The recent appointment of the Matthews Town Council President and clerk-treasurer’s son as a town employee raised concerns of nepotism this week.
The council chambers overflowed into the hallway as resident Stacie Collins asked the board about the process used in March to fill the open sewer clerk position, which pays $650 per month to collect, process and oversee the town’s billing for about 250 accounts.
Clerk-treasurer Sandy Loer and Matthews Town Council President David Loer are married. David Loer has been on council for 26 years, and Sandy Loer was appointed to her position by a Republican caucus in 2010 before her subsequent re-elections.
Cameron Bright, the Loers’ son, was appointed by the board to the sewer clerk position in a unanimous vote in March. David Loer abstained from the vote, according to meeting minutes from March.
“We reviewed the resume, seen he was qualified, made a motion, they voted on it. I abstained because I don’t have any right to vote on my son,” David Loer said.
The open position was never posted publicly, according to David Loer. Instead, he reported that he and council asked people around town who they thought would be qualified for the job if they were interested.
“It’s been in our system for years that it (the position) could be an appointed position if we so needed. We never did over all those years. The previous boards didn’t do it. We decided we’d try it a while to see what happens,” David Loer explained about the process. “Our son, yes – four year degree cum laude from Ball State – he’s highly qualified. We talked to other people to see if they were interested. They weren’t, so we appointed him… If it doesn’t work out, we’ll terminate him.”
Bright received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ball State University and a minor in business, according to David Loer. He said Bright has been working for Best Buy for 10 years and remains in that position since the sewage clerk position is part time.
Prior to the appointment, the board traditionally appointed the clerk-treasurer to the position of sewage clerk, councilman David White said. White oversees the sewage department as one of his roles on council. White is not related to Bright, he said, but he added that he does supervise his father who works as a lift operator in the sewage department.
White said Sandy Loer was paid out of two separate funds for her different roles, in accordance with the state auditor’s guidance, before the job was given to Bright.
Both White and David Loer said having a small talent pool to pick from in the town of 559 people, according to 2010 census data, makes it difficult for the town to find qualified candidates who don’t have conflicts of interest.
Collins said she was upset that she heard of the appointment from other citizens and not from a board announcement, but councilman Jim Gross said that information was discussed publicly at the March meeting which no members of the public attended.
When Collins asked if the appointment was in the March meeting minutes, Sandy Loer replied, “yes.”
According to the approved March minutes, there is no mention of Bright’s name, but a vote was recorded in the salary ordinance section for the sewer clerk position.
Cindy Lou Hisle and Collins expressed distaste for how council was reacting to the questions from the public. At one point Gross raised his voice as he said, “Our notes are public information. You can go and get our notes publicly,” in response to Collins saying she believes members of the public shouldn’t have to be physically present at every meeting to get town information.
Hisle described the meeting as “aggressive” after Gross laughed at Collins when she asked if her request to consider replacing Gross’ seat with Ronnie Crouch would be taken seriously by council. Gross said he is moving out of town, which would require him to step down from his position. The position will be filled by a Republican caucus.
“I would just like to see the meetings be more about us putting our heads together and less of us being aggressive to each other,” Hisle said.
“I’ve been here for eight years, and this has been the first meeting that’s been aggressive like this,” councilman Ken Shrontz replied before apologizing for a past interaction with Hisle at a public meeting last month.
Hisle said she respects how council members volunteer their time even though they are paid minimally for what they do in the town, but she said she wishes council would offer assistance more to people who aren’t educated on town affairs but want to engage by attending meetings.
“I have been more warm and fuzzy toward you as I get to know you,” she said in response to Shrontz, acknowledging that council has been respectful since last meeting. “But no, I felt as a person that came in here very uneducated about what was going on it was really ‘shut up these people have been told’ and I am not saying that’s what you did but that was the feeling.”
About five minutes into Collins asking questions, Gross told her he thought her time was up. When Collins asked about the three-minute comment rule before addressing council, Sandy Loer said they hadn’t been enforcing that limit. As Collins asked if she could ask another question, David Loer said, “We’ll be here next month.” The time limit was not enforced on any other members of the public. At that time, the police officer on duty was motioned by council to step in.
That didn’t stop Collins from asking her question regarding how the council discussed last month about reducing the number of council members from five to four seats upon Gross vacating his seat.
White reported that the council never ended up voting on that motion, saying the number of seats will remain at five.
David Loer said he was upset with how Collins was “attacking” the council on Facebook prior to the meeting. Collins made a post that expressed her distaste for the current council, calling them “yes” men.
In response, David Loer said it is true that he is friends with the other council members since all of them except Tyson Nuckols have been on council together for 26 years, but he said they are all independent and represent the voters who elected them.
Ultimately, the board explained that the vacated seat would be filled by a Republican caucus, where Darren Reese, David White and anyone else in the caucus district would choose who to appoint to replace Gross.
Gross said he is not sure when he will officially move.
Community members gathered at the northeast corner of the Grant County Courthouse square Friday evening to remember the events that took place on Aug. 7, 1930.
