If undecided voters went to Tuesday’s Terre Haute City Council candidate forum looking to separate the candidates by more than just party affiliation, they didn’t likely find much.

Sponsored by the league of Women Voters of Vigo County and hosted by the Vigo County Public Library, the five at-large, three District 2 and two District 3 candidates worked through a handful of topics for an hour and a half.

For most of the topics, including a proposal to expand the scope of the city’s Human Relation’s Commission, the strengthening of Terre Haute’s hate crimes resolution to include protections for the LGBTQ community and in how to deal with substance abuse, all 10 candidates generally offered the same answer.

The differences, then, were found in more open questions that asked the candidates how to make Terre Haute a place people want to work, live and play and in what role each sees the City Council playing in city governance.

James Rodenberger, at-large Libertarian candidate, said the best way to make Terre Haute a place people want to live is to grow the economy and make it a destination for small business owners.

“These days, everyone has a side hustle,” Rodenberger said. “But for most of these side businesses you can’t do them from your home because you have special zoning approval, you have to have neighbor approval.

“The economy of this country is built on small businesses and if people could do more business out of their homes, they’re more likely to take care of their street, more likely to clean the trash out of their neighbors yard and help someone across the way.”

Republican at-large candidate Steven Niece and Democrat at-large candidate Curtis DeBaun IV both agreed the city needs a new pool, or more generally, quality of life attractions, while Democrat at-large candidate Tammy Boland said it’s going to take sticking to a plan, like the recently revealed See You In Terre Haute 2025 community plan, and executing it.

But, said Democrat candidate George Azar, it might be as simple as being more positive what Terre Haute offers and hopes to become.

“One of the main things we can do, not just as council people but as citizens, is be positive when we go out into the community and to let people know that we think Terre Haute is a great place to live, work and play,” Azar said.

“Promote the arts, Promote the parks. Be positive, because if we’re not positive then we’re not going to draw anybody to this city.”

So far as the role of City Council, Democrat candidate for District 3 Cheryl Loudermilk said it starts with being a watchdog for the taxpayer.

“The goal for a City Council member is to be a watchdog for tax dollars,” Loudermilk said. “The budgets are presented by the mayor and all the council can do is decrease it or pass it as is.

“... As a City Council person I really believe you need to do your homework when you make a decision. And if elected that’s what I’ll do.”

To a degree Bill Treadway, Republican candidate for District 3, agreed with Loudermilk, saying it would be his job to represent the people of his district, whether they voted for him or not.

Diana Winsted-Smith, Republican candidate for District 2, said she sees the role as one that works alongside the mayor to accomplish whatever is needed for the betterment of the city. Sarah Dillon, independent candidate for District 2, said the role of a city council member should be to advocate for new and different ideas.

Earl Elliott, Democrat candidate for District 2, said fiscal responsibility should be City Council’s chief concern.

“Job one is fiscal responsibility over our finances,” Elliott said. “The 2015 City on the Brink articles, I haven’t seen those repeated lately and I think the council made a lot of good decisions since then and our finances have improved.

“We need to continue that fiscal responsibility while yet providing the services needed by our citizens, including wants, where possible.”

Reporter Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at alex.modesitt@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex. 

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