Photo by David Slone, Times-Union

Republican office holders and candidates take turns serving food during the fish fry. Pictured (L to R) are Juergen Voss, Warsaw City Council at-large candidate; Kim Cates, county councilwoman; Bill Dixon, Turkey Creek Township Advisory Board member; Marsha McSherry, Kosciusko County Republican Central Committee vice chair; and Ron Shoemaker, Warsaw city councilman and mayoral candidate.
Photo by David Slone, Times-Union Republican office holders and candidates take turns serving food during the fish fry. Pictured (L to R) are Juergen Voss, Warsaw City Council at-large candidate; Kim Cates, county councilwoman; Bill Dixon, Turkey Creek Township Advisory Board member; Marsha McSherry, Kosciusko County Republican Central Committee vice chair; and Ron Shoemaker, Warsaw city councilman and mayoral candidate.

Republican political candidates and office holders always can be found at the GOP fish fry in Kosciusko County, and Wednesday’s was no exception.

With a city election this year, all of the candidates facing challengers in the primary were there, but so was Indiana State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell and GOP representatives from other counties.

Kosciusko County Republican Party Central Committee Chair Mike Ragan pointed out that along with Mitchell, Dekalb County Chairman Rick Ring, 3rd District Vice Chair and Steuben County Vice Chair Mary Martin, and St. Joseph County Chairman Zach Potts were in attendance.

He said they all came because it’s the “best fish fry in the state” and Wednesday’s turnout was “great.”

“We were kind of worried about it because it’s in the middle of spring break and so many people are out of town,” Ragan said.

State Treasurer

Mitchell was re-elected in 2018 and is in her first year of her second term.

“It’s going wonderfully. Busy as always,” she said. “We’re, of course, in legislative session right now so the statehouse is very busy.”

One bill they’re working one includes a tax credit for ABLE accounts for people with disabilities. She compared it to a college Choice 529 plan, which gets a 10% state tax credit for up to $1,000. “The ABLE account is a 529A, so it’s open to people with disabilities and there’s no tax credit for it right now. So what we’re trying to do is ... allow the Hoosiers with disabilities that are saving to have the same tax credit as the 529.”

The other bill Mitchell said she’s trying to get through the session has to do with the special purpose vehicle through the Indiana Bond Bank.

“It’s to help communities that are struggling to get their projects done, to say in the most straight-forward, simple fashion,” she said.

The Bond Bank works on helping build schools, jails and community centers and offers a lease purchase program.

Mayoral Race

Ragan said Warsaw’s mayoral candidates are good, strong candidates and he was looking forward to the May 7 primary between incumbent Mayor Joe Thallemer and City Councilman Ron Shoemaker. He said he “absolutely” did not see the race causing friction within the Republican party.

“Warsaw has had a lot of contested mayoral races, and some of them were more heated than they should have been on the Republican side, but we’ll get through it, we’ll be fine,” Ragan said.

Both candidates made their candidacy obvious at the fish fry with signs plastered in the area.

While Shoemaker had perhaps the largest sign of any candidate there, Thallemer had 46 supporters show up in unison at 5:30 p.m., most wearing T-shirts supporting him.

With a month before the primary, Shoemaker said the election was going “really well” for him.

“It’s amazing. I’ve met an incredible amount of nice people, really neat people I’ve not met before. I’m really enjoying this,” he said, adding that he was “working hard” to get his message out.

Shoemaker will have his town hall meeting at 6 p.m. April 11 instead of attending the mayoral debate set up by News Now Warsaw.

“It’s going to be like a town hall. We’ll have a moderator. ... We are there to listen and field questions. So many people can’t get to council meetings anyway, and when I’m mayor I’d like to do a lot of these town halls just to feel people, feel the needs of what they have in mind,” Shoemaker said.

He said so many people talked to him at the fish fry about the recent city council meeting where there was a heated exchanged between Police Chief Scott Whitaker and former Republican Party Chair Jean Northenor over the Jan. 25 incident involving Whitaker and an elderly citizen.

“I really hope we get civility back to council. … I was stunned. I really was. Not being in a position of leadership on council and administration, I didn’t think it was my place to speak out, but somebody should have stopped it because we’re there to do the people’s business. If you can’t do that, go outside and argue,” Shoemaker said.

Thallemer said his campaign was “moving hard, we’re going house to house. We had a great turnout at the fish fry tonight. My signs are up, we’re in full gear. Just head down and moving straight ahead.”