On the 90th anniversary of the infamous lynchings of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, and the attempted lynching of James Cameron, members of the Marion Community Remembrance Project collected soil to be sent to the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I think this year in particular with the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen what happens when you have collective trauma, collective grief and collective action, and so I’m hoping from this moment we spark some new conversation, new action, and build our community in a different direction,” said organizer Torri Williams. “Tonight is just one step in the work that has already been done in the community.”
The Marion Community Remembrance Project is led by a coalition of local individuals, organizations and churches that desire reconciliation through the act of remembering.
On Friday morning, Pastor Andrew Morrell said he revisited pictures from his visit to the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice in 2016.
“I remember just looking at all of the dirt jars that were collected and just thinking of the fact that Marion is not here, why are we not here?” he said.
The soil collection serves as an opportunity for the community to remember and memorialize the victims of the lynchings and engage in conversation about racial violence in America, Morrell said.
According to the EJI website, “The Community Soil Collection Project provides a tangible way for community members to confront the legacy of racial terror lynchings and to memorialize the African American victims whose lives were lost and the communities impacted by such violence.”
The soil is being taken from the place in which the lynchings occurred as well as the traditional and ancestral land of the Myaamiaki (Miami people) who occupied the area for thousands of years.
“Even the soil has been exposed and has seen a long, long history of racial violence right on top of it,” Morrell said. “The soil tells a story.”
Morrell described the lynchings as a “hidden sin no one wants to talk about.”
He addressed Facebook comments that called the soil collection “race-baiting,” and numerous comments asking why the event is still being discussed so many years later.
“Memory and history are part of who we are, whether we like it or not. This is part of our reality,” he said. “The reality is if we don’t acknowledge where we come from, how can we ever move forward together? The reason we are so divided is because we cannot tell the truth about our history together.”
As a pastor, Morrell noted the biblical significance of soil.
“If we read the story in Genesis, it is dirt from which we come from. When we die, it is dirt in which we go back to,” he said.
Humans’ connection to dirt is representative of humans’ relationship with each other, Morrell said.
“We view the dirt as something to be exploited, something to be used for our benefit, for our gain, but we don’t understand that this dirt is supposed to take care of us and we are supposed to take care of it, and we are supposed to take care of each other,” he said. “We have failed to take care of one another as humans across racial, ethnic boundaries. Even the soil has been faithful to us when we haven’t been faithful to it.”
Some of the soil collected will be sent to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice at a later date, and a jar will be kept at the Marion Public Library Museum as well.
Williams said the coalition plans to host an essay contest for local high schoolers in partnership with EJI, as well as more community education events, facilitated discussions and workshops.
“(We are) just continuing to work towards racial justice and bringing the issues to the forefront, and drawing connections so that people understand the period of time in America when the lynchings were occurring, with black folks as the victims, in particular, those same themes exist today,” Williams said.
For more information and to get involved, email marion firstname.lastname@example.org.
“At the end of the day, this is what I want people to know: There is nothing that is too big for God to heal,” Morrell said. “But we must trust God enough to enter into the painful waters that could potentially bring about our healing if we go there. I’m grateful to be a part of this, and I’m encouraged by what’s going on, and we have more work to do.”
Nearly two thirds of Grant County households have filled out the 2020 Census so far this year, but those who haven’t should expect census workers to be following up at their homes in the upcoming weeks.
Mustafa Harb, recruiting manager and census field manager for the Fort Wayne Census Field Office of the U.S. Census Bureau, said as of Aug. 6, 62.7 percent of Grant County households have completed the census online, by mail or over the phone. A majority of the county’s responses, 43.3 percent, have been completed online, Harb said.
According to Harb, Grant County’s overall response rate is below the Indiana statewide self-response rate of 67.3 percent, but just under the national self-response rate of 63.1 percent.
Harb said the Fort Wayne Census Office has been on-boarding and training more than 1,000 census takers, or enumerators, since July 31 all across the 21-county region it covers, including Grant County. The enumerators are preparing to begin what is called Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) operations, visiting households who haven’t completed the census yet, beginning Tuesday, Aug. 11, Harb said.
Census takers are being trained both for their actual job as well as best practices and operations due to COVID-19.
“Enumerators have been on-boarded, issued federal IDs, devices, PPE kits (masks, gloves and sanitizer) and sent home to complete a 3-hour self-study, listen to a podcast and complete several online modules,” Harb said. “We urge everyone to cooperate with them to ensure a complete and accurate count. In so doing, the right resources get allocated to their respective communities.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, census takers will conclude NRFU operations no later than Sept. 30. All enumerators will be required to wear a mask while conducting their work as well as following all other COVID-19 national, state and local guidelines, the Census Bureau stated.
Households who haven’t filled out the census can still respond at any time by mailing back the paper questionnaire, responding online at 2020census.gov or by phone at 844-330-2020, but those who do not will be visited by enumerators to obtain responses. Individuals can respond online and by phone in any of 13 languages, and there is assistance available for other languages as well.
All enumerators are hired from local communities and speak English, with many being bilingual, the Census Bureau states. If the enumerator does not speak the language of the household’s residents, they will have materials on hand to help identify the language and the residents may request a return visit from an enumerator who speaks their language.
