deal with population and housing growth around Lafayette and West Lafayette?
Tracy Brown: Growth on the fringes of both cities is inevitable. Our Area Plan Commission recently launched a township planning effort for Tippecanoe and Wabash Townships. The effort will involve stakeholders from each township serving on a steering committee to help Area Plan Commission staff build a comprehensive growth plan for each township. I have volunteered to serve on the steering committee.
In planning, it is preferred that growth moves from the cities outward following available utilities. Those utilities will need to be extended further out from the cities to open additional land for housing development. It should be noted that a small portion of the recently awarded READI grant, has been identified as a source of partial funding for the extension of utilities for future development. I am prepared to work with the utilities to find other creative ways to do our part to make these utility extensions possible.
James Werner: In addition to other things, I’ve been a licensed mortgage banker for over 18 years. Tippecanoe County could be a sponsor for nonprofit down payment assistance programs and help promote existing federal renovation loan programs designed for safe affordable housing. My specialized experience in this area could help create a countywide, revenue-neutral down payment assistance program a reality to help more people become homeowners.
I would also continue to advocate for using existing technology to provide better services for the ever-growing population including combating crime, addiction, hunger and homelessness.
What are one or two things that separate you from your opponent and make you the best fit for the job?
Tracy Brown: Just over half of the county’s annual budget is allocated for our justice system and public safety related services. This includes, but isn’t limited to judicial services, law enforcement, E911, the jail and community corrections. These areas impact the lives of our citizens and their safety daily. As your sheriff, I worked with a team to manage an $11 million budget and over 150 employees in a very dynamic organization. Crisis management and problem solving with our citizens was a daily occurrence.
The experience and training I have gained as your elected sheriff and county commissioner have provided me with a significant leadership skillset. Those skills along with my opportunities to serve alongside some incredible leaders gives me the background and experience to support county operations at a very high level.
James Werner: I would offer a new perspective and more creative solutions to the problems that face our county. My opponent‘s experience has been in community policing, and he has largely maintained the status quo, while I’m more interested in government accountability and new creative ideas. I am sort of a political outsider, so I feel that I could be more objective when it comes to things like crime and zoning decisions. I’ve also been a teacher and manager most of my life, and I was a noncommissioned officer in the Marine Corps, so I think I would provide a different leadership style than what we have seen from the established “good ol’ boys club” that refuses to accept any responsibility for previous failures and is so hesitant to embrace new technologies that might expose waste and abuse in the existing systems that they have overseen. I have won international awards for the county in the field of GIS technology and I have in-depth knowledge of these systems and how they’ve been employed in larger communities to better solve the problems of the day and serve an ever growing tech savvy population.
BALLOTS, VOTER REGISRATION, ETC.: Who will be on your ballot? Need to check your voter registered? 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: Tippecanoe County Commissioner
Education: Indiana Law Enforcement Academy (1985), FBI National Academy (2000)
Past elected positions, if any: Tippecanoe County Sheriff (2007-2014), Tippecanoe County Commissioner (2015 – Present)
Immediate family: Wife: Elizabeth (Beth), Children: Amber, Tiffany, Jared and Nathan
Your campaign site online: Facebook: tinyurl.com/tracybrown4commissioner
Occupation: Senior Deputy Assessor
Education: MA Purdue University
Past elected positions, if any: None. (I have served on several cultural organization boards and was a past president of the Wabash Valley Trust for Historic Preservation.)
Immediate family: three children that attend Jefferson High School
Your campaign site online: www.werner4tippecanoe.com
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