Four Vigo County Council seats up for election

Nov. 1—Four district seats on the Vigo County Council are up for election.

District members of the Vigo County Council must live in their district and are elected from within that district. At-large members, none of whom are up for election in this cycle, are elected countywide.

District 1

In District 1, incumbent Republican David Thompson, 49, has served on the Terre Haute Police Department for 27 years, the last 24 years as a detective.

Thompson is seeking a second term and will face Democrat Jeff Fisher, 61, who served 13 years Terre Haute Fire Chief, starting his career as a city firefighter in 1989. He now leads a fire response team at Terre Haute Regional Airport.

Both Thompson and Fisher point to experience as their strongest asset.

Thompson points to his work as chair of the Council's 2023 budget committee and 20 years of detective work in white collar crime.

Going into 2023, Thompson said he wants "to see where this ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money takes the county. The city has its share ($35.93 million) and the county has its share ($20.76 million) as well, and I would like to play a role in seeing where that (money) is distributed and making our community a better place," Thompson said.

Some ideas include a sports complex, "which would be nice, but obviously I think you want to put it toward something that is going to be an asset for the community, rather than an expenditure down the road," Thompson said. Infrastructure is another possible use of the funds, such as culverts and road drainage, he said.

Another use could be aiding The Mill, an outdoor music venue. "The Mill is a great asset to our community and (I) would like to make it as profitable as (we) can. It is bringing people in. The concerts I have been to there have been crowded. Anytime you can do something like that and bring money into our community from outside of our community is a huge asset," he said.

Fisher said he has "experience with budgets. I managed a $17 million budget with the (Terre Haute) fire department and 155 people. I managed that for over 13 years and it is one of the largest fire departments in our area," Fisher said.

Communication, Fisher said, is his one goal if elected to the council.

"Communication is a big thing. I am approachable and I listen. You need those kind of skills and people just need to realize that there are people on the Council who will listen and work to help make our community prosper working with other officials, the city and the state," Fisher said.

"Right now there are four Republicans and three Democrats on the Council and it just seems like it is one side or the other. With the fire department, you had to work with a team to get things done ... and on the council you have to communicate with each other and work as a team to get things done."

District 2

In District 2, Republican incumbent Brenda Wilson, 63, will take on Democrat Nancy Allsup, 65, a former elected county official.

Wilson previously worked as a court reporter and as a bailiff in Vigo County Superior Court Division 1, and in the Vigo County Prosecutor's Office in the child support enforcement unit. She is currently employed at F.L. Wilson, Inc., a family held farm business. She also has a business background as a former retail store manager and real estate broker.

"I am experienced and more business minded," Wilson said. "I do take the time to research and am knowledgeable of what is going on. I care deeply about the county and the future and I am fiscally responsible. I have learned the budget through and through and understand the whole overall process and take into concentration all aspects. You can't just play favorites with (county) departments."

Wilson said she wants to continue to work to keep the budget in balance. To do that, Wilson said a new software program called ClearGov will help the Council through future budgets much easier. It is a software discovered while attending an Association of Indiana Counties meeting.

The software will integrate with Indiana's Gateway, used to record and show all county budgets by the state, "and be more streamlined and accurate." Also, any budget updates will be done instantaneously and notes can be added as to why budget adjustments were made. "It is cloud-based and brings everything into the 21st century."

"We need to keep in mind it is taxpayer money we are dealing with. That is my main focus," Wilson said.

Allsup previously served as Vigo County Recorder from 2008 to 2016, serving two elected terms and one year as a caucus-chosen replacement. She also served as Vigo County Treasurer from 2017 to 2020. Allsup also previously worked in the county's maintenance department.

Allsup said her experience as a county office holder for 12 years will help her on the Council.

"I have done budgets and I have gone before the council before, and I feel the council needs to better interact with people and office holders to find out if they need something to improve their department," Allsup said.

"I think everyone needs more communication. I feel if something needs addressed, I would go and talk (to the office holder) and see what the need is for the department and see if we have money and if something is feasible," Allsup said.

"I want to review everything and see what we have that we can put out there to help our community and the people," Allsup said. "The council needs to monitor the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to see where it would help the community the most."

"I thought one person cannot make a difference, but I really did make a difference in the two (county) offices I was in and felt they were much better than they were, so I will sure try" for improvements on the council, Allsup said.

District 3

In District 3, incumbent Democrat Vicki Weger, 74, will face Republican Ryan Cummins, 66.

Weger was first chosen for the council by caucus in 2017, then won election her first full term in 2018. Now retired, she spent much of her career as a journalist in the Wabash Valley as assignments editor and managing editor at WTHI-TV and as a network news field producer for NBC, ABC, and PBS nationally and internationally.

Cummins, has been co-owner of the Apple House since 1982; served on the Terre Haute City Council from 2000 to 2008; and served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1977 to 1994.

Weger points to her experience on the County Council, most recently leading a vote to increase county worker salaries 4% for the second year in a row.