If no one is home when the census taker visits, they will leave a notice of their visit and information on how to respond online, by phone or by mail.
The Census Bureau said census takers can be identified by a valid government ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date on the badge. Individuals can also contact their regional census center to speak with a Census Bureau representative to confirm a census taker’s identity.
Harb reiterated it is important for Grant County to get as near to a 100 percent response rate as possible, as census data helps determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as how billions of dollars worth of federal funds will be allocated to state and local entities.
“We are committed to a complete and accurate count,” Harb said.
For more information, visit 2020census.gov.
Second Harvest Food Bank will hold a tailgate food distribution Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 10 a.m. at Five Points Mall, 1129 N. Baldwin Ave. in Marion.
Distribution is while supplies last. No IDs, proof of address or need required. All are welcome, regardless of home county. Second Harvest is requesting that attendees only go through the line one time.
If you are walking up or coming via a vehicle too small to carry a load of food, please plan to arrive an hour after the tailgate starts.
For more information, visit www.CureHunger.org.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Friday announced that 1,253 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at ISDH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and private laboratories. That brings to 72,254 the total number of Indiana residents known to have the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.
A total of 2,821 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 10 over the previous day. Another 202 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by ISDH and occurred over multiple days.
As of Friday, nearly 33 percent of ICU beds and nearly 81 percent of ventilators are available across the state. To date, 817,104 tests for unique individuals have been reported to ISDH, up from 804,345 on Thursday.
To find testing sites around the state, visit www.corona virus.in.gov and click on the COVID-19 testing information link.
The Marion Community Schools Board of School Trustees has selected Mary Prows to fill the District III seat left vacant by the resignation of Chuck Griffin last month.
Prows was selected and sworn in at the Aug. 4 meeting of the board. She will serve out the remainder of the current term, which ends Dec. 31 of this year.
Prows is the Executive Director of The Training Center, an academic enrichment program offering support for local students. She earned her bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s of business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University.
“As a member of the Marion School Board, my goal is to be an advocate and voice for families, children and other stakeholders in the community regarding the education of the precious treasure entrusted to us,” Prows said. “I want to be fiscally responsible for the funds available for students and staff, to be a conduit for community partnerships and continue to empower students for the purpose they were created to be.”
The District III seat is one of three on the Marion school board up for election this fall, joining the District II seat and one of the at-large seats. For more detail about the districts, visit https://www. marion.k12.in.us/school -board-about.
Anyone who is interested in running for election to one of these seats must file a CAN-34 and and a CAN-12 form with the Elections Office at the Grant County Courthouse by noon on Aug. 21. (Both forms are available at https://www.in.gov/sos/ elections/4564.htm.)
The Sweetser Lions Club will hold a sesquicentennial breakfast fundraiser Saturday, Aug. 22 from 8-11 a.m. at the fire station at the corner of Ind. 18 and Main Street in Sweetser. The breakfast marks the 1-year countdown to Sweetser’s sesquicentennial on Aug. 21, 2021.
The breakfast will be $8 for adults, $5 for kids 6-14 and free for children 5 and under. Tables will be spaced out for social distancing and to-go orders will be available.
Farmers looking to install grain bins will need to apply for a permit now, according to a unanimous vote from the Grant County Area Plan Commission (APC) this week.
The board members agreed on a motion to treat grain bins the same as accessory buildings, which would require farmers to meet minimum requirements for setbacks, structural integrity and electrical components.
APC Executive Director Larry Strange said the county has never required permits for grain bins, but he said an inquiry by a local farmer encouraged him to ask the board to discuss the possibility since there are safety concerns related to building the large structures close to county roads and highways.
“With more residences going in the country, the fact that an individual may not stick a grain bin in the middle of his field, he may put it right on the road if that’s the best place, we need to know about that,” Strange said.
Strange said he checked with Henry and Wells counties and found that both jurisdictions require about the same fee as Grant County does for accessory structures, which is a $50 flat fee, to make sure things are installed safely.
“It’s a large structure, and if it falls down it could hurt somebody,” Strange said.
The council asked board member Myron Brankle, a farmer, what he thought about the change, and Brankle said he understands why there may be a need to implement the change.
“I don’t see any problem with it one way or the other,” he said. “I don’t think it’s been a problem in Grant County.”
Strange agreed that there isn’t currently an issue with farmers not following the setbacks, but he said it’s the APC’s job to ensure structures are safe in the county.
The board ultimately passed the motion, which would require farmers to treat grain bins the same as accessory buildings.
Strange said the current laws require accessory buildings to be set back at least 25 feet from the side of the property and at least 30 feet from the front of the property.
Strange said the building department would inspect the structures and check the foundation, structure and setbacks.
In other business, Strange reported that permitting is up from last year. He said pool permits have doubled since this time last year. He also noted that they’ve been successful in enforcing ordinances, cleaning up blighted properties across the county.
The next APC meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. in the County Council Chambers at the Grant County Government Complex, 401 S. Adams St. The meeting is dependent on there being agenda items, so Strange recommends anyone interested in attending APC meetings to check the county website or call his office to see if council is in fact meeting.