Upcoming voter forum to give voters, candidates chance to listen

Voters will get the chance to tell candidates and elected officials in Johnson County about what they think are the most pressing issues facing the area at a forum planned this month.

Several organizations in the county came together to host a county-wide nonpartisan voter forum on Oct. 19, where citizens, candidates on the ballot this November and local elected officials are invited to engage in discussions to learn about issues facing the area.

The event is sponsored by the Bridges Alliance of Johnson County, Daily Journal, League of Women Voters of Johnson County, Franklin College Department of Political Science, Home Bank and Horizon Bank.

All candidates from all political parties appearing on the ballot this fall were invited, from candidates for the U.S. Senate to local school boards.

The concept of the event is described as a “reverse” forum, where voters and community members can talk about issues they care most about, and the candidates will be there to listen.

“The idea is, we want the candidates to hear from the people and understand what those issues are and how people are impacted by those issues,” said Jody Veldkamp, who is serving as emcee at the forum. “We’re inviting candidates to listen to people, rather than people listening to the candidates.”

Veldkamp will be the host for the evening at forum, leading and moderating discussion. Veldkamp has a background in radio, TV and communications and he is currently the marketing and communications manager for Johnson County Public Library.

The first part of the forum will include a panel of four to five speakers from around the community, including people involved in education and people who serve under-resourced families in Johnson County, said Amanda Ott, of Bridges Alliance.

These speakers will talk about their own experiences, and will likely bring up topics such as broadband access, affordable housing and transportation.

“The big issues in the county, you can ask anyone, it’s housing and transportation are the two key things, and also communication with elected officials,” Veldkamp said.

The next part of the forum will be discussion, where voters can bring up issues they are concerned about, and candidates will also have an opportunity to engage in the discussion. The forum will end with a candidate meet and greet.

This forum is the first of its kind in the county, and it was formed out of an idea from Bridges Alliance. The organization wanted to find a way to get citizens engaged with government and also allow candidates to meet their voters and hear their concerns, and hear different points of view, Ott said.

Once the idea came more to fruition, Bridges Alliance reached out to other organizations that share the same goals of educating voters and encouraging citizen participation.

“The idea was we create sort of a friendly community environment, where people could really listen, and people could really speak about different issues,” Ott said.

So far, 16 candidates and elected officials — Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and nonpartisan school board members — have confirmed they will be attending the forum. Ott expects more to RSVP before Oct. 19.

Ott and Veldkamp don’t have set expectations for how they hope the forum will go, but they hope both voters and candidates can learn from it. They hope voters, if they take away anything, will learn they have a voice in the community.

“I think that many times people think they don’t have a voice,” Veldkamp said. “I want people to recognize that they have a voice and that elected officials do listen.”

He added he hopes candidates also see there are issues in the community that people want to be addressed.

“It’s always better when real people, the people who are voting, the people who live here, talk about those issues. That really brings it home to the candidates,” Veldkamp said.

A goal of the voter forum is to increase voter participation and better inform voters about the names they see on the ballot when they go to the polls. Johnson County has a regularly low voter turnout rate, ranging from below 25% to 40%, most years.

“If we can get even three or four, or one more person interested in voting in Johnson County, because of our voter form, I will call it a success,” Ott said.

The voter forum will be held at the Schrader Center at Grace United Methodist Church, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., with an optional dinner at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Candidates attending (as of Oct. 7):

Pamela Burton  Republican for Johnson County Council District 1, current county auditor

Lydia Wales  Republican FUN Township Trustee

Bryan Muñoz  Democrat for Indiana Senate District 41

Bob Pribush  Democrat for White River Township Board

Dawn Barr  Republican for FUN Township Board, Union Township

Michelle Waugh Dahl  Democrat for FUN Township Board, Franklin Township

Jeannie Barnett  Republican for FUN Township Board, Franklin Township

Jessica Burnside  Democrat for Pleasant Township Board

Suzanne Fortenberry  Democrat for White River Township Trustee

David Pollard  Republican for White River Township Board

Jeff Maurer  Libertarian for Indiana Secretary of State

Gary Robinson  Center Grove School Board

Doug Bohall  Center Grove School Board

Beatrice Dunn  Clark-Pleasant School Board, Pleasant Township

Linda Polesel  Clark-Pleasant School Board, Clark Township

Ron Deer  Republican Johnson County Council member, not up for reelection this year