"We have different experience," Weger said. "We both have experience in the community, but I spend a lot of time in the various offices in the county. I have the time to spend with the folks who run the offices and the workers in the offices ...

"... One need that people always express to me is they hope their children will be able to stay here after they graduate from college or high school. What we have to do is raise the quality of life here, the salaries and so forth that people can earn. That is a real serious goal for me," Weger said.

Weger said the County Council needs "to reach out to folks who are looking for a place to locate and tell them about some of the assets of our community ... one thing we have here is an ample supply of water. We have a tremendous aquifer under our city (Terre Haute) and that is something that is a real asset now."

Also, the community rests at the intersection of Interstate 70 and U.S. 41, she said, and has an airport that can accommodate any aircraft in the world, with a main runway that is 9,020 feet long.

Also, she said, "We do not take advantage of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. ... let's help them locate a new company here. There is no reason we can't have a technical facility here and help somebody get their company growing here. I would love to do that," Weger said.

Cummins said there is a "substantial difference" in views between himself and Weger.

"Every candidate who is running, their goal is probably to see a growing community, prosperous community with lots of opportunity. It is how to get there and there is a substantial difference between myself and my opponent," Cummins said.

"She clearly views government as the solution, as the vehicle to get there, and I clearly view the individual taking responsibility for themselves in the marketplace as the solution, as the way to reach those goals," Cummins said. "... It is the individual acting in their interest in the marketplace as the solution, as to how we get a better quality of life and a community with more prosperity with more opportunity."

Cummins said one big component is to keep taxes low or reduce them more is among his goals.

"I would like to see taxes not increasing, but lowering. There are number of different ways to do that. It takes some out-of-the-box thinking. It certainly means having to look at solutions that don't involve government," Cummins said. "... Lower taxes, limited government, market solutions, those would be my goals if I were successful in this election.

"I point out that I have made quite an investment in this community," Cummins said. "I raised my family here, I run my business here and have been involved in a number of different ways, both in local government and private organizations. ...

"It is the next generations that we have to be working towards more than looking at any kind of short-term success. It is the long term that should be the focus," he said. "Government cannot start business or attract jobs. I know you hear that from politicians at all levels. ... The best that they can possibly do is get off of everybody's back, get out of their wallet and get out of their way," Cummins said.

District 4

In District 4, incumbent Republican Travis Norris, 46, will face Democrat Carlene Grant-Sakbun, 52.

Both candidates point to their experience as small business owners.

Norris was selected by caucus to the district seat in January 2021 and is seeking his first full, elected term. Norris is president and owner of Prox Lawn Care Inc. He points to that experience as an advantage.

"I think experience makes me the better candidate as I have spent two years on the council. I know how the job works on a daily basis," Norris said.

In addition, he has operated a business which Norris said helps him make decisions on the council.

"I have owned my own business for 10 years and I think I have been very fiscally responsible from the aspect of owning my business," Norris said. "I know how to work within a budget and I think that makes a huge difference when talking about both the taxpayers side of money and also the employment side, and that is not an easy job to do," he said.

"With higher inflation and high interest rates, everybody does make enough money right now and everybody needs to make more money, but you have to operate within the revenues you have coming in," he said.

Norris said the County Council has a "really good group of council people and I think we work well together. There is always differences in what you believe in. Everybody has something they like or dislike, but as a whole group we have really all worked well together," he said. " ...I think we are in a good spot to continue to grow the county and do good things."

Norris said it is important for the Council to help bring "more people and more jobs to Vigo County. It is no secret when you bring jobs and business to community, that brings tax revenue up without having to raise taxes on the current population, " he said.

Norris said he is a big advocate for the community. "I believe in our community and I think we have great things to offer. I want everyone to live here. We truly are the crossroads of America. We (have) air traffic, interstates, parks, so many things we have to offer and need to keep rolling in the right direction."

Grant-Sakbun also points to the experience of owning her own business. She owns Haute Body Bar in downtown Terre Haute, opening in 2016.

"As a small business owner, that gives me insight, as I saw how small business struggled coming out of the (COVID-19) pandemic. I know what it takes to run a business," Grant-Sakbun said, which she said will help her serve on the County Council.

Her strongest point, Grant-Sakbun said, "is I think I have a fresh perspective and fresh vision and am really willing to listen and learn," she said. "Our world is constantly changing and so we need to adapt to those changes and be willing to listen. I am willing to listen and work with all the county employees, the court system, sheriff's office, all of the departments to see what their needs are, and each department has their own unique needs," she said.

"I think my job is to go back to each department and provide the tools that they need so that they can provide the best service for our citizens in our county," Grant-Sakbun said. "County employees are very valuable and are so dedicated to their job, so I want to make sure they have all of the tools so they can provide for our citizens. I will educate myself in all aspects of the county so I am knowledgeable to make the best decision," she said.

Grant-Sakbun said she loves the community and she and her husband "have four kids that we raised here. My husband and I have no one in the house now, just the two of us," which would allow her to dedicate more time to serving on the council.

Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter @TribStarHoward.