Jones takes on Stoffers in Democratic commissioner race

Two veteran public servants are running for the Monroe County commissioner nomination in the Democratic primary.

Incumbent Patrick Stoffers, who is seeking his fourth term as county commissioner, faces county council member Lee Jones in District 1.

Patrick Stoffers

Stoffers said he is seeking re-election because he loves the job of representing the more than 145,000 Monroe County residents. He said he is proud of what he and his colleagues have accomplished, but noted there is more work ahead.

This includes the partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County for a residential development on 84 acres northwest of Rogers Street and Rockport Road that was acquired in 2002 for a possible community corrections campus. The county commissioners signed a letter of intent in November to transfer ownership or development control to the nonprofit.

Stoffers said expanding transit options to connect the county’s employment hubs, on the west side and in downtown Bloomington, to the areas where residential growth is occurring is another campaign priority. Stoffers said the county commissioners recently agreed to move forward with a study to look at his proposal of expanding commuter transit participation.

Stoffers’ campaign platform also includes protecting Lake Monroe. Stoffers said legislation introduced by state Rep. Jeff Ellington, R-Bloomington that could have undermined some of the county’s local protections around the lake was a reminder of the threat a supermajority at the Statehouse poses to local control. Stoffers said he plans to reach out to the five counties within Lake Monroe’s watershed to convene a regional coalition to evaluate how best to protect the lake, which is the area’s water supply.

He also wants to address public engagement issues if he keeps his seat. Stoffers said he proposes a new citizen engagement coordinator position to assist the commissioners with outreach and public input on specific projects as well as helping the various county boards and commissions.

“I would like for us to be able to provide an expanded level of participatory engagement, with full utilization of technological options available for such activity,” Stoffers said. “The citizen engagement coordinator would commence by engaging boards, commissions and county residents in setting performance measures and targets for their work, and by researching best practices utilized by other counties.”

Lee Jones

Jones said she wants to be a commissioner because it is clear that money from outside interests is influencing local decisions on the board, pointing to Stoffers’ January campaign financial report as an example.

Stoffers’ campaign contributions totaled nearly $22,000, with around 25 percent of that coming from businesses with county government ties.

“This is not illegal, it was all properly reported, but it is something I dislike seeing at a national level and I don’t think it belongs in local government,” Jones said.

Jones said addressing the opioid epidemic and overcrowding issues in the county jail would be her top priority if elected. She said the opioid epidemic is more a public health crisis than a criminal one. While opioid abuse contributes to the jail’s overpopulation, Jones said there are other contributing factors.

She wants to work with local community corrections and would consider moving all services offered by the program under one roof.

“Strengthening community corrections allows for restorative justice, which is a much more efficient, effective and humane way to slow the spread of opioid use,” Jones said.

In addition, Jones said the county should consider levying a public safety tax solely for county government to better address the increase in public safety needs as a result of changes to state law, a measure she says the state Legislature recently passed.

Another priority for Jones is updating the county’s zoning ordinance, which she describes as complex and confusing for residents and business owners. Jones said an update presents an opportunity to improve how Interstate 69 will affect the community, and to protect the environment and simplify the zoning process. Defining county zones for trash disposal and determining where such operations should be permitted is another area the zoning ordinance update needs to address. She said work needs to be done to encourage responsible trash disposal.

Jones encourages residents to participate in the zoning ordinance update process to ensure it reflects the wishes of the community.