When the calendar turns to September and Labor Day weekend, the public's focus begins to turn toward the next election.
In a normal year, that would be the Terre Haute municipal election to be conducted on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
This, however, is not a normal year. Because two referendum questions have been added to the ballot, the traditional city election has been turned in to a countywide election. Every registered voter in Vigo County will be eligible to cast a ballot either during early voting procedures or at polling places on Election Day.
Voters who reside outside the city limits, of course, will only see the referendum questions on their ballots. One asks whether the voter favors casino gambling in the county. The other asks if the voter approves of a property tax increase to help fund public school operations.
Voters inside the city limits will see those questions and more. The municipal election will feature a hotly contested four-way race for mayor of Terre Haute, as well as several contested City Council seats.
All of these are major civic issues that deserve intense public interest and engagement.
Already, a number of public forums are scheduled featuring candidates for the city election and discussion of referendum issues.
The Tribune-Star will be taking part in the civic engagement process by sponsoring four town hall meetings, each one featuring one of the candidates for mayor of Terre Haute.
This is a new approach for us, but it will allow each candidate the opportunity to talk in-depth about issues facing the city and offer their ideas and proposals for managing city government and leading the city into the future. The mayoral candidates are incumbent Mayor Duke Bennett, Republican; Councilman Karrum Nasser, Democrat; Pat Goodwin, independent; and Shane Meehan, independent.
The dates for the town hall meetings are Monday, Sept. 16; Tuesday, Sept. 17; Tuesday, Sept. 24; and Thursday, Sept. 26. We will announce which candidate will be featured on which night when we make a formal announcement about the series of forums later this week.
Each town hall session will be conducted in The Meadows Conference Center and will last at least one hour. Start time is 7 p.m. The public is invited, even encouraged, to attend.
We're finalizing the format, but I can tell you that the discussion will be led by the Tribune-Star's editorial board. The public will be invited to submit questions and propose issues for discussion, both before and during the forums. We do plan to make digital video of the forums and post them to the newspaper's website.
Also in the planning stages are two more town hall meetings, each one feature discussion around one of the referendum questions. We have not yet finalized dates and times for those forums.
The Tribune-Star's town halls will add to the extensive activity surrounding the election and discussion of these major issues.
The political action committee supporting the effort to locate a casino in Vigo County is sponsoring two town hall rallies this week.
The first forum is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Operating Engineers Local 841, 6801 S. U.S. 41, Terre Haute. The second will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at The Landing at Fort Harrison, 3350 N. Fourth St., Terre Haute.
At least four candidate forums are also on the calendar. They are:
• Mayoral candidate forum, Sept. 10, 7 p.m., Booker T. Washington Community Center, sponsored by Citizens of Action.
• Mayoral candidate forum, Oct. 1, 7 p.m., Vigo County Public Library, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Vigo County and the Tribune-Star.
• Mayoral candidate forum, Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m., Indiana Theatre, sponsored by the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Terre Haute Young Leaders. The forum will be broadcast live on WTHI-TV.
• City Council candidate forum, Oct. 8, 7 p.m., Vigo County Public Library, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Vigo County and the Tribune-Star.
There will undoubtedly be more forums added to this list.
It will be a busy period, and that's how it should be. Democracy functions best when the public is informed and engaged.
Max Jones can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarMax.