Share |

Question and Answers From the Candidates

LaGrange County Prosecuting Attorney

1) Person background:

Tim Cain –I am a graduate of Prairie Heights High School and married for 38 years with four grown daughters and six grandchildren.

I have been active with the LaGrange Exchange Club and LaGrange County 4-H Fair Board and have been an instructor with Junior Achievement.

I was the LaGrange County Council on Aging Director for two years. I have also served on the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Merit Board.

I have served on the Prairie Heights High School At Risk Students Committee, the Prairie Heights Dollars for Scholars Committee, and coached Prairie Heights Half-Pint Baseball.

Jeff Wible –I have been married to Jennifer (Barnum) Wible since 1989 and have two grown sons.

I have been a board member of the LaGrange County Community Foundation since 2005, and a former board member of the LaGrange County Council on Aging, attorney for the LaGrange Count Parks Department, attorney for the LaGrange County Health Department and a member of the LaGrange County Republican Central Committee.

2) Professional background:

Cain –I graduated Indiana University with a BA in Political Science with Honors. Graduated from Valparaiso University School of Law and earned a MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University. I also received a Master of Law degree from John Marshall Law School.

I have previously served as the LaGrange County Prosecuting Attorney as well as the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for the county. I am currently the Indiana State Police Alliance Attorney and the Indiana Association of Certified Accident Investigators Attorney.

I have also served as the town attorney for Shipshewana. I am currently a reserve deputy with the Noble County Sheriff’s Department.

I am an adjunct professor for the Ivy Tech Community College Criminal Justice Department and an Indiana Law Enforcement Academy Certified Instructor.

Wible –I am a graduate of Indiana-Purdue University and a graduate of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. I am licensed to practice in both Indiana and Pennsylvania.

I have been a private practitioner in various civil fields since 1991. I was the interim LaGrange County Prosecuting Attorney from September-December 2002, and have been the elected prosecuting attorney since January 2003.

I have been responsible for the prosecution of felony, misdemeanor and infraction cases in LaGrange County.

3) Why are you seeking this office?

Cain –I feel that when someone has skills and abilities that can help other people, that person should do so; our purpose in life is to help others.

I have skills that can help victims. Commonly, when we think about helping victims we think of police, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel. However, prosecutors can help victims as well, first by aggressively prosecuting criminals on behalf of victims to see that true justice is served, and second by keeping repeat offenders off the streets (when prosecutors put criminals in jail or prison for a second offense they aren’t able to victimize other innocent people, thereby preventing crime).

I am an experienced and highly successful trial lawyer, having over 100 jury trials and winning nearly 90 percent of them. I’ve had countless bench trials and contested evidentiary hearings where my trial skills and abilities have proven successful. If elected I will prevent crime.

Wible –I would like to have the opportunity to continue the policies that have led to over 3,400 years of incarceration for convicted felons and only three reversed convictions over the last 11 years.

Also, it would be goal to add to the $22.7 million in child support that we have collected and improve upon the $1.5 million that we have returned to crime victims over the last 11 years.

4) Do you see ways to improve how this office is currently working?

Cain –Yes, but I’m not trying to bash or insult the current prosecutor. I will serve the public more efficiently and in a gentler manner (except criminals, who will not like me even one little bit).

Wible –To improve the operation of the office, we need to continue to pursue justice as not only firm, but fair.

Also, we need to foster an environment that invites full cooperation with the courts and law enforcement. Further, we need to hold those who violate criminal statutes fully accountable.

Finally, myself and the members of your prosecutor’s office will continue to honor LaGrange County’s values and honor our Constitution.

5) What changes would you make, if any, to how the office provides information to the public?

Cain –I would like to explore the possibility of using the county’s website for the prosecutor’s office to post updates on the status of pending cases, so that members of the public could simply access information about a case based on offender name or the like. Unfortunately, I’m not very computer literate but I’m sure there are people in LaGrange County government who are and can assist me in this endeavor.

In addition, my door will always be open to victims and I will take the time to meet with any victim to discuss her/his/their case status.

Wible –We will follow whatever direction we receive from the judges of the LaGrange County Circuit and Superior courts.

LaGrange County Sheriff

1) Personal background:

Jeff Campos –My wife Brenda and I together have five children and six grandchildren with one on the way. Our children grew up in LaGrange and graduated from Lakeland High School.

I have been involved in coaching youth sports since 1992, including baseball, Lakeland Middle School Wrestling, and football, currently coaching for Lakeland High School.

I have been involved with several community-oriented boards with an objective of improving education, health and overall well being of the citizens of LaGrange County: the Purdue Extension Board (past president), Junior Achievement (current president and educator) and The United Fund of LaGrange County (current vice president). I was also a member of the Johnson Township Volunteer Fire Dept. (Firefighter 1 and 2 certified.)

Randy Mellinger –I am a lifelong resident of LaGrange County and married to Janine (Newcomer) over 20 years. We have two children – Michaela, a senior at Lakeland High School who will be attending Indiana Weslyan University in the fall, and Erik, a freshman at Lakeland High School who is active in football and basketball.

I am active in the LaGrange First Church of God, Feed My Starving Children, and Farm Bureau, as well as Lakeland sports and music boosters.

I am a past coach with West End Soccer, Little League baseball and softball coach, and basketball skills camp.

