HENDERSON, Ky (WEHT) – The elections for Evansville’s City Council are fast approaching, and there are multiple candidates vying for three At-Large seats: Ed Bassemier, Ron Beane, Jonathan Weaver, Mary Allen, Paul Green and Courtney Johnson.
Each candidate was asked a variety of questions from repairs at the Ford Center to utilities to rezoning. Candidates that responded have their responses included.
The Ford Center is only about a decade old, but officials say it already needs millions of dollars in repairs to remain up to date. The current administration says selling streets is one way to pay for it. Do support the upgrades, and what are your thoughts about “selling streets” to pay for municipal projects?
Paul Green – “I do believe it needs upgrades. That facility brings in tournaments and other events, brings people into hotels, stores and restaurants. Without that, you won’t have that revenue coming in. If we don’t do the upgrades, we’re not going to get the tournaments or anything else. They fill hotel rooms; they fill seats in restaurants. They have people shopping in the stores. That is a necessity, something we have to maintain.”
Jonathan Weaver – “Leasing streets was an interesting idea, and I didn’t understand it fully so that’s why I’m not in full support of it. It’s disappointing the Ford Center already needs these upgrades. For a 12-year-old facility, it’s disappointing quality works seems like it hasn’t been there. It’s a destination driver. We get a lot of concerts, great hockey with the Thunderbolts, basketball and basketball tournaments in March. We got to do a better job keeping up with it. It should’ve been budgeted appropriately over the last decade.”
Mary Allen – “It’s difficult to say what I would have done. I don’t quite understand the concept of this creative financing, but I know it is ten years old. We need to be thinking more long term. We’ve got to have a maintenance sustainability plan. We need to know how we’re going to pay for it down the road. We are where we are at this point, and it is an asset we need to have.”
Courtney Johnson – “Personally, I don’t think we should sell streets. I think we should look more into the budget to find out if we can raise money to get the Ford Center together, but I need to see what the budget looks like and then see how many repairs need to be made and how much that adds up to.”
Roberts Park was Mayor Winnecke’s pet project, but his vision never really got off the ground due to pushback and funding concerns from the city council. There is a Master Plan for the area. Would you support spending city funds to move this project forward?
Paul Green – “I’ve seen the plan for the park. There might be some tweaks I would make in terms of what they are going to do, but I would definitely support that. It’s long overdue.”
Jonathan Weaver – “Something has to be done with the area, Hartke has been an eyesore for the past year with the straight-line wind damage, so I was happy to see it open this summer. We just put two new cooling towers in at Swander, so we have to maintain that. Pickleball Courts are going back there. We need a partnership with that, we have 65 parks plus the Greenway and all the other facilities. The location of it needs to be a priority, but, fiscally, it’s just not feasible at this time.”
Mary Allen – “I think we need to do something with it. I’m a huge proponent of green space. However, we need to take care of what we have first. We need to maintain what we have before we finance and do something new. Yes, I want to do something with that place. It has a lot of opportunity, and I will support something when the time is right, but at this point, I would support using our current finances towards our parks and green space to maintaining what we have.”
Courtney Johnson – “I’m not sure what the project is. I know we have been waiting a long time to actually see what was going to come of that. I can’t say yes or no to that. I would have to see if it was something that was beneficial for our community and city, but as of right now, I don’t know what that looks like or what the future plans are.”
Many say the city’s parks are in poor shape. What kind of shape do you believe city parks are in, and what would you do to make them better?
Paul Green – “I think some of the parks are in poor shape, others are not so bad. I did notice traveling though the city and talking to people and seeing the parks, most people take pride in their park. They’ll go out personally and pick up trash and some have even mowed the grass. A lot has to do with taking care of them, but I think parks are important because that brings people together, unites our city, and we need to make sure they are maintained properly.”
Jonathan Weaver – “We lived at Aiken Park for 17 years, and we chronically complained about the trash, the lack of mulch in the park, the grass, the dead trees that were falling down. My wife went before the safety board, practically crying saying we needed speed bumps along Aiken Park because it was an 1100 foot drag way down East Park and Parkside Drive. They denied the speed bumps, but promised striping and more stop signs which two years later still has not been completed. I’m an avid user of the Greenway, disappointed to see the glass on it, the grass not been cut. There was a period in time where it was really bad. It has been improving, but Councilperson Mosby and I put tons of pressure on the administration to get the parks cleaned up. We finally were able to get an extra maintenance crew there, budgeted for 2023, but it’s still not enough. Hopefully in the coming years, we can take care of what we have so we can have nice things. We can’t keep building shiny new things when we can’t keep our current inventory of parks.”
