Chamber of Commerce Questionnaire: John Whikehart

What is your position on the expansion of the convention center? If you are supportive, how do think it should be structured and funded?

I support expansion of the convention center.  I propose working with the other commissioners to collaborate with the city on the potential to transfer ownership of the current building and property to the city to achieve that goal.  An expanded convention center and hotel would increase revenue to the community, boost the local economy through expanded tourism opportunities, and permit Bloomington and Monroe County to be competitive in attracting conventions that we currently lose to larger venues.

The impacts of I-69 will need to be considered and planned for accordingly in order to address expected growth and connectivity for Westside businesses. What recommendations would you make to improve Westside connectivity?

I support the plan to extend Industrial Drive to the Curry Pike and Profile Parkway intersection, as proposed by the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission.  As the chancellor at Ivy Tech for over 12 years, I led the growth of the new campus, the expansion projects for the Center for the Life Sciences and the Lee J. Marchant School of Nursing in partnership with the Redevelopment Commission and Monroe County government, witnessed the growth of Cook, Bioconvergence and Baxter in Park 48, and partnered with the county on development of the Karst trail.  This growth, and the impact of I-69, requires the county to be active in planning and evaluating additional growth and connectivity issues to the westside and along the 3rd Street corridor.

The ordinances outlining land use outside of the Monroe County Urbanizing Area and Designated Communities did not address businesses. How do you/would you ensure that the needs of businesses are considered during the ordinance development process?

As the county moves to additional consideration of land use, identifying appropriate areas for business and commercial development will become more critical.  New ordinance development processes must include an open process, seeking opinions of landowners and potential developers, and rules must be clearly developed and consistently enforced.  Every new policy, whether land use or otherwise, must be revisited and evaluated over time to make certain it has appropriately addressed the issue intended, and that unintended consequences have not resulted.  Funding is always an obstacle, but where outside resources may help in crafting policy, they should be considered.

We have noticed the county has trouble finding residents willing to fill vacancies on county boards and commissions. If there is a vacancy on the board or commission, how do you recruit and attract interested residents and how will you ensure the most qualified person is selected for the position?

The county uses its posting resources to advise of openings on boards and commissions.  I would propose a more active approach in attempting to identify interest groups, and evaluating membership demographics, to determine where recruitment needs exist, and interested residents are appropriately represented.  Where political balance is required on a specific board or commission, and interested candidates are not readily available, outreach to the formal leadership of the political parties should be on the table.  Descriptions of the preferred skills, knowledge and abilities sought in successful applicants should be developed as necessary as part of the vetting process.

In recent years, the county has been under scrutiny about financial records. How will you ensure transparency and fiscal responsibility within county operations?

The commissioners approve the claims and enter into contracts on behalf of the county, and that gives them a great deal of control over financial processes.  The current commissioners have taken the step of limiting the number of charge cards available to county offices, and that is an important step.  As deputy mayor, I led the activity that resulted in the first published financial policies manual for city departments.  Key components included multiple checks on purchases and expenditures, so that a single person could not initiate and then approve either.  The intent is to prevent errors as well misdeeds.  Creating very clear expectations, rules, and policy statements that are transparent, monitored, and consistently enforced is the next necessary step.

How do you think the County can work with the City to better serve business and residents?

There is opportunity for far more collaboration between the city and county on a number of issues that would better serve constituents, be they businesses or residents.  For one, I am hopeful that the county will be a more active partner in economic development activity, and the city and county can look at services that might be better coordinated for the benefit of the community at large.  In the time I spent in the mayor’s office, there was not a scheduled meeting between the mayor and presidents of the county commissioners, the county council, and the city council to discuss issues.  I would propose we look at doing that.