Richard Snyder –We are a Christian family and I'm a father, grandfather and husband of 22 years. I have had the privilege to be an adoptive and former foster parent of 10 years. I've maintained a family-owned construction business for 24 years. In addition to my career, much of my life focus has been spent helping children in need, as both a safe haven and an advocate. Family, morals, values and living by example is a priority in my life. I believe the most important position I will ever hold is that of being a parent, as our children are our "windows" of our future.

2) Professional background:

Campos –I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right after I graduated from Elmhurst High School (Ft. Wayne, Ind.) in 1982. I received an honorable discharge after 12 years of service and achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6). I became a volunteer fireman for the Johnson Township Fire Department and completed the Basic Firefighter, Firefighter I and Firefighter II certifications. I was a reserve police officer for the Town of LaGrange and completed the 40-hour pre-basic law enforcement course. I was hired by the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department as a jail officer in 1998. I was promoted to sheriff’s deputy in 1999 and attended the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, where I graduated with honors and was the president of my academy class. I was promoted to Detective Sergeant in 2002. As Detective Sergeant I attended several schools such as detective school and homicide school. I also attended courses at the Indiana Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI Academy. I also became the department’s Computer Voice Stress Test Analyst (truth verification instrument). In 2007 I was appointed as the chief deputy by Sheriff Terry Martin. As chief deputy I have assumed the duties as the sheriff in his absence. I have also worked with the LaGrange County Commissioners and LaGrange County Council and attended meetings as well. I have also assisted with the department’s budget as chief deputy.

Randy Mellinger– I am a graduate of Lakeland High School and Vincennes University with a degree in law enforcement. I was the first LaGrange Police Department Reserve Officer in 1988 and attended the Ft. Wayne Police Reserve Academy. I served as a LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department Reserve Officer from 1989-1992 and attended the Steuben Reserve Police Academy. I have been a LaGrange County Sheriff’s Deputy since 1992.

I have attended the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and Allen County K-9 Academy, and trained in Advanced Accident Investigation, Delaware County Basic SWAT School, and Field Training Officer and Leadership School.

I have been a field training officer since 2001. I have also been a member of the department’s Critical Response Team since 2004. I was a detective sergeant for the department from 2007-2008.

Richard Snyder – 2014 marks my 14th year in law enforcement. I have served the citizens of the Town of LaGrange as the town marshal for the past six years. Prior to this, I held the same position in the Town of Cromwell in Noble County, which totals eight years of administration of law enforcement. I have operated under budget throughout those years while maintaining an effective department, up-to-date and well maintained equipment, and a continually educated staff.

I am currently president of the Northeast Indiana Law Enforcement Training Council, presiding over seven counties, which has provided an important door for consistent training with our neighboring county law enforcement departments.

Beginning my law enforcement career as a Noble County Reserve Officer, I graduated from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and continued my education to become a Certified Indiana Law Enforcement Academy Instructor. As an instructor, much of our mandated staff training can be instructed locally. This is cost advantageous when considering multiple employees, training fees and travel expenses. For this reason, I have supported my present staff to further educate and achieve certified instructor status.

I assisted in pioneering the first courthouse security program in Noble County, which gifted me with a vast knowledge of our judicial system. I was also a patrol officer for the Avilla Police Department. My courses of instruction include, but are not limited to, Instruction of Leadership, Supervision, Interviewing/Interrogation and Crime Scene, Child Molestation and Accident Investigation.

I believe my family strength, my faith and my diverse experiences add depth to my leadership abilities and will help assist me to accomplish my goals to improve the sheriff's department.

3) Why are you seeking this office?

Campos –Seeking the office of sheriff isn’t something that I just decided to do. This is something that I have been working toward since I was hired by the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department.

I am running for sheriff because I am passionate about my country, my community, my family and friends and I am passionate about my profession. I want to be a positive influence and role model for community members of all ages.

As sheriff I can use my 16 years of experience with the sheriff’s department, my 12 years of military service, and my years of community service to continue to keep this community safe on a level where I can make changes and develop programs to promote a safer LaGrange County.

Mellinger –I am seeking the office of LaGrange County Sheriff for many reasons. After 21-plus years of service full-time and three years as a reserve, the sheriff’s department has become my second family. I want to see the department improve and become the best it can be. I have watched and learned under four sheriffs, starting under Dale Sturtz. I have experienced what has worked and what has not.

I would like to use this experience to better the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department.

Snyder –I believe public safety is about service, commitment and dedication. I decided to run for office this term because I’m not pleased with the direction our sheriff’s department is going. I believe the department needs new leadership to take it in the right direction. I have the proven leadership, real experience and positive relationships to take the department to an entirely new level of service.

4) Do you see ways to improve how this office is currently working?

Campos –I want to run the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department as it was meant, as a support agency. The sheriff’s department is not a business, businesses objectives are to make a profit, we are a support agency.

Our objective is safeguarding our community. To do this we need to support other law enforcement agencies, fire departments, businesses, schools and our community through three principles: Communication – Collaboration – Training. Using these three principles, we can better safeguard our community and plan for emergencies and tragedy situations before they happen.

I want to develop programs of awareness for the community and promote more communication avenues for the community. I also want to promote a more proactive approach on attacking the meth situation in our county.

Mellinger –Increasing our department’s efficiency will improve our department. This will lower operating costs and increase efficiency and productivity.

Snyder -Yes.

5) What changes would you make, if any, to how the department provides information to the public?

Campos –I am not sure if there would be any changes. I would say as I did in a previous question, I would like to make additions.

We have already explored several avenues into the social media. I want to extend our use of the local newspaper, expand the use of the police blotter to be more of a question and answer section between law enforcement and the community as well as adding an awareness section. There are still a lot of people that appreciate reading and acquiring information from the newspaper.