Mary Allen – “I think it varies depending what park you are talking about in what area. I think overall they need some attention and care, and I think it is multi-faceted. I was just at Vann Park Festival and those neighbors were putting in their own mulch, picking up a tree, limbs that have fallen, cleaning up before the event. They were raising money to put in a concert venue structure. Those owners are taking ownership of that center green space in their neighborhood, which they really utilize as a gathering space, and it’s really cool to see. We need sort of that city, community and neighborhood pride where we can work with neighbors to have that ownership in their parks and collaborate with the parks foundation, business partners.”
Courtney Johnson – “There’s a lot of parks in Evansville that are in bad shape. I’ve personally been working over at Vann and Pollack over the past few months, getting that park together. We just went out there two weeks ago and fixed the fences, cleaned up trash. We got that place together, and I was reaching out to individuals in that area and with Young and Established. I believe many of our parks need a lot of work, and that’s been a huge concern for a long time from what I see and hear from residents that live in these areas.”
Each time there is a proposed utility fee increase, some residents say they just cannot afford to pay more. Should the city set aside more funds to help people pay their water & sewer bills? If so, where would you get the money, and what criteria would you use for assistance?
Paul Green – “I would really like to find funds to do that, but I don’t know if there’s grants, or we can set up a fund to help the low-income families that are struggling the most with this. I’m not familiar with the grants at this point to know exactly where would go to get that money, but that is something that needs to be looked at.”
Jonathan Weaver – “We as a council have approved over seven figures with utility bill assistance through ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds. I think the application for that money has been low, so I don’t know why people won’t apply for it if they need help. We have set forth a lot of money to help people in those situations.”
Mary Allen – “I think there are currently funds in place for bill relief. We need to educate our community on how to access and apply for those. I believe our rates are going up. We need to always look into grants. And about the Inflation Reduction Act, potentially working with people on efficiency. Education is key, and I support bill relief as much as we can.”
Courtney Johnson – “I think that would be helpful. I know there’s been a big concern with paying utility bills. I know friends, families, individuals I work with on a day-to-day basis that have struggled and had issues with CenterPoint and water bills. I don’t know what that looks like as far as funds and where we would get the funds from, but I would be open to trying to figure out what we can do to help our families here in Evansville.”
Does the Evansville Police Department have enough tools and resources to properly do its job? If not, what do they need that they don’t have, and what would you do to make sure the EPD (Evansville Police Department) has what it needs to do its job?
Paul Green – “I’m not exactly familiar with what they need in terms of what is in their toolbox, but I would be in favor of getting them what they need to do their job. Public safety is vitally important to quality of place. If you can’t maintain public safety, then the rest of it goes down the drain. It’s not just police, it is fire, code enforcement and all that. We need all the tools to keep the city and citizens safe or our population will continue to decline.”
Jonathan Weaver – “We recently attended the EPD Foundation Ball, and my wife was appalled that not all cars have AEDs, and it took three of them here to revive one of the officers. We have to make sure our cars are running, make sure we have an ample supply of guns, training. They feel like they need a pay raise, the current contract expires Dec. 31. It’s my understanding talks have begun.”
Mary Allen – “I think they do a great job with the resources they currently have. I attended the citizen’s academy, and one thing we did learn was how expensive the equipment is. I do think they need more resources, and it’s a budgeting thing. I’m a huge public safety proponent, and I know we need more officers. They’ve talked about a possible increase pay. We need to have it to be a desirable place to work, taking care of our police and fire and central dispatch, all of those public servants that are serving us. We need to take care of them.”
Courtney Johnson – “I think they don’t have all the resources. I think they have enough to continue what they have been doing as far as community work. I have worked with Chief Bowlen in the past, and we have done what we can to bridge that gap between community and police officers. I think mental health is a huge issue as well in our community, and I think working with our police department to figure out what they need, but also figure out what the community is looking for as far as policing. I think we have done that through our organization, me being executive director of Young and Established, I’ve worked close with the police department to figure out how we can help them but also help the individuals in our communities. I think there’s a lot more we can do together, and I think sitting down with each other to figure out how we can help each other is the go to.”
Some of the most controversial votes a city council representative makes are on rezonings. What criteria will you use in casting zoning votes to make sure the city can progress while making sure the rights of homeowners are protected?
Paul Green – “I think you have to look at more than just the parcel that wants to be rezoned. You would have to look at the whole area. The thing with me would be if it doesn’t cast any negative situation in the area it is in, then I wouldn’t oppose to it. If it is something that doesn’t have an adverse effect, I wouldn’t have a problem.”
Jonathan Weaver – “It is a balancing act, rezonings can be contentious, especially if they are butting up to neighborhoods. I didn’t support the accessory dwelling rezoning because it was a minimum of 400 feet so they can put a structure on the property line and rent it out. It just didn’t make sense because you’re now changing the zoning of the property. Short answer, we want to do the best thing for all parties involved and not upset the homeowners but also increase the tax base by putting the most appropriate structure on the property as possible.”
