The two candidates for Muncie’s mayoral election, Republican incumbent Mayor Dan Ridenour and Democrat City Council President Jeff Robinson, met in a forum at Muncie Central High School’s Auditorium.
The main takeaways from the event were ethics, infrastructure, and economy heading into the municipal election November 7.
Ethics an important focus for both candidates
Muncie’s previous mayor, Dennis Tyler, plead guilty to theft of government funds and spent over five months in a federal prison. Ridenour said in his administration, all department heads have attended ethics training, and he is focused on “anything we can do to take the corruption out of our government.”
He said once he started on city council in 2016, he focused on an ordinance that called for an “a second look” for making decisions of “a certain dollar fee” that was voted down on the first reading.
Muncie’s city council created a nine-member ethics advisory committee in April, which Robinson sponsored. According to the resolution, the committee will be given 18 months to recommend a code of ethics to the City of Muncie. Robinson said that growing up in Muncie, the issue of ethics has been prevalent for the several previous administrations.
“We need systems in place that not only oversee elected officials, but also systems in place that can hold appointed department head accountable,” Robinson said.
Infrastructure played a key role in each campaign, but candidates differed on housing
A main question asked of both candidates was on their plans for infrastructure like the upkeep of sidewalks and roads, the accessibility of said pathways, and housing.
Both men stressed the importance of a focus on upkeep of sidewalks and roads, each mentioning their own successes.
For Ridenour, he said that his administration has, in his time, focused on training “our own crew, and they have now been paving across the city.” He claimed that the crew has paved 16 roads and will go on to pave 20 in “in challenged neighborhoods that would get missed.”
He also said the buying of equipment and training of a team allows it to allegedly operate at “60% of the cost of contractors.”
Robinson’s plan proposes using a $25 million revenue bond to put toward the paving of certain streets around Muncie. At the forum, Robinson claimed that “$20 million will go to paving roads.”
Robinson said the city needs “to focus on the roads that every single one of us use.” A goal that he claimed his plan would address.
Another question of the night was accessibility.
During his response, Ridenour claimed his administration has done work to receive a federal grant for 2021-22 that would allow for “226 ADA compliant sidewalk ramps throughout the city.” He also said more money has been budgeted for this year and will be handled by “our own concrete troop crew that we've created.”
Ridenour also said there is more that will be done this year, but “in the middle of paving season is not what you want your concrete crew out working on.”
Robinson, in his response, focused on wheelchair users.
“How can folks using a wheelchair navigate this city?” Robinson said. “That is part of our basic responsibility. And again, this speaks to getting our priorities straight and taking care of the folks who choose to live here right now.”
Housing was a major point where the candidates differed on the root cause of housing issues and their strategies.
Ridenour said education was the way to increase the amount of homeowners. He said his prior work in his earlier careers dealt with the education of homeowners.
“It's not a difficult process, but you have to lead people through it,” Ridenour said. “We started working with the banks to come up with a program that does help with down payments and buying properties off of tax sale or tend to be properties that are in great disrepair…we need to get our foot in is with the first time homebuyers, and education will make it happen.”
For Robinson, he said the root of the problem is the amount of properties that are owned by outside companies and people.
“We need to do, first and foremost, work with the county to streamline and make it better when it comes to tax sales, so we can keep homeownership local,” Robinson said. “But as long as the system is set up that way, these out of town investors will purchase these properties, and they purchased them like a box of goods …which is driving up not only driving up rent costs, but driving down homeownership in our community, and we have to find a way to turn that around.”
Disagreements between the economy strategies
Both Ridenour and Robinson admitted that they disagree on where each other stands on attracting both businesses and residents to Muncie.
Ridenour, who spent three decades in the banking industry, said that Muncie has proven to people that the city is attractive. He said that one of the reasons why he and his wife moved to Muncie was the friendly people and the amenities of the city.
He also said economic development is about “encouraging people to invest now.” He pointed to the establishments of local locations of national chains such as Chipotle, Raising Cane’s and Dunkin' Donuts, saying that he was able to help the former two companies when zoning variance issues came up.
Robinson, in his response, spoke about supporting local businesses. He said the multiplier effect, where 66 cents of every dollar that is spent in a local business stays local, “speaks volumes” when supporting local businesses. He also said focusing on downtown Muncie and providing opportunities for developers should be important as well.
“The demand is there,” Robinson said. “We have to continue down the path that we’ve been down. We need to be laser focused.”
Contact Abigail Denault with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and Grayson Joslin at email@example.com.