Finding other avenues to communicate with the community will be a focus of mine.

Mellinger –Continue to utilize Nixle, Facebook and Twitter for media and citizens. I would hold community meetings for citizens in all of our towns to keep them informed on the workings of the department and receive input from the public. I would also have our employees available to the media to answer questions on crimes and other situations.

Snyder –I would continue to utilize daily news releases, social media and Nixle. I would like to implement a monthly report to county officials, as presently the report is presented annually.

6) Are there other changes to the department that you would like to make?

Campos – N/A

Mellinger –Actively investigate tips on methamphetamine use and manufacturing. Include information obtained from all levels of the criminal justice system.

I would also increase our officer presence in schools, including at school lunches and walk-throughs.

I would like to bring back mock training for all public safety agencies in the county, including active shooter, bomb threats, natural disasters and others.

Snyder –I intend to re-establish relationships with citizens of our communities, our law enforcement departments, our fire departments, our emergency medical service departments and our schools, both private and public. The present relationship the sheriff's department has with many of these groups in the community has been damaged, not completely during the present administration's term, but damaged over time.

I recognize that keeping our community safe is not the sole job of the sheriff, it takes a community effort, it takes cooperation between departments and agencies, and it takes open door communication. So my first priority is to reestablish those relationships and do what I can to regain that trust that is so desperately needed to run effective law enforcement. By involving the administration of each law enforcement department in the county, we can form a team to address our needs within the county.

I plan to implement a volunteer Community Public Safety Committee consisting of a representative from each law enforcement department and fire department of our county, as well as a representative from emergency medical services, public and private schools, unincorporated towns and the county commissioners. This will provide all areas of our county with an equal voice and increase awareness of our individual areas of need. This creates a climate of working together to best serve our citizens of LaGrange County.

 My next task would be to implement a standardized training program and implement a philosophy of ongoing professional training. By standardized training I mean bring all of our public safety groups together for consistent, all on the same page training. By bringing our law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical personnel together for group training, should the unexpected disaster occur in our area we will be prepared to aid our citizens with consistent, effective solutions.

7) What do you feel are the biggest law enforcement issues facing the county and how do you plan to address those issues?

Campos –Methamphetamine and scams that target our seniors. As I advised earlier, I will use three principles: Communication – Collaboration – Training. With meth I want to collaborate with other agencies, communicate with the community and train/educate as well. I want to promote and use a more proactive approach going after the users, cooks and dealers.

With the scams that target our seniors, I want communicate and train our seniors by having seminars and programs throughout the county, making them more accessible to all seniors. These programs will educate and inform on scams and scammers.

Mellinger –Methamphetamine is the single largest issue facing our county. Its use is responsible for a majority of the crimes we investigate.

I would actively investigate tips about meth use and manufacturing and use information from probation and inside our jail population to initiate investigations.

I would work with the prosecutor’s office to make sure we are building strong cases for prosecution.

I would also ensure that we actively investigate property crimes that could lead to more methamphetamine cases.

Snyder –Our most imminent law enforcement issue we are facing is our War on Drugs – in particular, methamphetamine. Arrests alone cannot effectively combat this problem. An estimated 70 to 90 percent of the pseudoephedrine sold in Indiana is diverted to meth rather than for treatment of cold symptoms. That’s why we need to support state-level bills that require a prescription for popular over-the-counter cold relief medications. Although inconvenient to our law abiding citizens, this measure would be an effective mechanism to reduce the ease of obtaining ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine in our county. By using these tools, in combination with standardized training of our local public safety agencies and creating specialty teams, utilizing teamwork with federal and state authorities, it will provide us an important tool to assist in controlling this constantly re-inventing itself epidemic.

LaGrange County Commissioner – North District

1) Personal background:

Garry Heller– I have been a resident of LaGrange County for 50 years. My wife Denise and I have been married 38 years, and we have a son, Andrew, who lives in Tennessee. I am a very active member of Lima United Methodist Church and I have volunteered to serve in many capacities over the years for Habitat for Humanity, LaGrange Clothes and Food Basket, Scott Food Pantry, LaGrange County United Fund and Reason 4 Hope.

Terry Martin -I have been married to my wife Tammy for 32 years and we have two children, Travis and Tracy. They both graduated from Westview High School. I have coached baseball and have been involved in the 4-H program for over 12 years as a leader and on the board. I have taught numerous programs in all the schools and have taught women’s self defense since we started the program in 2000.

David Nelson– I have been married for 41 years and have two children and one grandchild. I have been on the board of directors for the LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce and am an active member in the Pretty Prairie Methodist Church. I have also been a 41-year member of the LaGrange Masonic Lodge.

2) Professional background:

Heller –I am a 1972 graduate of Lakeland High School. I have attended county commissioner and county council meetings since February 2010 and participated in developing the county budget for the past three years. I have attended and participated in a number of the town council meeting and have served on various county boards, including LaGrange County Regional Utility District, Council for Drug Free LaGrange County, LaGrange County Drainage Board, Northeast Indiana Solid Waste District, legal expense review committee, LaGrange County Parks Board, County Redevelopment Commission, LaGrange County EDIT Committee, LaGrange County Board of Health, LaGrange County Major Moves Committee, and the LaGrange County Human Resources Committee.

I also attend annual conferences of the Indiana Association of County Commissioners and Association of Indiana Counties and district meetings with other county commissioners and elected officials to collaborate and share ideas and discuss issues that currently impact county government.

