Jail overcrowding, the impacts of the county’s continued growth and the nationwide opioid crisis top the list of key issues for two candidates for county commissioner.
Incumbent Kevin Walls is facing a challenge from political newcomer Matthew Adams in the primary election.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination for the District 2 commissioner seat is not facing a challenger in the fall election so far.
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The seat on the three-member board of commissioners represents Union, Franklin and Needham townships, but all voters can cast a ballot for commissioner. County commissioners oversee county employees and the day-to-day operations of the county. Commissioners are responsible for approving new county rules, such as if the county were to consider a countywide smoking ban, and also oversees road projects and new developments.
Both Walls and Adams touted their business experience as a key reason why they should be elected.
Walls, who was elected commissioner in 2014, said he has used his entrepreneurial skills as president of his own contracting and construction companies in his work as commissioner during his first term, and would continue to do so.
Adams, who currently works as the general manager of the RV division for Just Add Water Boats and previously owned two businesses, said he would use his experience in growing business, managing employees and paperwork and budgeting as commissioner.
Jail overcrowding was a key issue for both candidates, who said something needs to be done to address the issue, with the jail being repeatedly over capacity for months.
Adams said he wasn’t sure why the problem hadn’t been addressed in the last several years since voters turned down a referendum for a $23 million expansion to the jail in 2010. Once that option was turned down, it appears the issue was dropped, and Adams said he would want to work with multiple local officials, including the sheriff and judges to come up with the best plan.
“No one wants to give prisoners a meal, or a bed, and it’s hard to get a community to spend $23 million,” he said.
Multiple options have been discussed, including expanding the community corrections program or using the juvenile detention center to house inmates, but those options have drawbacks and may not offer a long-term solution, Adams said.
Adams wants to know more about what options are being discussed and how they could be paid for, and then he would want to work to get public buy-in for whatever the county plans to move forward with, he said.
As commissioner, Walls has been on the committee of local officials that is working to come up with a solution for the overcrowding issue. They have been meeting for the last six to seven months, and Walls helped pull that group together, including judges, the sheriff and county council members, he said. The group has also been spending time talking about how to pay for an expansion, and is looking at multiple potential options, Walls said.
One big focus so far has been to disprove ideas that have long been discussed, which included the idea to use the juvenile detention center, he said.
“We’ve been ruling out options. That’s a great theory or idea, but let’s get into the weeds,” he said.
The jail has to be expanded, and with that, the county also needs to be able to add more programs to help inmates struggling with mental health and addiction issues, he said. That has to be a part of the conversation, Walls said.
Those issues are also impacting the whole county, not just the jail, and that should be something he as commissioner would focus on addressing, he said.
The county has increased the amount of hours a psychiatrist is working with offenders, but more is needed, he said.
“Not just one person will solve this, you need a team,” Walls said.
Growth is also a key issue that will need to be addressed, especially with Interstate 69 coming to the current path of State Road 37 through northwest Johnson County, Walls said.
County officials have been discussing what will be needed to prepare for the future interstate, and also working with officials in Bargersville. Through studies on thoroughfares and land use and public input, they are hoping to develop a 20-year plan for what will need to be done in that area, he said.
Roads are also a key issue for Adams, and he wants to be sure the county’s infrastructure is in good shape, he said.
And while many roads are in good shape, plenty of others are not, and they need repairs, he said. He pointed to roads that were damaged in the 2008 flood, including bridges, and said he wants to be sure any repairs that were needed were made, he said.
He also wants to be sure the county is doing all it can to retain employees, he said.
The county doesn’t pay its employees the highest amount, when compared with other communities, and benefits have changed in recent years, he said.
He wants to be sure the county is doing its best to take care of its employees.
“It’s expensive to train people, I’d like to keep them,” he said.
Johnson County Commissioner, District 2
Represents: Union, Franklin and Needham townships, but all voters can cast a ballot for commissioner
Term: 4 years
Duties: Oversees county employees, including policies and benefits. Approves county rules, such as if the county approved a smoking ban. Oversees county projects, such as road work.
Name: Kevin Walls
Residence: Union Township
Family: Wife, Kimberly; three children, Kyle, Kelsey and Katie; three grandchildren
Occupation: President of Construction Contractors Inc. and PFW
Educational background: Graduated from Center Grove High School, attended IUPUI, four years of trade school
Political experience: Served as county commissioner since 2015
Memberships: Johnson County Beef Cattle Association, 4-H Council, Johnson County Community Foundation mural board, served as liaison when planning changes to Franklin schools, member of Fair Haven Christian Church
Name: Matthew Adams
Family: Wife, Beth; three children
Occupation: General Manager of RV Division for Just Add Water Boats
Graduated from Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, attended IUPUI for construction technology and mechanical engineering, graduated from Vincennes University with sssociates in Applied Science and Airframe and Powerplant Certificate, Private Pilot Certificate
Political experience: None
Here are some more questions and answers from the candidates for County Commissioner District 2:
Q: In what specific departments does the county need more employees? How would any added positions be paid for?
Adams: Doesn’t know the current employee count to know where they are needed. Would like to review how efficient employees are in their job and then streamline. Wants to give employees what they need to get the job done, but if they can’t, then maybe that isn’t the job for them.
Walls: Would like to have more employees in law enforcement. But the funding is a big question, which is something the county council would decide.
Q: The county has also been discussing a new facility for community corrections, that would provide more space for offenders and for classes and other programs. Is that project a priority? How would that be paid for?
Adams: Is not necessarily a priority yet. Wants to be sure the county is compliant with regulations. There are good programs out there he would like to see offenders get into so they can get help and not be criminals anymore.
Walls: That was the first priority before the jail, but that had to be shuffled due to the overcrowding at the jail and the order from the state that it has to be addressed. Community corrections is still being discussed and he has had talks with the director, but there is only so much money and the first issue has to be the jail.
Q: Commissioners have debated a countywide smoking ban, which would impact bars and restaurants in the unincorporated areas of the county, multiple times in recent years. Do you support a ban? Why or why not? If elected, would you propose this issue to be voted upon again?
Adams: Does not support a ban with more restrictions than are currently in place. Played music for 22 years in bars and does see a decline in business. Would want to talk to owners about any issues they see. If it is an issue for them, it should be discussed. If not, he doesn’t see an issue with it.
Walls: Looks at it from a business standpoint; how much has business increased where smoking is banned? He would personally love to see a ban, but doesn’t want to infringe on business’ personal rights. He also would want to know who would enforce a ban in the unincorporated area.