Whiteland is a town in transition.
Nearly surrounded by farmland on all sides, it is still a small community with an agricultural heritage. But development is reaching the town, and its location about 20 miles south of downtown Indianapolis and off Interstate 65 could make it attractive to businesses.
Dealing with those changes will fall on the Whiteland Town Council, and how to do that best is the focus of the candidates vying for seats on the council this year.
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Voters in Ward 2 will choose between Republican incumbent Chris Hadley and newcomer James Klenner, and residents throughout the town will pick two at-large candidates from three Republican candidates: Scot Ford and incumbents Bob Zehr and Kent Beeson. Those elected in the fall will serve four-year terms, voting on annexations, regulations and other ordinances, and approving town budgets.
Growth and the future of the town are key issue in both races.
Whiteland has developed its own assets, and its location makes it prime for growth, said Hadley, who has been the town council representative in Ward 2 since 2007. Hadley sees annexation as a possible engine for expansion and would support exploring new areas to add into the city.
He would like to help attract new business opportunities to the town by improving infrastructure, such as streets and sewer improvements.
Klenner was motivated to run for his first term on the town council because of Whiteland’s debt load, he said. He has been attending council meetings for the past year, and has been startled as more debt has been added, he said.
Klenner would use his role on the council to stop borrowing money for projects that may be unnecessary and find ways to make existing spending more efficient, he said.
“We’re in trouble. There’s no other way to put it,” Klenner said. “If you look at the debt load coming up through 2025, it’s amazing how that has built up and there are no alarm bells going off. Being a taxpayer, I want to be in a more proactive role.”
Ford, a town board member, is challenging two current council members for one of the two at-large seats, and debt is one of his top concerns.
Ford has served in the past on Whiteland’s plan commission, the board of zoning appeals, the redevelopment commission and the Whiteland Comprehensive Plan Committee.
“If you look at my combined service on those three, I have 35 to 40 years total of experience. I know how those boards work, and I understand them,” Ford said.
Ford’s top priority, if elected, is to help pay the $6 million debt that Whiteland has accumulated, while also working to improve infrastructure, such as roads and utility service. The sewer system needs an upgrade, and inefficiencies in the system had contributed to increasing water and sewer rates for residents. The town must also attract more retail businesses and industry to help offset the high water and sewer costs through tax revenue, he said.
Zehr was elected to the town council in 2011, and believes he offers a unique perspective on what Whiteland is and what it can be because he isn’t originally from the area.
He wants to focus on making Whiteland more friendly for development. He had supported the construction of a 248-home development in the town, even though it allowed smaller lots than previously, a concern raised by residents. He was the only member of the town council to vote for it, and the development fell apart after the vote. His goal in seeking a second term is to change mindsets and make the town more welcome for development.
“Whiteland is not growing, and we have the opportunity with the annexation out near the interstate to grow,” Zehr said. “There some narrow-minded people here who don’t want to see Whiteland grow.”
Beeson, who is pursuing a second term, wants to attract more controlled growth, with new industry and new residents that can help raise the tax base. He emphasized the importance of guidelines and rules to bring in new developments that fit the town. He was against the proposed development in 2013, saying at the time that allowing such a large development wouldn’t blend in with the rest of the town.
He was elected to the council in 2011. With a lifelong perspective of the town, he believes he is better equipped to help it prepare for the future.
“I’ve seen the town go from the smaller town to the bigger town, and I try to bring some knowledge of the past mistakes that have been made,” Beeson said.
Position: Whiteland Town Council member
Salary: $4,000 per year
Term: Four years
Duties: Approve town budget; review and approve ordinances, including annexations and regulations
Name: Scot Ford
Occupation: Business development manager for Your Automatic Door Company; adjunct professor of U.S. history at Ivy Tech Community College; retired vice president of the Indiana Manufacturers Association
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ball State University; graduated in 1971 from Whiteland Community High School
Past political experience: Member of the Johnson County Beverage Board; past member of the Whiteland Plan Commission, Whiteland Board of Zoning Appeals and Whiteland Redevelopment Commission, serving as president on each one.
Other affiliations: Member of Masonic Lodge Jubilee No. 746, Indianapolis Valley Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Murat Shrine, American Motorcyclists Association, Harley Owners Group and National Rifle Association
Name: Kent Beeson
Family: Wife Leslie; children Kaden, 7, Keelan, 3, and Kelton, 9 months
Occupation: Owner-operator of Beeson Mechanical Service
Education: Purdue University, IUPUI campus; 1998 graduate from Whiteland Community High School
Past political experience: Served on town council since 2012
Other affiliations: None
Name: Robert “Bob” Zehr
Family: Wife Becky; five children
Occupation: Manager at Chili’s
Past political experience: Served on Whiteland Town Council from 2012 to present, including serving as president
Other affiliations: None
Name: James Klenner
Family: Wife Lisa Marie; children Taylor, 14, Nicholas, 12, and Thomas “TJ”, 9.
Occupation: Biological safety manager at IUPUI; professor of biology at IUPUC.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, master’s degrees from University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University
Past political experience: None
Name: Christopher Hadley
Family: Wife Angela; child Dawson, 12
Occupation: Rail traffic controller for CSX
Education: 1993 graduate of Center Grove High School
Past political experience: Whiteland Town Council from 2007 to present
Other affiliations: Vice president of financial operations for Greater Whiteland Baseball; assistant division director for Whiteland Warrior Junior Football
Later this week, we will bring you more information about next week’s election, including what’s on the ballot, where you can vote and what you will need to bring with you to vote.