I have served as vice president of the Scott United Methodist Church Administrative Board and financial secretary for 17 years.

I have successfully owned and operated a small business in LaGrange County for over 12 years.

Martin - I spent five years in the U.S Navy before becoming an Indiana State Trooper. I moved to LaGrange County in 1984 after graduating from the Indiana State Police Academy. In 1991, I left the Indiana State Police to take a position as a deputy with the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department.

I was promoted to sergeant in 1995 and I am currently in my second term as sheriff.

Nelson– I graduated Cum Laude from Northwood University in Midland, Mich., with a Bachelor’s degree in marketing and advertising. I retired after 22½ years with General Motors and consulted for one year with IBM. I will be retiring from the LaGrange County REMC in May 2014.

3) Why are you seeking this office?

Heller– I am seeking re-election for county commissioner because I possess the experience, knowledge, passion, integrity and honesty necessary to protect and preserve the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of LaGrange County. As a second term commissioner, I will be much more prepared than my challengers to immediately address the diverse economic, cultural and infrastructure needs of our county. My opponents have never served as a commissioner and would have a significant learning curve to overcome in their first term, which would further delay addressing the issues that our county is currently facing and will face in the next four years. Because I have served as a county commissioner the past four years, I am able to immediately hit the ground running to address all of these issues effectively and efficiently.

Martin – For the last 30 years I have been working for the people of LaGrange County.

I will be retiring from the sheriff’s department at the end of my term. I have enjoyed working for the people and I want to continue to do so as a commissioner.

To me, this is a calling. I am not doing this because I need a job but because I enjoy working for the people of LaGrange County.

Nelson –I feel my successful 43-year business career would be an asset to this position. Also, I feel this office would give me an opportunity to give back to the community.

4) Do you see ways to improve how this office is currently working?

Heller –I hope to accomplish continued improvement for the residents of LaGrange County through leadership planning and development that will effectively and efficiently address the public’s health, safety and welfare needs while recognizing and maintaining the diverse cultural heritage that makes LaGrange County a unique community.

Martin –One thing I want to do is make myself available to the people by holding monthly meetings at the annex to hear from the public about any matters concerning the county. I would then take that information back to the other two commissioners for discussion. I would also work with the department heads to help them in their job.

Nelson– County government needs to make good, sound financial decisions that produce a return of increased employment and increased tax returns.

5) Should LaGrange County government do more to be more transparent to the public?

Heller –LaGrange County does an excellent job being transparent with the public. It has always complied with requests for public records and the state open door laws. LaGrange County has even developed a special form for the public to use to make it easier to request public records. LaGrange County responds within the time period required and often within 24 hours or less. However, as a county commissioner, I personally have always been willing to go beyond what is required by statutes to meet one-on-one with the public to discuss any and all issues brought to my attention. In addition, I have always met on-site with the public prior to making a decision, when requested to do so, to view and discuss matters of particular concern (e.g. Buck Lake, Exo-S, Pigeon Lake, easement vacations, 200N road project, etc.)

Martin – I would like the county to be as transparent as possible. I think there would be less gossip if the facts were laid out for everyone to see.

Nelson –County government actions need to be highly visible and the public officials need to be held accountable for their actions.

6) How do you feel the county has done recently on economic development?

Heller –I believe LaGrange County government has done an excellent job in its commitment to maintain and grow existing business and to attract new business development in the county.

Martin –I think the county has done a good job at bringing business to the county.

Nelson –Through the hard work of the EDC, all available commercial buildings are occupied. Also, the EDC needs to advertise its success stories to the public. I feel the public views the EDC as another expense, not an asset.

7) Does the county need to do more economic development, less, or is it currently working as is?

Heller –LaGrange County government should always participate in economic development at a level and in a manner that is consistent with the ever-changing current economic environment that exists at the time. It is crucial to maintain a commitment to economic development with maximum flexibility and speed to adjust to the needs of business as those needs arise.

Martin –I think we as a county are doing a good job at economic development.

Nelson –More as stated in Question 6. It is time for the EDC and county officials to take some risks to entice new industry to the county.

8) Are there things the county can or should do to assist companies looking to expand or move to LaGrange County?

Heller – Yes. LaGrange County can provide funding, infrastructure and tax relief to businesses looking to expand in or move to LaGrange County. One of the most important things the county can do is to offer a competitive business environment, which includes expanding and maintaining road and utility infrastructure and developing shovel-ready sites.

Martin – I think the county does a lot to entice companies to come to LaGrange County.

Nelson – Incentives and abatements will have to be presented, as this process has become the norm for economic growth. I feel specific workforce training needs to be an offer as well. In my prior GM position, I was tasked with searching for communities in which to place new company business sites. I believe my prior experience will help our county in this area.

9) How much control should the commissioners have over other departments that have their own elected officials or appointed heads?

Heller –In order to consistently and uniformly serve the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of LaGrange County, all county departments, elected officials and appointees should have a certain amount of oversight by and accountability to the commissioners. Otherwise, LaGrange County governmental services have the potential to be delivered to the public in an inconsistent and erratic manner.

Martin –I wouldn’t use the word “control.” Instead they should work together with the department heads to better serve the people of this county.

Nelson –Someone has to take the role of “overseer” for the county departments and workers. We have had previous employees confess to stealing from the county, yet they were never removed from office. I feel all county employees must be held to the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and if proven guilty of a crime, be removed from office, whether elected or non-elected employees.

