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Gordon, Frank talk of mayor's job

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By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

If local voters are expecting a bloody election battle as the city elects a mayor, they will be probably disappointed.

A Republican and a Democrat both want to be mayor but neither intends to say bad things about the other. Still, there are differences in the candidates and each believes he would be the better chief executive for Connersville city government.

Voting begins Tuesday in Indiana municipal elections. Here, voters in the city of Connersville and in the Fayette County side of Glenwood can cast ballots from Oct. 8 to Nov. 4 at the Fayette County Courthouse or vote on what used to be called election day, Nov. 5.

The current mayor, Harold Gordon, wants to be re-elected. Chad Frank, the City Council president, is running for the same job.

“Neither one of us is working to make the city worse,” Gordon, a Democrat, said on Thursday. “We may have different routes to get there but we both want what is best for the city.”

Frank, the Republican candidate, has consistently said he is not going to be critical of Gordon. He does have different views on mayoral procedures and priorities, he said on Wednesday.

Gordon, 71, spent most of his working life toiling for the city, 32 years in a variety of jobs, mostly in water treatment and sewer. For 20 of those years, he also served on the City Council. Prior to working for the city, he held jobs at some local factories and served in the U.S. Air Force.

Frank, 45, said he is an entrepreneur, investing in startup businesses that he has managed and sold off, ranging from mom-and-pop operations to multimillion dollar companies. He recently started C.A. Frank Realty.

“I love taking an idea, a business idea, especially one that everyone says you can’t do, building a model and then doing it,” Frank said.

Much of his work took him to an out-of-town office and traveling to other locations. He decided several years ago that he wanted to spend more time closer to home and family. He wanted to be involved in community leadership and decided to run for City Council four years ago. He is completing his first term on council, serving this year as its president.

Gordon and Frank agree that serving on council doesn’t prepare a person to be the mayor.

Gordon has said that he was completely overwhelmed on his first day in office. People looked at him to make decisions. “Everybody is looking to you for leadership,” he said.

He began asking other mayors how they handle things in their cities. And he relied on good leadership from other city officials, especially city clerk-treasurer Rosemary Brown’s expertise in managing the city’s money.

For Frank, the realization of what the council actually does convinced him that he could do more for the city as its chief executive.

“All we (the council) are is financial and legislative, no implementation,” Frank said. “We implement something financial in hopes of seeing a certain thing happen and then it doesn’t happen that way. So, I can either gripe about it and do nothing, or run for mayor. I felt like the skills I have and the way I network would be better suited for mayor.”

Gordon recognizes the personality and style differences between the two men. He acknowledges that some people are critical of him for he smiling and joking too much. But he says he knows there is a negative image of Connersville and he wants to counter that by focusing on the positive. He also didn’t want being mayor to interfere with good relationships he has with the people he worked with in city operations. Still, he realizes he has to make decisions and that others might not like some of them.

“I’m willing to listen and work with people, with anybody,” he said. He has, over his term as mayor, replaced people on boards when he believed a board would function better with someone else. He also is pleased that he still has good relations with city workers.

Frank said one of his first tasks if elected mayor would be to have one-on-one meetings with everybody who works for the city. “I want to get to know you and I want you to know Chad,” he said. “Sometimes the employee on the very bottom has the best ideas. They do care about the city and about their job.”

He said every job in the city should be merit-based, requiring specific skill sets and training, along with tests for promotion.

He also wants to utilize conflict mediation to resolve issues. That is different from arbitration, he said, which often involves attorneys.

“When we have a problem, let’s resolve it through mediation,” Frank said. “It’s a collaboration, where we both agree on a solution and go forward.” 

Frank puts forward these points in his campaign.

n Insurance: He believes that going to a partial self-funded health insurance plan would provide better coverage to city employees at a lower cost to the city. A management firm would take care of administration.

n Restructuring: It begins with choosing the right department heads, he said. “I’m not an expert on fire, police, EMS, but I do know some about streets and parks. But I’m looking for certain character traits. Once I find that, they establish goals and hold them accountable; be more effective and more efficient.”

n Mediation: “99 percent of our problems could be solved with mediation.”

n Housing: He wants to pull together builders and bankers and develop a program to make homebuilding attractive. He talked of offering tax abatements for home owners who do major remodeling and clean up. Eventually, that would drive up tax values, he said.

n Mentoring: He believes young kids need to have a better feeling toward police. In some cases, the only time children have seen police is when they come to the house and arrest the parents, often in drug cases. “I don’t know how I am going to do this,” he said, “but we have to stop having this wedge between kids and police, so kids know them and when they see them haul off Mom and Dad, know that he’s a really good guy.”

For his part, Gordon talks of accomplishments. He sees Connersville on a rebound, noting that he was able to end a financial emergency that had been declared before he took office. It took a lot of skimping and saving to do that but was important. What business would want to locate in a town under a financial emergency, he asks.

n Vacant factory buildings are being used again, including Wayzata in the former Visteon building, Stant using part of D&M, East Terra Plastics, and others.

n He’s been working with the Indiana Department of Transportation on making improvements to local highways. INDOT is considering whether to put a sidewalk out to Walmart and some changes along 30th Street and Park Road. INDOT won’t be making decisions on those until late November, he said.

n He’s happy that the Whitewater Trade Center along Park Road is getting new occupants, and that the buildings along Park Road are being occupied again.

n He also has a long list of specific accomplishments. Among them is the reactivation of Connersville Main Street as Discover Connersville, which focuses on downtown development. He’s proud to have started a new Connersville Festival Committee, which has developed and works on several city events.

n The Redevelopment Commission has been revitalized, he said, allowing the city to purchase two lots that will be downtown green spaces. One is The Oasis, developed in a partnership with Discover Connersville.

n He points to having made a special effort to get younger people involved in the city, appointing many to various committees and boards.

n There’s also been new LED lighting installed on 5th Street from Eastern Avenue to Vine Street. City buildings are being upgraded with solar lighting, expected to save energy and money.

n His administration has changed the city’s paving program, putting major emphasis on one area at a time rather than on a piecemeal basis.

n There have been upgrades and updates to facilities at Roberts Park.

n The wastewater plant and lift stations are being upgraded to operate more efficiently and keep rates down.

n Traffic lights along 8th Street at West Western, Western and Grand avenues have been re-timed, at a cost of about $20,000, for better traffic flow.

n The city has been able to purchase new vehicles for police, fire and EMS, something it had not been able to do under the financial emergency. EMS has moved to a better building on Park Road.