Brian Smith (L), of Leesburg, makes comments to the Kosciusko County Commissioners Tuesday about the July 8 Attorney General Todd Rokita event. Pictured seated (L to R) are county attorney Ed Ormsby and Commissioners Brad Jackson and Bob Conley. Commissioner Cary Groninger is not shown in the photo. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Brian Smith (L), of Leesburg, makes comments to the Kosciusko County Commissioners Tuesday about the July 8 Attorney General Todd Rokita event. Pictured seated (L to R) are county attorney Ed Ormsby and Commissioners Brad Jackson and Bob Conley. Commissioner Cary Groninger is not shown in the photo. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Reaction to the July 8 event with Attorney General Todd Rokita and the Kosciusko County Commissioners on Rokita’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and critical race theory heated up the end of the Commissioners’ Tuesday meeting.

After the Commissioners’ regular business was finished, local businessman Don Zolman took to the microphone and presented them with a copy of his Kosciusko County Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights that he’s been circulating. He said he’s got several hundred signatures so far and a number of volunteers to “take it to the streets” to get more signatures.

Zolman thanked the Commissioners for the good work that they do for the county and said his Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights was not supposed to be a personal attack on the work that they do.

“But, there’s just certain areas (where you) crossed the line, and so it felt like we needed to have a real discussion about this. I’ve talked to each of you individually in different ways about some of these activities,” Zolman said, adding that the only person he hadn’t talked to was county attorney Ed Ormsby “because he hasn’t returned my calls.”

He said he didn’t feel like he was being heard when he tried to “go about this behind the scenes.” The Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights was the end result of his frustration.

“I have a real concern that – as I mentioned before – about the health issue that you addressed and the way that it was addressed. And I think if we look now at the ruling with Indiana University, just yesterday, it was ruled that they can enforce vaccination as a requirement for students coming to school,” Zolman said. “When you’re looking at public good, these kind of choices should be made. And now that we’re looking at an outbreak of variants that could potentially render vaccines no longer useful, we need to be careful of the choices that we make because of the later ramifications that affect hundreds and thousands. I just ask that you, before you make some determinations like that, that you look at the greater situation and how it affects everyone possibly in a negative way.”

His next comment was on the CRT meeting. He said he went to it, listened to it and he had a few concerns. He wanted to address his concerns that evening, but they didn’t call on him.

“I think it’s fine to have a fact-finding meeting, and discuss things like that as a community, but I think we have to be very careful that we aren’t bussing people in from other areas,” he said, noting other people at his table were from places like Brownsburg and Madison County. “I don’t know why they were there for a local fact-finding meeting.”

Commissioner Brad Jackson said he hoped Zolman felt like he has been heard because he and Zolman have had in-person conversations. And, Jackson said, as far as the microphones at the Rokita event, the people passing them around were Rokita’s staff people from Indianapolis who “had no idea” who Zolman or anyone else were. It was a public meeting, Jackson said, and not an invitation-only event so people could show up from “wherever.”

Zolman said they did know who he was because “one of the Rokita people tagged me when I walked in. They mentioned my name. I don’t know how they knew me.”

He also said a member of Rokita’s office told another local individual that they didn’t want Zolman there. “They said Mr. Zolman’s views are already known,” Zolman said.

If it’s a community meeting, Zolman said community members should be allowed to speak. “We don’t need Madison County telling our school districts what they’re supposed to be doing. It should be Kosciusko County people in there talking,” he said.

Commissioner Bob Conley said there are kids in Kosciusko County from other counties, like Whitley County. “They can’t come in and voice their opinion?” Conley asked.

Zolman responded by asking, “We get kids from Madison County?” He said he didn’t know of any students coming to Warsaw from Madison County or Brownsburg. “That would be a heck of a commute.”

Conley said that meeting was Rokita’s presentation on his Parents’ Bill of Rights and not a County Commissioners meeting.

Ormsby said it wasn’t a Commissioners meeting but a town hall put on by private citizens. He said there was no “checking at the door on where people came from. It was a public town hall. It was in the newspapers and people were allowed to come. We did not check what county they were from or otherwise. And three, we certainly didn’t bus people in.”

“Same difference,” Zolman responded.

“No, it’s not,” Ormsby said.

“People invited from other areas, they come and pack the halls. That’s what you did,” Zolman insisted.

Ormsby said the meeting was in the newspapers, while Zolman argued that they did pack the meeting.

After Conley said they weren’t going to get argumentative over it, Zolman said the event was originally billed as a community meeting sponsored by the Commissioners’ office. “It somehow morphed into something that was done by the attorney general’s office,” he said. Zolman said he called the attorney general’s office and he was told it was set up by the county.

“So I guess you guys need to try to get your stories straight and not try to bamboozle somebody with some of your comments because that’s just not the case,” Zolman said.

Ormsby argued, “We’re not bamboozling anybody. And you calling us dishonest is an insult.” Zolman said he “never used that word.” The two men then argued over whether or not Zolman had a right to respond to Ormsby’s comment until Conley interjected.

Dr. Chris Magiera then approached the Commissioners and thanked them for “watching out for the liberty of the citizens of Kosciusko County.” He called the critical race theory “identity-based Marxism, which is antithetical to the American exceptionalism. I think it needs to be shown for what it is and placed in the dust bin of bad ideas.”

Brian Smith, Leesburg, then got into an argument about Smith’s perceived view of the way Conley treated him after the July 8 event, including not shaking his hand. Conley said they had a civil discussion and he doesn’t go around shaking anyone’s hand anymore because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith said Conley “blew him off,” but Conley didn’t see it that way. They also had a back-and-forth about whether or not Conley worked for Smith because Smith was a taxpayer, with Conley saying he didn’t work for Smith.

Smith finally said he submitted a records request for the letter from Zimmer Biomet to the Commissioners. He said he had not received a reply from Ormsby as of Tuesday morning and asked what its status was. Ormsby said Smith would get a reply on Tuesday and the Zimmer Biomet letter would be released on Tuesday and to the press (see sidebar).