 10) How will the tax caps affect local residents in the future? Do you see a need to increase local taxes or to reduce services?

Heller –Currently, there is no significant impact anticipated by tax caps. LaGrange County‘s budget is adequately maintained by the revenue projected to be received. No increase in taxes is necessary at this time to maintain the services delivered by the county.

Martin –Until we see the results of the tax caps it is hard to say how it will affect us and taxes.

Nelson –Tax caps and budgets are a way of life. Reduced services will not be endorsed by me at any time. There are many ways to “cut fat” from all departments, it just needs to be initiated. Continuing to do business the same way just because we have always done it that way is bad business. Increased taxes should be a last resort and should never be means to rescue poor business practices.

 

LaGrange County Council – District 3

1) Personal Background:

Harold Gingerich –I have been married to my wife Janice for 46 years. We have two sons and five grandchildren. I have lived in Topeka almost all of my life.

Richard Yoder –I have been married to my wife Sharon for 44 years and we have two sons, one in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and one in Emma, and eight grandchildren.

We are members of the Emma Mennonite Church, where I am a trustee. I also serve on the board of directors and volunteer at the LaGrange County Clothes and Food Basket.

2) Professional background:

Gingerich –I graduated in 1965 from Topeka High School. I studied at what is now IPFW as well as Ft. Wayne Bible College. For 16 years Janice and I traveled in itinerate ministry before starting Eden Worship Center in 1987. Since that time I have been invited to many nations of the world to do leadership training. I have made annual trips to Indonesia beginning in 1990 to train a new generation of leaders. I have also served as the police and fire chaplain in Topeka since 2005.

Yoder –I graduated from Shipshewana-Scott High School and have farmed for 45 years along with my dad and now my son, Ross. I am a partner with Yoder Popcorn and on the board of directors of Archbold Equipment.

3) Why are you seeking this office?

 Gingerich – I care deeply about LaGrange County and believe that the county council plays a key role in its future. We need people on the council who understand the budgeting process, who are committed to economic development, and who think in terms of the next generation.

Yoder –I am interested in county government and want what is best for LaGrange County.

4) Do you see ways to improve how this office is currently working?

Gingerich –Good communication is critical. The county council needs to constantly work to maintain better lines of communication with the county commissioners, office holders, and especially with the towns. Unfortunately, there has not been a lot of communication with our incorporated towns. I want to change that.

Yoder –The county council needs to be better informed on projects that need financing.

5) Should LaGrange County government do more to be more transparent to the public?

Gingerich –This has been an ongoing question. I don’t believe that anyone in county government is trying to hide anything. How people get their information has changed in the last few years, especially with the internet and social media. Having a county website helps, but keeping the public informed and involved has often been difficult. We just need to become more creative.

Yoder –Media covers the meeting information well, in my opinion.

6) How do you feel the county has done recently on economic development?

Gingerich –I have told many people that I have learned more about economic development since I have been out of office than in the 20 years I that I served on the county council. I am very gratified that, after I was out of office, I was a part of establishing the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation. To date we have brought 1,400 new jobs to the county and over $65 million in new investment.

Yoder –Recent activities have gotten existing facilities utilized and therefore have more jobs available in the county.

7) Does the county need to do more economic development, less, or is it currently working as is?

Gingerich –Economic development is the life-blood of any county. With the advent of the internet, the landscape of economic development has changed dramatically. Today when a company contacts you it means you have already survived several rounds in their site selection process, they have made a site visit and you didn’t even know it. If we are not proactive and ready to move as a county, we will be left behind.

Yoder –It would always be good for more development. My question would be, at what cost to the taxpayer when using incentives?

8) Are there things the county can or should do to assist companies looking to expand or move to LaGrange County?

Gingerich –Economic development is multi-faceted. We must work with companies to retain the jobs we have as well as create an environment that is attractive to companies looking to relocate. Right now I am told that we don’t have a single industrial building available in the county. We already have the Fawn River site, which is an excellent location. So we need to make sure that we have a more than adequate water supply along with the other necessary utilities.

Yoder –In the past, tax abatements and cash has been given, and infrastructure has been improved to entice businesses to utilize current structures. I don’t always agree with the amount of perks that are given. I like the old adage of “Building a business on your own.”

9) How much control should the council have over other departments that have their own elected officials or appointed boards?

Gingerich –Our state’s founding fathers created local government with a system of checks and balances. The county council’s job is to set the budget and monitor spending, not to micromanage an office holder’s budget. That is why good communication is vital. As a councilman, I made it a practice to regularly drop in to talk with office holders. I wanted to make sure they had what they needed to best serve the public.

Yoder The only control the council has over other departments is with their individual budgets.

10) How will the tax caps affect local residents in the future? Do you see a need to increase local taxes or to reduce services?

Gingerich –No one really knows the full impact of these tax caps. What is clear is that both the federal and state governments are forcing local units of government to shoulder the financial burden. Unfortunately, local units of government have no one to pass the burden on to. People have come to expect more and more services, and they desire them. But paying for them is the challenge.

Yoder –Services, programs and new projects such as road improvements and offering incentives to new businesses will need to be addressed as needs arise. With the economy still being a bit sluggish, is it in the county’s best interest to burden taxpayers with added taxes?

LaGrange County Circuit Court

1) Personal background:

R. Larry Helmer –I was born in the South Milford area, where my family was farmers. My great-great-grandfather, Peter Helmer, settled here in 1840. After moving to the town of LaGrange when I was four years old, my parents owned and operated the Log Cabin Grocery and the LaGrange Theater.

