Democrats running for Johnson County Council share thoughts on roads, HR, mental health

Michael Chiapetta, Blythe Potter, Saad Tawfeeq and Charrie Stambaugh

Four Democrats seeking the nomination for three Johnson County Council at-large seats shared their thoughts on several issues facing Johnson County.

Democrats in the running are Michael Chiapetta, Blythe Potter, Saad Tawfeeq and Charrie Stambaugh. Voters will be asked to pick three of the four to face off against the winners of the Republican county council primary in the general election.

The Daily Journal asked each Democratic candidate several questions for a candidate Q&A and this is the second installment of a two-part series. The first part was published Saturday. Republican candidates were asked the same questions and their answers were published in a two-part series Thursday and Friday.

Here are the Democrats’ thoughts on road funding, HR and mental health funding with editing for length, clarity, grammar and repetition.

Q: With continued growth in once-rural areas and aging streets in subdivisions, county road funding is spread thin. What should the county do to catch up on road work?

Chiapetta: Today, I don’t know. But one approach that I’d like to take that I think would resonate with my constituents, and the people supplying the services is; the first thing for me to do is to go to the highway department … and ask them, ‘What do we need to do to keep up with the county roads? I can sit in my living room with my vast experience as a biochemist and come up with all sorts of suggestions, but I think we seldom ask the people who are supplying the services. Ask ‘How do you think we ought to approach this,’ ask them for alternatives, and then come up with a plan on how we could do that. So that would be my promise with any of these [types of county] services.

Potter: That would go back to the budget and we would see where we can take funds from to put it to roadwork, and see if we can get some grant money, be it federal or otherwise. It needs to be addressed because that’s public safety; driving and getting emergency workers through. … So [we would be] figuring out where we can pull money from to fix that, even if it’s something like creating a special county tax on cigarettes, or something else we may want to decrease the use of but people still would purchase.

Stambaugh: It looks to me that the county has only budgeted $1.5 million in local roads, outside of highways and bridges. For a county as massively huge as ours, we must work more closely with each individual city and town to find out what we can do to help them. Maybe we need to address road issues with quick reporting and remediation options. Are we fully staffed in this area? Do we need to allocate more funding to this? I don’t know the answer yet, but I will [find out if I’m elected]. I [would] meet with each department and assess their individualized budgets and needs. Most importantly, local roads affect our county citizens and their vehicles, increasing maintenance costs — and it impacts our first responders who need to get from Point A to Point B quickly without fear of the roads being in disrepair during the fast-acting responses.

Tawfeeq: We need to work hard to provide residents with a safe and clean environment and good streets, parks and schools for economic growth and opportunity in all our communities.

Q: There’s an ongoing debate over increasing employee pay and hiring an HR employee. What do you think about these issues?

Chiapetta: That’s near and dear to my heart because I’m the son of an educator. The employees of the county, need to have competitive salaries to those with the private sector. You’re gonna get what you pay for. … I’m not surprised [there isn’t an HR employee] but I’m all for it. Long ago, one of the Lilys running [Eli Lilly] said, ‘Our employees are our most valuable asset.’ And the reason is the most expensive cost the most the biggest cost at Lilly is the people. And I’m willing to wager that the biggest cost of Johnson County’s budget is the people. … If they are your biggest asset, then you should be focused — just like your superintendent of highways is focused on supporting roads — on making sure that your human assets are being supported in the same manner. That would be human resources.

Potter: There should have already been a human resources, person or team. Why that is a question is a little scary. But that shows the need for growth in our county. … We should definitely have human resources because that’s risk management and employee retention. We want to keep workers and we want people to be committed to the community and their jobs. And that goes along with pay, too. People need to be afford to live here and they need to be able to happy enough with their pay to be like, ‘Come work with me,’ or ‘I’m going to stay here and retire.’ So, we have to have the experience and we’re not training new people all the time. … I don’t necessarily think politicians need to be increasing their [own] pay; it’s always fun to watch people vote on that. … This is not a job we should be doing for the money; we’re doing this for our community.

Stambaugh: For our county our size, it’s absolutely ridiculous we don’t have a dedicated HR department. I know there have been proposed workarounds with an outside group coming in to help analyze job descriptions and pay — which can be a great first step — but the next step is to add a dedicated HR department. Not only does this help with tracking applicants and hiring strategically, making benefits and time off recommendations, training requirements, and streamlining on boarding processes et cetera, but it also gives a place for employees to seek support to resolve interoffice conflict and handle legal concerns.

Tawfeeq: That is is really important issue to me because if I get elected, I will work to improve and increase and employee pay.

Q: Last year, the county council appropriated $11 million toward a new mental health building. Was this an appropriate use of the funds?

