The deciding votes

The next mayor of Franklin is on a mission to get the support of at least 12 people.

That’s because when a mayor or other elected official resigns mid-term, state law and local political party rules outline a process for precinct committee members of that party to select a replacement in a caucus. When Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness, a Republican, resigned to lead the Indiana Department of Transportation, the county party leaders began organizing a caucus of city precinct committee members to pick his replacement.

Now, a group of 22 people will be in charge of selecting who will lead Franklin for the next three years, overseeing 173 employees, a budget of more than $20 million and ultimately being responsible for public safety, street repairs, parks and recreation and the city’s sewer system.

The city is divided into 22 precincts, each with a Republican precinct committee member and a vice committee member. The next mayor needs to get a simple majority of the votes, which is half plus one. If all 22 members or the vice committee member attends to vote as a proxy, the next mayor needs 12 votes to win.

You can’t say the decision on who should get the job as the city’s top executive is being made by Franklin residents — because some of the precinct committee members live outside the city. Many of them have the position because they volunteered, were elected or were recruited to the post. In Franklin, the majority of the precinct committee members who will be selecting the next mayor were appointed to their positions by Johnson County Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Boyce after no one filed for the office.

Nine of the 22 precinct committee members were elected by the voters who live in their precinct. The rest are appointed and live in Johnson County.

On the list of people who can vote: Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox, the former mayor’s wife, Anne McGuinness, the former mayor’s former assistant, a Franklin police officer, a city council member and a former city council member. Two other sheriff’s deputies, two local attorneys and a member of the Johnson County Council are also Franklin precinct committee members.

Generally, precinct committee members fly under the radar. Their jobs were first established by the state to register voters in their neighborhoods and rally support for their political parties. When county-wide voting took place at more than 130 neighborhood precinct polling places, they organized election workers and brought in the food for the day. That work has evolved as election technology has changed and the county moved to vote centers.

But when an elected official resigns or dies in office, precinct committee members are called to action, Boyce said.

In 2005, when Mayor Norman P. Blankenship Jr. died in office, 14 Republicans selected then-Johnson County Auditor Brenda Jones-Matthews to finish the remainder of his term. Franklin city council members have also been selected by caucus.

This time, so far, two residents want the mayor’s job: longtime Franklin City Council member Steve Barnett and former longtime clerk-treasurer Janet Alexander. Much has been going on behind the scenes, with residents and community leaders contacting precinct committee members to try to gain support for each candidate.

Both candidates are campaigning on a micro-level to get the votes needed to snag the $80,000-per-year city executive job through the end of 2019. Barnett and Alexander have each called precinct committee members, written letters and, in some cases, conducted meetings.

Alexander has made herself available to explain who she is and what she wants to accomplish, and her ability to oversee construction projects and her other skills. Resident Charles “Bill” Harmening sent a letter to the precinct committee members in support of Alexander because he has known her and her family for years, and through church activities.

“I think Janet would make an excellent mayor,” Harmening said. “She’s got the right attitude, she listens to people, she is very detailed, she is very dedicated, and I think she would make a great mayor.”

He was disappointed to learn that the residents of Franklin don’t get to pick the mayor in a city-wide election, and he thinks Alexander would win in that scenario.

Barnett said that he, too, had heard from residents who are bothered that the law calls for a caucus, rather than a city-wide election, to select the next mayor.

“Some people are disturbed by that, but they (precinct committee members) are involved, and I trust their judgment,” Barnett said. “It’s a big decision for them, one of the biggest decisions for Franklin in decades.”

He, too, has contacted all the precinct committee members, sent letters and met them face to face. Residents have offered to make calls or send letters on his behalf, and he has accepted their help, with some limits.

“There’s only so much you can do,” Barnett said. Selling himself personally is the best way to gather support, and he doesn’t want the precinct committee members to feel badgered by hearing from his supporters relentlessly.

John Shafer, the director of the Franklin College Counseling Center and a member of the city’s park board and police merit board, pledged his support to Barnett and offered to help. He called the precinct committee members he knows personally to explain why he thinks Barnett is the best candidate, Shafer said.

As a city council member, Barnett has attended all of the city’s park board meetings to keep informed on the issues and details, and he is engaging, listens and has a proven record as a successful businessman, all important qualities for the next mayor, Shafer said.

“I believe that Steve would make a tremendous mayor,” Shafer said.

The decision will be made at the Republican Party’s caucus, set for 7 p.m. Monday. The event is open to the public. The winner will be immediately sworn in.

Generally, during a Republican Party caucus, the candidates each get three minutes to give comments, then secret ballot voting will begin, Boyce said. In the event of a tie, the candidates and any supporters they bring can start working the room, trying to convince more precinct committee members to vote for him or her, she said.

In some cases, state law says that the county’s Republican Party chairperson could cast a tie-breaking vote, but that’s a task Boyce doesn’t want.

If more candidates come forward by the 7 p.m. Friday deadline, the caucus members may have to take several votes to narrow the number of candidates until one of them is able to get a majority, Boyce said.

If Barnett wins, the party leaders will begin organizing another caucus to fill his position on the city council.

At a glance

Who gets to pick the next Franklin mayor?

These 22 people serve as Franklin precinct committee members and will get to select the next mayor in a caucus on Monday.

John White

Doug Cox

Ted Murphy

Eric Fredbeck

Danny Richards

James Martin

William Pfifer

Pam Ault

Kirby Cochran

Richard Midkiff

Angie Longtin

Steve Hinkle

Keith Fox

Anne McGuinness

Robert Henderson

Dustin Huddleston

Charlotte Sullivan

Rob Seet

Kyle Kasting

Sarah Kegerreis

Amanda Sievertson

At a glance

The candidates

Two residents want to be the next Franklin mayor. They are:

Steve Barnett, a longtime member of the Franklin City Council

Janet Alexander, the former longtime clerk-treasurer

Deadline

Residents who want to be mayor must apply in writing by 7 p.m. Friday to Johnson County Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Boyce at 845 Richart Lane, Greenwood, IN, 46142.

At issue

Where they stand

The Daily Journal has interviewed the candidates for Franklin mayor on a variety of issues, such as funding priorities, future roadwork and job attraction and retention.

Learn where the candidates stand on these issues and more.

Coming this week

If you go

Republican Party Caucus

Franklin’s Republican Party precinct committee members will conduct a caucus to select the city’s next mayor.

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Franklin City Hall, 70 E. Monroe St.

The event is open to the public.

At a glance

Other caucuses

Here are some examples of other caucuses to select elected officials in recent Johnson County history:

2005: Brenda Jones-Matthews selected in a Republican Party caucus as Franklin mayor after the death of Norman P. Blankenship Jr.

2006: Tom Kite chosen as a Johnson County commissioner after the death of Jim Rhoades.

2012: Ron West took office as a county commissioner before his term was set to begin when he was picked in a caucus. Commissioner John Price had resigned the post because he was elected as a state representative.

2015: David Lekse was chosen for a seat on the Greenwood City Council after Thom Hord resigned.

Author photo
Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mholtkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2774.