I have two grown children and four grandchildren.

Currently, I am president of the LaGrange Rotary, a member of the LaGrange County United Fund and a past governor of the Moose Lodge.

I reside in LaGrange County, where I take care of my elderly mother. I attend the LaGrange Presbyterian Church.

Scott VanDerbeck –I have been married to Sara Jo VanDerbeck for 40 years and we have lived in LaGrange County for 30 years. We have two daughters and seven grandchildren.

I have previously served on the LaGrange Chamber of Commerce Board, the LaGrange County 4-H Fair Association Board, the LaGrange Council on Aging Board, Elijah Haven Board, The Shed Board, and co-founded the Youth Assets Council with Ned Stump.

I also coached Lakeland 7th and 8th grade girls basketball.

Currently, I am a member of Gideons International, the LaGrange Rotary Club, where I have served two terms as president, founded the LaGrange Communities Youth Centers, Inc. and the LaGrange Teen Court. I co-founded the Lakeland Alternative School. I also play bass guitar in my church’s praise band.

2) Professional background:

Helmer –I graduated from LaGrange High School in 1961 and attended Hanover College and the Indiana University School of Law, graduating with a Juris Doctorate degree.

I began my own law practice in Indianapolis in 1968, forming the law firm of Helmer and Nelson, and for years employed many attorneys and paralegal staff.

In the 1980s, I formed the law firm of R. Larry Helmer and Associates and continued my law practice.

My areas of practice have always included extensive trial work, business and estate planning and litigation. While in Indianapolis and Carmel, I also had the opportunity to participate with a Florida law firm as a consultant in complicated business and estate planning strategies.

In 2009, I returned to my hometown community of LaGrange and became associated with Eberhard and Weiber, P.C., as “Of Counsel.” I continued the general practice of law with extensive trial work.

In 2013, I became associated with Stout Law Group in Angola, again as “Of Counsel.” My practice today continues mainly in the counties of LaGrange, Steuben, DeKalb, Allen, Elkhart and St. Joseph.

VanDerbeck –I graduated from Michigan State University and Valparaiso University Law School. I moved with my family to LaGrange in 1984 with a goal to practice law and raise our family in a small town that shared our values.

Since being elected circuit court judge, I received the following judicial training: Indiana Judicial College, Indiana Graduate Program for Judges, Indiana Judicial Center Juvenile Bench Book Committee – former chairman, and Indiana Judicial Center Probate Committee – former member.

3) Why are you seeking this office?

Helmer –I am seeking the office of Judge of the 35th District Circuit Court, LaGrange County, because I believe with my extensive background as a trial lawyer an in business and estate planning, and litigation I can offer the community a well-qualified and experienced practitioner’s view in administering justice.

I have the knowledge and time to give back to the community by sharing my expertise and judgment abilities. I think it is time for a change of judicial perspective since the current judge has been on the bench for 18 years.

By being a litigator, I have always had to consider both sides of the issues being presented to the court, but also to understand my client’s personal issues as they relate to the law. Justice is a matter of being able to adapt the law as it relates to the personal facts, and to hopefully provide a judgment which is both legally correct and fair to the people, both individually and to the community.

I believe my age and legal experience can benefit the citizens of LaGrange County.

VanDerbeck –I am seeking reelection as LaGrange County Circuit Court Judge for several reasons.

First, my wife and I came to LaGrange 30 years ago with the intention of putting down roots, raising our family, and practicing law in an area that has small town values similar to our own. I felt led to sell my legal practice, run for judge and to bring my peaceful, realistic, and dignified presence to the bench. No judge promises to be perfect, but rather to use their best judgment. There is still some unfinished business to accomplish before retiring from the bench. There are several programs that have begun which are not yet completed. These programs and issues will be discussed in the next several sections.

Second, since becoming judge my focus has been on personally receiving quality, professional training in the art of being a trial judge. The LaGrange County Circuit Court is diverse and receives 33 of the 36 types of cases that exist in Indiana. The court and my staff of eight must respond quickly and professionally to the varying needs of the attorneys and the public who come before it. The staff has been well trained and is continually updated in the needs of the job. To leave at this time would not make efficient use of the training of a judge or his staff.

Third, over the years, I have presented 17 annual budgets for the court and probation departments to the LaGrange County Council. Each year, the court has stayed within budget and thus operated in a fiscally responsible manner. The public would benefit by being led by a proven leader with this quality.

Fourth, I am 61 years old and would be honored and humbled to serve another term as the LaGrange County Circuit Judge. I am interested and enthusiastic about continuing in this challenging position. A trial judge has to be the type of person who is comfortable making decisions on a daily basis that are emotionally and intellectually difficult but necessary to society. I believe that I have demonstrated the ability to decide cases fairly and impartially on an ongoing basis. There have been nearly 20,000 cases filed during my tenure. Each case requires thoughtful oversight over the many stages of the case. Several important areas this court considers are: criminal sentencing of convicted adults, placement of adjudicated juveniles to Boys or Girls School or placing them on probation, child custody and visitation issues, reviewing the accounting of estates, sharing the joys of adoption, and reviewing the painful circumstances of children who are abused or neglected. I would like to continue to be involved in my community as the LaGrange County Circuit Court Judge. I believe the public desires a judge who has been a model of stability, both in and out of the office.

