April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Challenger Meek to face Sims in Town Council race

By HSJ Online [email protected]

Hope residents will have one town government race to consider on Tuesday's primary election.

Long-time Democratic Councilman Greg Sims will be running against Nellie Meek, widow of former Councilman Buck Meek, for the Ward 2 seat on the Town Council.

The last few years have been difficult ones for the Town Council, as it has wrestled with funding issues for the Hope Volunteer Fire Department, a major improvement program for the town water system and the hiring and loss of a town manager.

Managing the Town

The town manager question is one issue that sharply divides the two Ward 2 candidates, with Sims supporting the position and eager to hire a new town manager and Meek saying that the town does not need to hire a replacement for Melina Fox, who quit in February.

Sims was upset at the way the entire situation was handled that led to Fox's resignation. Fox left over after an issue with her pay that was never brought to the council for a discussion and vote and what she felt was a lack of support from the council. He felt blindsided by the resignation and stunned that all the conversations happened only between the town manager and the outgoing council President Jonathan Titus and incoming council President Clyde Compton.

"I said it before, it probably could have been preventable," Sims said. "I don't know if her mind was made up that she was dead set that she was going to leave. But if she left due to the reasons that she stated, I think that it could have been prevented. Going forward, there has to be a line of communication from the president to the vice president to the other three board members, because it is a five-member board."

Overall, Sims said he is excited about the progress the town has been making. The town is in the midst of a multi-million dollar water system improvement project, has just finished a major renovation of the town square, started the Main Street of HOPE program, added a new satellite office for the Columbus-area Visitors Center and has more projects in the works. But all of those projects need a town manager in place, Sims said.

"I think filling that town manager's position is crucial with everything that we have going on, because that individual in that position is really our eyes and ears (for) the five board members," Sims said.

He said that most of the Town Council has daily jobs that take them out of town.

"That individual was there on a daily basis, seeing the things that was going on and kind of being that liaison for the council."

The Town Council is currently interviewing candidates for a replacement -- a position that Meek says doesn't need to be filled.

"I really wish they would put that off for a while and just give us a little time to get to get things organized around town and get back together, whether I get it or Greg gets it," Meek said. "My husband was very much against having a town manager. And maybe that is where some of my thoughts come from. But he always felt like if the Town Council would do what they are elected to do -- the clerk-treasurer does her job -- then there wasn't a need for a town manager. If today, if we are so busy that we need some one to be down there to answer a phone or something like that, then we could hire someone to answer a phone for a whole lot cheaper than $50,000 a year -- if we needed someone to just be there during the day to take messages for the board."

Fire Station Dispute

Likely the most divisive issue in the community in the past years has been the disagreement between the Town Council and the volunteer fire department. The fire department elected to build a new fire station on Aiken Street, but ran into funding problems which led to a lawsuit with the contractor. Those financial problems raised warnings for some members of the Town Council, who would not agree to a new contract for the department because of concerns about the department's financial stability.

Sims was among the council members who thought the contract should not be signed until the situation was reviewed by the town's financial advisers, the Reedy Group.

Although the town and volunteers did agree to a contract this year, Sims said there is still work to be done.

"In my eyes, the contract needs to be looked at," Sims said. "If it is the Reedy Group or somebody, to look at all the fine (points). As I said at the meeting in February, it is the same contract that has been in place for 20 years and there have just been some things added and deleted. I think it is time that a professional looks at it and makes sure it is good for the fire department, good for the town of Hope, the Town Council and the community.

"I am glad that they are moving on and trying to get in that building up there. But I still feel that the contract needs to be looked at and reviewed."

Meek said that she has been fired up by the dispute.

"This is our town and from my talk with people on the streets, just ordinary everyday people, they didn't like what was going on," Meek said. "I didn't feel like the board was actually doing this to represent the majority of the people in town. I didn't like things that happened."

"I do believe that we should have gone ahead and gone with the fire department."

Meek said she is concerned about how much money has been paid to the Reedy Group to study the situation, what the results of that study have shown and whether the town has put those results to the side rather than reveal them.

"We could do some research ourselves, we don't have to have someone do that for us," Meek said. "If we are willing to put in the time. And I believe that by my being retired, I have the time to do that. I can talk with the people."

She said she is also concerned that much of the council's decision making seemed to have already been made before the start of the Town Council meetings where the fire department issues were discussed.

"Whatever is going to happen, it needs to be done in front of the people of the town," Meek said.

Future developments

Sims said that one reason he decided to run again is to provide consistency on the council.