Mary Allen – “Each one is so individual, all I can say is each time an ordinance or rezoning comes before me, I will seek out who it’s affecting and weigh out the benefits and negative consequences. Listen, be accessible and responsive and make the best decision for our community. We need to progress as a city, but ultimately, we have to take care of the people that live here.”
Courtney Johnson – “Talking to the people to see what we need to do. I think that’s the biggest thing. I know a lot of that hasn’t been done over the years. Actually meeting with individuals and figuring out what it is we need to do to make sure they’re included, that’s very important.”
Are there portions of the city budget you believe need to be cut? If so, what?
Paul Green – “Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t know that. I haven’t had the opportunity to look at it line by line to see what goes where.”
Jonathan Weaver – “We hear complaints all the time about the parks, rats, streets. We got to come up with different funding solutions, so back in 2016-17, councilperson Mosby and I came up with the public safety LOIT (local option income tax). That brought in 6 million more into EPD and EFD. We need to think outside the box like that to bring in more revenue sources.”
Mary Allen – “Being mindful where is a possible cut without losing any possible resources, and without doing what we need to do to progress as a city while looking for new revenue. I can’t stand waste in any way. There are grants, funding, federal, state, that we need to constantly need to be looking for.”
Courtney Johnson – “If elected, that’s something that I would definitely focus on, seeing what needs to be cut. What can be improved.”
What other priorities will you have as a member of City Council and are there any specific issues you hope to address?
Paul Green – “I’m hoping to address public health issues. You have crime, you have drugs and homelessness. I did the 48 hours in the life, and I learned a lot from that. The majority of those people are suffering from mental health. You can get them a job and a place to live though low-income housing, which we need a lot more of, but they don’t have the mental capacity to maintain it. We don’t have the facilities for it, I know they recently put some money towards that, and that’s great, very much appreciated, but there’s more that needs to be done. This issue, like all the other issues that we face every day, is 90% of them require more funding, and we have to find the revenue to do that. To find the revenue to do that, we’ve got to be able to bring in new businesses. We have to make it palpable for them to want to be there, and we have existing businesses. We have to create or revamp ordinances to make it where they can expand. There’s a lot of things in the books I’m sure are there for a certain reason, but they are not that friendly to business development. There are things we can do and change in the ordinances that makes it easier for businesses to start up here and expand here, and I think once we do that, then we can create more revenue for things to address public safety and mental health issues and stuff the police and firefighters and other departments need to do their jobs.”
Jonathan Weaver – “Downtown is a nightmare, it’s a mess. Every other block is closed, traffic lights aren’t adjusted. It seems like every other intersection. Main Street is dug up, we got that vacant land in the middle of downtown. We’re excited about what the future brings, but right now, it’s not attractive. We’re hoping for better streets, better sidewalks, cleaned up parks, a happy police force, public safety, those are the priorities going into my fourth term.”
Mary Allen – “Accessible, fair, honest and transparent. That is what I can commit, those are the things I’m going to filter every decision through. The reason I ran for office is when they were reading over the 17 sustainable development goals at a Veteran’s for Peace rally, and those goals reduce poverty, reduce hunger, solid infrastructure, quality education, sustainable initiatives, good health and well-being, our health and well-being statistics in Evansville are so poor. When they were being read, that was why I wanted to be on city council. I want to be in a place where I can make decisions where these goals can become a reality for our community. Does this get us closer to these end things? Safe and connected communities, I’ve always been a strong neighborhood advocate and mental health. I’ve been a mental health advocate for years. Reducing barriers to good health and well-being, physical and mental, whether that is access to mental health resources or good food because 20% of our population is food insecure. Parks are again a priority of mine plus jobs and economic growth. We’ve got to reduce barriers for small business and big business, and we need to bring more people to our community.”
Courtney Johnson – “This is what I have focused on since moving back to Evansville, started doing this work at 22 years old, giving back to this community, figuring out ways to better this community. Build better relationships, figure out how to bring resources to certain areas, I do talk about Young and Established a lot, but that’s just one piece of it. A huge issue has been food security, and I know with COVID, it exposed a lot. I was out every single day making families had food and had the resources to make sure nobody went to sleep starving. I also think mental health is a big issue. We had several different programs in place, but I don’t think that’s enough. And of course, our youth, providing resources, safe havens for our kids and that affects crime and a lot of things in Evansville, and I think I have been doing that work for over a decade, and I’m looking forward to continuing to do that work if elected. I want to make a difference.”
Multiple attempts to reach Ed Bassemier and Ron Beane by Eyewitness News were unsuccessful.