John Asher, Jessica Burnside and Margaret Sheets

Five candidates are vying for three seats on the Pleasant Township Board for the Nov. 8 general election.

Republican incumbents Ron McCoy and Thomas Whitaker are up for reelection, while former board member John Asher, a Republican, is seeking a seat again. Democratic newcomer Jessica Burnside is seeking her first elected office, and Democrat Margaret Sheets is seeking her first elected position in Johnson County.

The Daily Journal asked the candidates questions about their experience and their goals for the township. McCoy and Whitaker did not return questionnaires before deadline.

With editing for grammar, formatting and length, here’s what Asher, Burnside and Sheets said:

What drew you to run for this office?

Asher: (I’ve) always been a volunteer fireman (and) reserve deputy for many years. (It’s) just a way to give back to the community.

Burnside: At every level of government, we need to be holding officials accountable and making sure that they’re serving their residents and taxpayers. Pleasant Township has been held by officials who’ve become complacent about fulfilling their duties.

Sheets: I’m fairly new to this community and did not think I had a grasp of the workings of this community to run for other positions. Diversity is what makes our country so great and Johnson County can benefit from having Republican, Democrat and Independent elected officials working together. I’m a bit of a news junkie and was so impressed with the elected officials in Ukraine and their dedication to their freedom and country. It made me realize that Americans need to step up and take on the duties of an elected position, even a local position. We all need to serve our country and community in big and small ways.

What qualifications do you have for this office?

Asher: (I’m a) former deputy sheriff; 911 director. (I’m a) firefighter; always been a public servant.

Burnside: Having a family-owned business and my history in accounting has given me a variety of experiences in seeing how organizations run and succeed. Government should not run like a business — success is not measured by profit, but taxpayers should still expect elected officials to provide valuable service for their cost.

Sheets: I was elected to the Clinton County Contractual Library Board for two terms several years ago. I learned about the process of setting and approving budgets, updating facilities, listening to patrons and their concerns, volunteering for fundraising events, and developing five-year vision plans for the library and services.

What, to you, are the most important duties of this office?

Asher: Serving the less fortunate and (doing) what’s right for the township people.

Burnside: The primary duty of the board is to provide assistance and oversight to the trustee, and the primary duty of the trustee is poor relief. We all fare better when our neighbors have their basic needs met.

Sheets: “A Township Advisory Board member, although exercising a legislative role, exercises certain powers of the state in ensuring that budgets are reviewed and set, and that the Township Executive has the money necessary to run the political subdivision.” Indiana Code § 36-6-6-1 et seq.

What are the most pressing issues facing Pleasant Township, if there are any?

Asher: Declined to answer.

Burnside: Managing the growth of the township and making sure that we grow with the residents’ best interests in mind — with affordable housing, quality jobs, good schools and healthy recreation — is a priority for Pleasant Township. The township has many businesses with tax abatements, and we need to make sure that those businesses are holding up their end of the bargain.

Sheets: We need to ensure that Pleasant township citizens are served fairly. I’d like to see a website established so citizens can easily find the financial resources that they need. As a school counselor, I understand those helpful organizations are often funded by grants and appear and disappear depending on funding. It’s a challenge to keep that information accurate and up-to-date. Coordination between the township trustee and non-profits would be beneficial to the citizens of Pleasant Township.

What are your top three priorities and how will you execute those?

Asher: Serving the senior citizens with transportation, assisting the less fortunate and keeping public safety and assisting when we can.

Burnside: Firstly, the trustee’s primary duty is poor relief, and last year the Pleasant Township Trustee paid less than 1% of its revenue to people who find themselves on hard times. Accountability from the board is job number one. Secondly, we need to do a better job of informing residents about township services. A website would let people know what the trustee does, how to apply for assistance, what documents they’d need, and how the public can use their room in the trustee’s office. Thirdly, Franklin, Union and Needham townships merged transformer-style into a super township earlier this year. We need to look at their example and see if merging townships would increase efficiency and eliminate waste for townships in northern Johnson County.

Sheets: First, approve adequate budgets submitted by the trustee. Second, work to have the resources available for clients. Third, eliminate red tape for clients.

Do you think people are aware of township services? Do you have any ideas to raise awareness?

Asher: Not as many as you think are.

Burnside: In the past year, the trustee spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to renovate and remodel the township office including a public room that residents can use. Let’s ask the residents — did you know that the trustee’s office has this space available to you? It’s 2022 and we don’t have a township website outlining the services provided by the trustee or how to apply for assistance. The very least we could do is have a website that provides basic information.

Sheets: I don’t believe that many who need township services know how to get the services. We need to develop better lines of communication between clients and the trustee’s office by being more visible in the community. Openness and transparency are paramount.

What else would you like to say to voters?

Asher: Declined to answer.

Burnside: Last year, the trustee paid himself a full-time salary and paid a part-time caseworker and clerk, in addition to small roles for the board and a deputy trustee. Total payroll for the township was over $80,000, but for all of 2021, the trustee only paid out $1,082 in direct township assistance to residents. He assisted just two households, paying for one electric bill and one cremation. Pleasant Township helped fewer people last year than they have on payroll. The bottom line is we need to elect officials who care about doing their jobs and providing good service for residents.

Sheets: I learned as a teacher how important it is to be fair to every student and I try my best to treat all with dignity. I believe in working hard and playing hard. If elected to the advisory board I will fulfill those duties to the best of my ability.