"It was kind of a last-minute decision to run," Sims said. "I was kind of mixed on it. Obviously with Jonathan (Titus) not going to seek another term... I just felt that with some of the newcomers coming on, maybe I do need to stick around for another term. I am not saying I know it all all. There is a lot of things I do not know. But maybe (bringing) some experience there."

He said there are more projects in the pipeline for the town's water system that will have to be addressed including storm water and waste water. And the town is in the early discussion and investigation phase of considering a new town hall.

"Over the years, we have done a lot and there is still a lot more to do," Sims said. "But you could only take it a day at a time."

Meek's husband Buck served on the Town Council for many years and after he died in 2010, Meek said many people have suggested she run for office.

"Many people came to my house over the years and they knew they were welcome," Meek said. "If there was a problem they could come and talk to my husband about it. They knew that we were personable and people who love people. They know that I love this town and the people in it. Hope has been my home for 44 years now and it has just been a great place to live. I think that I am qualified to make the decisions that will need to be made as this town grows and prospers."

Meek said she thinks a lot of Sims and respects him and the work he has done as a council member, but there is time for new blood on the council.

"In no way am I trying to put him down by doing this, but it is just that sometimes it is time to just move on," she said. "You can be in it for so long that sometimes you kind of lose track of what is actually going on."

Meek said she would like to see the Town Council reach out to new, different people to serve on the town's boards and committees.

"We are a small town, we are 2,000 some people," Meek said. "And I don't believe that those people are being utilized in the way that they could be either. I would like to see us reach out to put different people on these boards... I just feel like there are a lot of people in this town who have a lot of knowledge and they could be used in different areas and we need to do that. And it might be that they are not coming to the meetings."

As an example, she said that she is the Democratic chairwoman for her precinct and chose T.J. Hall as her vice chair.

"It is because I want to get some of these younger people involved," Meek said. "At some point we are going to get too old to make these decisions and to be at these meetings. And I think we need to start doing that now, to get younger people involved... Let's not chose the same people over and over again. We have a lot of people in this town with a lot of knowledge and we need to tap into that."

Meek said that she supports the Town Council's decision to tackle the water improvement project.

"Although that was not a popular decision, it was one that really needed to be made," Meek said. "Because we need that fixed. We were just losing so much money that did need to be taken care of. As I talked to people, that has been something that I have explained to them... The increase on the water (bills) was because we needed to do that so that we could be able to get that grant. That was just something that needed to be done. Absolutely, we needed this water fixed. It was foolish to be losing the water, the amount that we were losing there, and just to let that go. When we have come into a position that we could get that taken care of, I am very happy to see that happen."

No Republican is on the November ballot for the Ward 2 seat, although the party still has time to field a candidate.

On the Ballot

In other races on the ballot:

Ohmer Miller, a Republican, is running for election to the Ward 3 seat for the first time. Miller was chosen by the Bartholomew County Republican Party to fill the remaining term of Paula Pollitt, who died last year.

Ward 1 Councilman Jonathan Titus decided not to run for re-election. Democrat Ed Johnson is unopposed for that seat in Tuesday's primary.

Hope Clerk-Treasurer Diane Burton has filed for re-election as an independent. No candidate for either party has filed against her.

In other races on the ballot:


President - Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John R. Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Donald J. Trump

U.S. Senator - Marlin A. Stutzman, Todd Young

Governor - Mike Pence

U.S. House District 6 - Chuck Johnson Jr., Luke Messer, Jeff Smith

Indiana House District 57 - Sean R. Eberhart

Circuit Court Judge - Scott Andrews, Kelly Benjamin

County Coroner - Clayton R. Nolting, Ronald W. Shadley Sr.

County Surveyor - E.R. Gray

County Commissioner District 1 - Susan Thayer-Fye, Larry S. Kleinhenz, Jorge R. "George" Morales.

County Commissioner District 3 - Rick Flohr

County Council at-large (3 seats) - William F. "Bill" Lentz, Michael Lovelace, Matt Miller, Evelyn Strietelmeier Pence, James "Jim" Reed

Hartsville Town Council (3 seats) - Michael "Mike" W. Crull, Rex L. Dora, Steven Rucker


President - Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders

U.S. Senator - Baron Hill

Governor - John R. Gregg

U.S. House District 6: Danny Basham, George T. Holland, Bruce W. Peavler, Ralph Spellbring, Barry Welsh

County Coroner - Paula Rothrock

County Commissioner District 3 - Brad Woodcock

County Council at-large (3 seats) - Gabrielle "Gaby" Cheek, Pam Clark, Lynne L. Fleming

Hartsville Town Council (3 seats) - Lisa L. Hayes, Mark Imel, Jeremy Kimball[[In-content Ad]]