He’s also preparing for the 6 p.m. April 11 event at Lakeview Middle School. He said he expects he’ll be talking about his experience and what he’s accomplished over his last eight years as mayor.

“I haven’t been perfect, I’ll acknowledge that, but we’re trying to do the best that we can. I’m sure people take issue with some of the things we do, but I’ve learned I can’t please everybody – as long as we do what we think is best for the entire community,” Thallemer said.

He said he didn’t feel like the community really has been divided over the mayoral race. Four years ago, he didn’t have any opposition, and not all people liked everything he was doing then. “So, we got somebody who stepped up and is an honorable candidate and hopefully he’ll run an honorable campaign and I’ll just continue to do what I do, and he does what he does, and when the primary is over, whoever wins we’ll wait and see if we’ve got a challenger in the fall,” Thallemer said.

Whoever wins the mayor’s seat will have plenty of items to address over the next four years.

Thallemer said, “I think the U.S. 30 Corridor is the big issue. Transportation. Road Funding. Our infrastructure. The sewer. Those are things that are never ending, they continue on. Those are issues we continue to have to find funding for. … And obviously continuing with our development at the Airport Industrial Park that is being sewered right now, as well as the Tech Park. We want to keep creating investment opportunities in our community. That’s what keeps our assessed valuation growing, keeps our tax rate down. It’ll be a pretty similar strategy as we move forward with economic development.”

At-Large Council

The mayor isn’t the only Warsaw city official facing opposition in the primary. At-large City Council incumbents Jack Wilhite and Cindy Dobbins have to hold Juergen Voss off if they want to move on to the November general election. Only two of the three will make it.

“I feel real good. I’m real positive about my record. I think I’ve done things the people of Warsaw expect to be done, and that’s all you can ask for. As long as we’re doing the job they expect us, they elected us to do, then hopefully that goes my way,” Wilhite said.

One thing that he said he’d like to see is for the city to revisit the trash can issue. Previously, trash cans were put in alleys for the city to pick up, but the cans were moved to the street in the last couple of years because Warsaw purchased a more automated truck that needs more space but only requires one worker instead of three.

“To me, the old town, with the alleys and everything, that part of the town was designed a certain way and we’re not using it that way. Now we’re asking people to take trash cans out to the front instead of the back. I realize the trash truck that we have is efficient. It’s great, one guy instead of three and he does most of the town. My solution to that is get a small truck that does the same thing that can get through the alleys. Then they don’t have to take their trash cans to the front. They can leave them in the alley,” Wilhite said.

Dobbins said she’s always concerned at election time, especially when there’s competition. She said Voss was a very worthy candidate, too, so she was a little worried but she’s trying to get out and talk to people.

“I think there’s a lot of concern now that we’re losing some of our smaller businesses, the smaller Owen’s, Payless Shoes. Steak ‘n Shake is closed, maybe just temporarily, but we don’t know. Ace Hardware. That’s probably the biggest concern that I hear. They feel like perhaps some of the things that really appeal to what they consider to be the middle class are going away, and I know everybody is facing a crisis with housing,” she said.

The other day Dobbins was looking around online and found some of the three-bedroom apartment units in the area were going for $1,300 a month.

“You’re not going to pay for that on $9 or $10 an hour,” she said. “So definitely moderate housing, moderate in price (is needed). Even for people who are wanting to purchase housing … to find a house in a particular price range is not possible.”

Voss said the race has been interesting because of all the “other developments” on the side and the “attractions” that have happened.

“It’s very unfortunate. I’m hoping we can get to the election and not worry about all the other things that are going on,” he said.

Asked to elaborate, he said the biggest distraction has been the city council looking at whether or not to further investigate what the Warsaw Police Department chief may or may not have done Jan. 25. The Indiana State Police investigated it and found no reason to pursue it further.

“A lot of people are voting on that issue, and a lot of other people just want to move on, move on to better things. I really feel that maybe it’s time to move on,” Voss said, adding that the issue has been a focus for too long. “Let’s move on and do some progressive things for the city.”

He said the city is doing very well and has no criticisms, but there is a housing crisis.

“I think we need to encourage people to perhaps be landlords and be proactive instead of coming down on the landlords constantly. There are a lot of people in town who can’t afford $200,000-400,000 houses, so we need to work with those people. We’re getting to the point where people come to town and get a job at Zimmer Biomet or any of the other companies, they can’t find any housing.”

He said the city “literally has no rental properties.”