Chiapetta: I wholeheartedly support it. … We spend a ton of money on law enforcement, detention facilities and probation. … That cost just keeps increasing and increasing. It doesn’t seem like adding more and more money to law enforcement, detention and probation is decreasing the rate that we’re having to invest in that. … A number of people who are having some sort of mental crisis could wind up in a situation where they are violating the law, getting arrested, winding up in jail and court. From a pragmatic point of view, if we want to have money to spend on things other than law enforcement we’re well served by having a mental health support structure. [Having the building] would save us money to invest yet more in mental health and intervention at the early stages where people are having mental health problems so they don’t become criminals. … I’m all for that facility and all for having a first-rate staff that’s going to wind up working in that facility. … We really need to invest a whole lot of money in public health and mental health. Not only will you wind up realizing [it has] really good dollars and cents payback in terms of not having to increase your law enforcement forever, but also it’ll improve the overall feel and happiness of Johnson County.

Potter: They did that with the American Rescue Plan Act, so federal dollars. Mental health encompasses so much and you can even put that under the public safety umbrella. Housing can affect mental health. The rising cost of living affects our mental health, domestic violence [and transportation] … So yes, mental health is important. Because we know that a lot of times mental health causes people to do things they might not otherwise. It will be great as long as it’s appropriately staffed and managed. I like that it’s going on with being attached to [Johnson Memorial Hospital], so we’re not creating a whole new need for resources … I think it’s necessary. We don’t have enough mental health beds. The number of calls for mental health is staggering … mental health issues made up 30% of the transfers in Johnson County, for lack of local health center beds for that.

Stambaugh: [For the building, ARPA funds were used.] ARPA funds must respond to “the disease itself or the harmful consequences of the economic disruptions resulting from or exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health emergency” which includes mental health treatment, substance use, crisis intervention, et cetera.

When we look at the Johnson County [health] scorecard, we see that our suicide rates are close to that of the state average and that in itself is not acceptable. I know that without dedicated funding to a new mental health facility, we would be limited in crisis beds — and that officials have had to take patients outside of our county to get the services they need. Not only do we need a new facility, but continued support of the crisis intervention team and paramedicine. I know in 2023, the commissioners dedicated ARPA funds to community corrections and highway buildings. While I understand these are needs that had to be met, mental health should have been one of the first things to be addressed from that ARPA spend down.

Tawfeeq: Yes, I do because it’s really important to have good mental health facilities for our community. I will not disagree, of course, we need this to help people and to open these buildings. As I said, is the top priority for me is to support the community.


Johnson County Council At-Large

Represents: Johnson County as a whole

Duties: Approving the county budget, including how many sheriff’s deputies will patrol the roads and how much should be spent on road projects. Approves any new or increased taxes.

Term: Four years

Pay: $11,978 a year (2024)


The Chiapetta File

Name: Michael F. Chiappetta

Age: 69

Residence: Bargersville

Family: Wife Michele; one adult child

Occupation: Retired from Eli Lilly; worked as biochemist

Educational background: bachelor’s, Indiana University Bloomington; master’s and PHd, UC San Diego

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for Clark Township Board

Memberships: Purdue Extension Master Gardener, Volunteer with 913 Sports

Military Experience: None


The Potter File

Name: Blythe Potter

Age: 42

Residence: Bargersville

Family: Husband Michael; three children

Occupation: Co-owner of Bargersville Wellness; massage therapist, aesthetician, yoga teacher

Educational background: Franklin Central High School; Siena Heights University, BAS in Massage Therapy and MBA

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for Bargersville Town Council

Memberships: Leadership Johnson County graduate; member of various professional organizations, Center Grove Ambassadors and DEI Task Force, Aspire Johnson County and Greater Franklin Chamber of Commerce

Military service: Military Police with the USAR, deployed to Iraq 2005-2006


The Stambaugh File

Name: Charrie Stambaugh

Age: 40

Residence: Greenwood

Family: Husband Jason; three children, three adult step-children

Occupation: Photography business owner, formerly worked in non-profit and public health

Education: Southwood High School, Wabash; bachelor’s IUPUI; master’s of public health, IU School of Medicine; completed coursework toward MBA, Butler University

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for Greenwood City Council

Memberships: Greenwood Advisory Plan Commission member, Marketing Director for Johnson County Democrats, Campaign Manager for Valerie McCray, Cheer Director for Whiteland Youth Cheer

Military Experience: None


The Tawfeeq File

Name: Saad Tawfeeq

Age: 35

Residence: Greenwood

Family: Unmarried; no children

Occupation: Formerly employed in software industry

Education: GED

Political experience: First-time candidate

Memberships: None provided

Military Experience: None