GOSHEN — Former Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers is challenging longtime incumbent Mike Yoder on the Republican primary ballot for the county Board of Commissioners.
Both men are seeking the nomination to represent District 2 in the general election. The position represents the townships of Benton, Clinton, Elkhart, Jackson, Jefferson, Middlebury and York.
Donald Brown is running unopposed in the primary as the Democratic candidate for District 2, while Commissioner Suzie Weirick is unopposed in the Republican race for the District 3 seat.
Yoder has served multiple terms on the board in the past 16 years. In addition to owning Crystal Valley Dairy Farm in Middlebury, he has served on boards with the Indiana Farm Bureau, Elkhart County Farm Bureau and Indiana Dairy Producers.
Rogers has served in county government for over 30 years. His time as sheriff ended in 2018 due to term limits, and he now serves the sheriff’s department as Corrections Division commander with the rank of captain.
As Elkhart County has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioners have responded by setting recommendations and policies for travel and for the safety of department offices and the public. Both candidates were asked about the county’s response to the pandemic and what their plan is for life after the virus.
How successful do you think the county has been in responding to the virus, and what, if anything, would you do differently?
Both men had praise for how first responders, local leaders, county departments and others have responded to the public health crisis. But they believe that the national response was lacking.
It may have even hurt local efforts, Rogers said.
“Our community response involving our health department, emergency management agency and local first responders has been well implemented,” he said. “I am not entirely satisfied with the state and national response, particularly as it relates to prevention, testing and treatment during this pandemic. The delayed national response at the onset of this crisis put us behind in regards to testing and treatment.”
He believes that voluntary measures will be the most successful in fighting the pandemic, and that the government’s role should be advisory.
“Locally, I believe our county government has taken a measured, reasonable approach, especially when compared to what many other localities have instituted. I am a firm believer that the government should not be dictating what businesses are essential,” Rogers said. “Our government should be focused on education and informing the public about what steps to take, something our local governments have done and continue to do. Voluntary compliance of measures to prevent illnesses is the essence of liberty and is what will be effective in the long run.”
Yoder said that the local response “has been typical Elkhart County remarkable” and that residents, schools, businesses and others have all pitched in to help however they can.
“The commissioners initiated the Incident Command Team through the County’s Emergency Management department to facilitate matching needs with resources, which can easily become an overwhelming task, especially with public health emergencies lasting months,” he said. “The mayors and commissioners, together, regularly communicate with school superintendents, health officials, Incident Management Team and first responders to ensure we are acting in unison where appropriate and to discover gaps that need to be filled.”
He noted that there’s room for improvement with all public health crises or natural disasters, and that county leaders review what happened and learn new lessons from each one.
“This is one of the most unusual public health emergencies we have faced as a community and it’s too early at this point to know what we might have done differently locally,” Yoder said. “Nationally, I think we have already identified a number of things that should have been done differently. Many of those would have been very helpful with our local efforts.”
What’s your plan for getting the county back on track once the dust finally settles? What are some of the biggest challenges going to be?
Both candidates said county government needs to be brought back into gear in order to offer the services that people need. They disagreed on whether money would be the biggest challenge facing local government in the months and years ahead.
Rogers said he wants to avoid government overreach even as the county gets back on its feet.
“My focus will be on getting county government up and running again to fully support the services we should be providing to the citizens,” he said. “I will monitor the ongoing oversight of the crisis by the health department and emergency management agency, to ensure that the county maintains a state of readiness, providing mitigation as possible, while not overreaching in constitutional authority toward the people.”
“As a community, we will continue to join together to aid those in need and to encourage one another as we push forward,” he added.
He expects reduced funding to be one of the biggest things facing the county as a result of the pandemic, and indicated that some major expenses may need to be re-evaluated.
“One of the biggest challenges for Elkhart County government caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be reduced funding. This has the potential to impact existing county services and major projects such as the proposed county courts consolidation,” Rogers said. “Many individuals and businesses in our county have weathered severe mental, physical and financial woes during these preceding months. We need to carefully consider any major government project, including the proposed courts consolidation, while assessing the impact this crisis has had on the greater county.”
Yoder said county government at large didn’t close down, but different departments, offices and criminal justice functions managed their own situations in different ways and some reduced their activity.
“Bringing all local government activities back to pre-COVID levels of service is a priority, but we will be following schedules and guidelines established by health officials,” he said. “The commissioners’ role is to work with all departments and elected officials to facilitate that process. We also plan to be ready for the private sector bounce back. Permitting and other government related operations need to be ready to provide a high level of service.”
He believes funding won’t be an immediate concern since the county government’s financial reserves are strong. He said the biggest challenge for public policy will stem from the divisiveness, fear and frustration that have surfaced in response to the public health emergency.
“The next 60 to 90 days will be a transition period of some sort, yet to be fully defined. Unfortunately, there is no one solution. And there is no clear path ahead that has been determined at this time,” Yoder said. “However, we have a proven record of resiliency in our community. I expect we will not only survive this, but I am seeing indications of an even stronger local economy in the future.”