News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 7, 2013

Q&A with the Mayor

Bennett gets high grades for answers at ISU forum

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University students gave Mayor Duke Bennett high marks for his candor Wednesday as part of the university’s “Community Semester” outreach program.

Students asked the mayor questions on topics ranging from job opportunities for ISU graduates in Terre Haute to the city’s current political climate.

Cecilia ban Wijk, a freshman political science major from Remington, said she has attended presentations from several politicians recently and Bennett seemed the most candid in his responses.

“I felt like he answered the questions the best,” ban Wijk said.

Bennett spoke to a room of about 70 ISU students and faculty Wednesday afternoon in Federal Hall. The talk, moderated by Matt Bergbower, assistant professor of political science, was part of the College of Arts and Sciences “Community Semester” series.

“I felt like he had a lot of honesty,” said Billy Allen of Spencer, a history major who asked the mayor whether the political climate in the city has changed in recent years with the re-election of a Republican mayor, a very rare event. “I also liked his bipartisanship,” Allen said.

Terre Haute has a tradition of being a Democratic Party stronghold, Bennett told the students. However, Democrats in the city tend to be “very conservative,” and often support Republicans at the national or even state level, he said.

“I vote for Democrats,” Bennett said. “Once you’re elected [mayor], it doesn’t matter [whether your Republican or Democrat]. You’ve got to serve everybody.”

Bennett also told the students he disagreed with former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels on the state’s new property tax caps. Bennett said the caps have cost local government’s too much revenue and an across-the-board 2-percent cap would have been a better than the 1-, 2- and 3-percent cap system now in use for different types of property.

The mayor also said he recently testified before the Indiana Senate in favor of a bill that would give cities and towns the ability to impose a 1-percent food and beverage tax.

“We draw a ton of people from all over who come here to eat,” Bennett said, calling the possible food and beverage tax a “bright light” in the current legislative session.

Meanwhile, Bennett said, Hoosier lawmakers are considering cutting other sources of local government revenue, such as the personal property tax and the cable franchise fee, he said.

“At some point you’ve got to fund local government,” Bennett said, adding that he also favors a $9.25 monthly fee for trash pickup in the city.

Mercedes Harbour of Brazil, a social work major, said she appreciated the information Bennett provided about interaction between the university and Terre Haute. Wednesday’s forum was her first opportunity to speak directly with a mayor or other political leader, she said.

Bennett said Terre Haute offers perhaps “more than its share” of potential social worker jobs, thanks to poverty and drug abuse. Bennett, a former employee of Hamilton Center, a mental health organization, said social work is an admirable profession and a key part of the community, adding, “There’s a lot of opportunity here, unfortunately.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com