Finally, I chose to run for the position of judge because it fits my personality. There is a large variety of cases to be considered. This court has a cradle to grave scope of view. Adoptions, juveniles, adult criminal, civil, trusts and estates are several of the case types filed. This broad view of life allows the judge to consider and impact all aspects of families in LaGrange County.

4) Do you see ways to improve how this office is currently working?

Helmer –I can only say that I think more time can be spent by the judge to reduce the backlog of cases before the court. Perhaps increased communication between the judges and a reappointment of cases assigned to each court would make the process of litigation more efficient.

VanDerbeck –There have been many changes that have been implemented during my terms of office. These include overseeing the restoration of the courtroom. During this six-month process, contractors removed the dropped ceiling and paneled walls, restored the original woodworking, retouched the oil paintings that graced the ceiling and wall, patched and painted the walls and added lighting, heating and air conditioning. The court was displaced during this period and operated in the Petit Jury room. The courtroom once again reflects the pride of the LaGrange County citizens who built the courthouse. The historic building is viewed favorably by the many visitors and tourists who travel to our community.

The capacity for video conferencing has been added to the courtroom. This allows for prisoners in jails or prisons throughout the state, or people committed to mental health facilities, to appear for hearings electronically. This saves the local sheriff’s deputies from transporting people to the courtroom, thus saving taxpayers money.

The hardware and software for the court computer system have been updated and tied into a network with the clerk’s office, the probation department, all court reporters and judges. This process allows court files to be scanned and kept current by staff with the appropriate security clearance. Court files including final orders and appropriate records are made available to attorneys and persons outside the courthouse who have proper clearances. The court staff has been trained to use the computer system. The training is continually ongoing to allow staff to better meet the physical and emotional needs of the public in a prompt, professional and sustained manner. I am pleased with my staff and stress the need to courteously listen and respond to the calls and questions of the public and attorneys, professionally, in a way that is allowed by the many court rules.

I was fortunate to co-found the Lakeland Suspension School with Dave Judkins, then director of the LaGrange County Welfare Department. Students suspended from one of the three county public schools are not allowed to stay at home or walk the streets, but must bring their homework to a separate room. Under supervision, they can continue their education.

Changes must and will be made to the court processes in the future. Our county has recently added a community correction program to the options available to the probation department. This is offered by the Northeast Indiana Community Correction Company. This program is jointly run by a board from Steuben and LaGrange counties. It will benefit our county and allow the probation department more supervision options of convicted persons on probation. The defendants who are court ordered to have home monitoring wristbands will be checked more regularly. Our county’s work release program will still be used. Offenders who qualify will be able to stay employed and be supervised while living either at home or in the county jail. This program should allow non-violent offenders to remain productive and the community to still be protected.

The study we began through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) will soon produce a flow chart outlining the existing steps of arrest, detention, trial or adjudication and probation of juveniles. Juveniles are defined by law to be less than 18 years of age. The LaGrange County processes will be compared with other Indiana counties. JDAI of LaGrange will recommend services or programs that may assist the police, probation, the court or social service agencies better serve the community.

Alternatives to costly detention that may be available at a reasonable cost might include intensively supervised home detention, special tutoring or day reporting programs. Once we decide what programs are the most cost effective to implement and sustain, we can decide what financial resources are available. We have located one grant for $42,000 that LaGrange County qualifies for. It is available for at least one year. We then must discuss this issue with other agencies and offices to determine if it is realistic starting a project that may not be sustained in the future.

I have also begun to explore the benefits of a drug court. This is one means to address the methamphetamine problem in our communities. Judge Kramer of Noble Superior Court #2, a leader of the drug court in Noble County, has offered to assist LaGrange County analyze this option. There are many factors to consider and several offices must be engaged. We would have to locate the necessary funding and ensure there are sufficient participants to make this an effective program for LaGrange County. The drug problems that exist need to be addressed, and creative thought needs to be brought into the equation.

5) What changes would you make, if any, to how the court provides information to the public?

Helmer –The Bar Association will be more responsive when the judicial process is more efficient. I firmly believe that the judges should be more involved with the community. The community needs to know that our judges do care about what is going on in our judicial system. In a small community such as LaGrange, most likely someone in each of our families will have contact with the court sometime during the course of their lives.

The citizens desire the confidence that they will be treated in a fair and just manner. Perhaps on a periodic basis we could set up workshops to communicate with our children, such as judges going to the schools for purpose of entertaining questions and answers.

I also think that, currently, law enforcement officials have established a negative image of themselves – especially with the younger generation. Perhaps the judges could work closer with these officials to encourage better communication and work toward increasing the general public’s image so they will want to consult police officers rather than avoid them.

Finally, LaGrange County is always at the top of the list in the use of meth labs. I do not think there is any excuse for this. These types of drugs are ruining our young people, both physically and mentally.

The judges need to assist the community by being more involved in education and prevention before the use, rather than after, even if this means talking to the elementary and junior high kids about the terrible consequences of the use of the drug. If I am elected, I will be involved, to reduce this issue immediately.

VanDerbeck –The LaGrange County Circuit Court is in a unique position as there are many types of cases filed with the clerk. Some types of cases must by law be kept confidential from the public. Some of the confidential information includes adoption records, records relating to child abuse, grand jury proceedings, most juvenile records, all pre-sentence reports, no-contact orders, protection from abuse orders, and much more. The staff for the court and clerk’s office must be aware of and work with these limitations.

 The court’s role is to process and bring to conclusion the cases brought before it in a prompt and professional manner. Presently the circuit court staff makes available to the news media copies of all sentencing orders from adult criminal cases. Other than this, the court is not the entity to pick and choose what cases that should be brought before the public eye.

Some courts publish their daily calendar on video screens maintained in the hallway of the courthouse. If there was a demand, we could devise a way to exclude the confidential cases, and put on daily screen the remainder of the calendar. This would assist the public and allow people to better know where and when their case was about to be called. 

 

LaGrange County Superior Court

1) Personal background:

Lisa Bowen-SlavenI’ve been married to Steve Slaven for 19 years and we have two sons together, Mitchell Slaven, age 18, and Mason Slaven, age 14.

I am currently actively involved in board membership with the following organizations: LaGrange County Council on Aging, LaGrange Communities Youth Centers (LCYC) and Ark Animal Rescue and Adoption. I have also been actively involved over the years with the LaGrange County 4-H program.

I also served as the Republican member of the LaGrange County Election Board for approximately 13 years.

George Brown –My wife Pat is a social worker at Lakeland Middle School. We have two children: Janet, who is a manager with Great Clips, and Elizabeth, who is an auditor with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. We also have three grandchildren: Cameron, who is a student at Westview Jr. High School, Payton, who is a student at Westview Elementary School, and Remington, who is a pre-schooler.

I am currently a member, director and past president of the LaGrange Rotary Club; a member and advocate in the Knights of Columbus; a volunteer judge for the “We The People” program; and a director-elect of the LaGrange County Community Foundation.

Prior to becoming judge and having the restrictions that the office imposes, I served on other boards and committees.

2) Professional background:

Bowen-Slaven –I grew up in LaGrange County and graduated from Westview Jr.-Sr. High School in 1985. After high school, I attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in supervision technology and an Associate’s degree in technical graphics in 1989.

From there, I pursued my legal education at Valparaiso Law School and graduated with my law degree in 1993.

Brown –I am a graduate of Ball State University (B.S.), DePaul University (J.D.), the Indiana Judicial College and the Indiana Graduate program for Judges.

I engaged in private practice, served as LaGrange County Deputy Prosecutor, and judge of the LaGrange County Court prior to becoming Superior Court Judge. I currently serve on the Criminal Benchbook Committee and the Criminal Law Policy Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana and previously served on its Protection Order Committee. I also serve on the Indiana Supreme Court’s Committee on Character and Fitness.

3) Why are you seeking this office?

Bowen-Slaven –I believe in hard work and dedication in pursuing a goal. As a practicing attorney for 20 years, I have seen first-hand the role, impact and influence the judicial system has on the lives of ordinary citizens.

I am passionate about exploring opportunities for improvement in the administration of the court and ensuring that everyone has access to the court, is treated with dignity and respect and is not only provided an opportunity to timely present their case, but to also have a timely decision entered by the court.

Brown –During my time in office I have tried to dispense fair and equal justice in an efficient and professional manner. I have tried to have a positive impact on those people whose lives and situations bring them before the court, and on LaGrange County and its people as well.

I feel that I have succeeded and that I have built a record which has earned another term in office. I want to continue serving LaGrange County and its people, and I look forward to doing so for another six-year term.

4) Do you see ways to improve how this office is currently working?

Bowen-Slaven –With respect to court administration, I would like to see the court staff organization and structure reviewed for efficiency.

Designating one of the court staff as the receptionist for communication with the public, pro se litigants and lawyers may likely result in improved communication and interpersonal treatment with the public. The efficiency of the office as a whole would likely improve and would allow decisions and orders to be entered and distributed promptly.

I would also like to see local rules of procedure implemented and enforced to guide practitioners and to minimize docket congestion. Furthermore, I have reviewed court programs in other jurisdictions which they have implemented to address repeat drug offenders. I am committed to communicating with our local agencies, government officials, the local circuit court judge and all interested members of the public to explore these types of programs further to determine if they would be appropriate and successful in our community.

Brown –During the first five years of my present term the court has experienced an increase in new filings. This is likely due to the economy.

In fact, two of the court’s biggest years in terms of filings occurred in 2010 and 2012. The average annual filings per year for this term so far are almost 1,000 more than the average for the previous term. Despite this increase, the court has maintained an average 97.8 percent case disposition rate.

We are able to maintain this performance level with the same number of staff people that we have had for about 20 years, and we are able to do so while staying within the budget that the county allows. Ideally, the court could use another staff member, and that is a goal; but it is dependent on the availability of money and space.

5) What changes would you make, if any, to how the court provides information to the public?

Bowen-Slaven –I would like to see literature developed that generally describes court procedure and expected courtroom behavior to court users and the general public. The literature could be routinely provided by the court staff to self-represented litigants, litigants with limited English proficiency, and interested members of the public.

Further, I would review the online court forms for clarity and accessibility.

Brown –The court must remain neutral in all situations, so providing information to the public, other than general statistical information, can sometimes be a challenge.

Many times people contact the court seeking legal advice, but the court is prohibited from giving it. People sometimes get frustrated with the court because we cannot answer those types of questions.

We can and do, however, provide information regarding rules and procedures and that is done in a number of ways. We have a page on the county’s website that provides contact information, general legal terms and their definitions, local attorney information, sample forms, what to do to prepare for court, and reasons why you cannot speak to the judge outside of a court hearing.

We have also set up a Facebook page providing the same information.

Of course we are always on the lookout for new information and practices which will help in this regard while being mindful of the restrictions placed on courts. We want the public to be informed but we realize that even in this technologically advanced time, not everyone has access to a computer or the internet. For those people sample forms are available in the clerk’s office.