ELKHART — Despite this being Dave Miller’s third run for Elkhart mayor, and the two previous ones being successful, the 61-year-old said he is running with more enthusiasm than ever.
Miller was the mayor of Elkhart from 2000 through 2007, when he decided to step back from politics and work in the private sector, running two RV transportation companies before semi-retiring as a Concord school bus driver.
The former mayor is running, in part, on his previous accomplishments and his experience, but he recognizes that few remember a mayor 10 years after they leave office.
“There is a short-termness to this, that we are stewards for a season and then we hand it over to somebody else,” Miller said, reflecting on a time that he showed students the portraits of the city’s mayors and no one, not even he, could name many of the former leaders.
But even though the chances of a long-lasting legacy seem small, Miller wants to go back into the corner office at City Hall.
“I’m jazzed by the prospects,” he said.
That is because Miller believes he can make significant improvements to the city, making it a place where young families want to settle down and business can get going and grow.
“It’s maybe like a doctor who believes he has a cure for cancer, and he is excited about bringing it to fruition. That’s a little bit how I feel about our beloved city,” he said.
Great days lie ahead for Elkhart, he believes. The city budget has grown in recent years and big projects, especially the River District revitalization, are materializing. Miller wants to take that momentum and take the city further.
Yet, the most important duty of a mayor, Miller believes, is to ensure that the city is safe. He wants to reaccredit the Police Department, as it was during his administration but not since.
“That will add some certainty that we’re doing things by the highest and best practices,” he said.
But the city should be proactive in other ways as well. Miller said a significant portion of crime in the city is caused by people from Chicago and Detroit, and that police should make Elkhart a place where those people don’t want to go.
For the local youth, Miller said the city should take the Tolson Center to a level that it will attract and show an alternative to teenagers who might otherwise be recruited by criminal gangs.
Giving people something to do was one of Miller’s top priorities during his previous terms. He lists the RiverWalk, the remodeled Pierre Moran Pool and the Wellfield Botanical Gardens among his accomplishments from that time, and he wants to continue that streak.
“Whatever the amenity is that appeals to you and your family and other people like you, the city has an obligation to at least attempt to accommodate those varied interests and allow for people to not just like working here but like living here,” he said.
As far as possible, those amenities should be installed with the help of private people or organizations, Miller said, listing the NIBCO Water & Ice Park as an example of how that can be done.
Miller does face some criticism for issues in his previous administration. State auditors found accounting errors in 2003. The two main findings were incomplete records of capital assets and a lack of internal controls. The State Board of Accounts did not issue a penalty but recommended a review of the city’s records and assets.
Miller at the time, and now, attributes those issues to a few factors, including a high turnover of city controllers at the time and new accounting software installed in October 2003.
“When I took over as mayor, I inherited a city that was practically Stone Age with regard to technology,” he said. “We went from this old system to a new system, assuming everything would work ... and it does not work that way. That was naive on my part, and that was one of the lessons I learned.”
The administration also faced scrutiny in 2001 and 2002, when the state found that the city had overspent from numerous funds, including those for the Elco and the National New York Central Railroad Museum.
Should Miller be elected to run a new administration, he wants to be relatively unknown. The best mayors are, he said.
“When you turn on your water in the morning to brush your teeth or to flush your toilet or to take a shower, it works and you don’t have a second thought about it. When you leave your driveway, the street’s plowed, and you don’t give it a second thought. Your trash got picked up, and you expected nothing less,” he said.
When everything works, he believes, nobody gives their mayor a thought.
Something that might turn heads, though, is Miller’s idea for solving the city’s need for low-cost housing.
“I’d like to experiment with tiny houses and find a way to approve zoning and development, just to see if there’s a creative way we can make that happen,” he said.
Perhaps more conventionally, Miller also wants to have a minimum housing code, making it easier for the city to fight what he called substandard housing.
Miller’s personal life has received attention in recent months after the candidate fainted twice at mayoral debates. After the second incident, on Oct. 14, Miller said in a statement that he was diagnosed with occasional atrial fibrillation, the heart condition known as a-fib, in 2011.
He also stated that he had had similar episodes three times in three weeks, but later said the first incident, on Sept. 10, was among the three. According to Miller, those are the only times in his life something like that has happened.
Miller drove a school bus for Concord Community Schools until this summer but said he had had no indication that he might pass out until Sept. 10. He said he passed a physical before beginning the job. He said he now pays better attention to eating and drinking right, and his doctor has slightly adjusted his medication.
“Since he did that, that same afternoon (as the Oct. 14 debate), I haven’t had the least bit of symptom even,” he said.
That debate ended early because of Miller’s episode, and another debate that same night was canceled for the same reason. However, Miller was out campaigning later that day and said there is no need to be concerned about his health affecting his ability to be mayor.
“The mayor isn’t a person whose finger is over a nuclear button. I don’t have a red phone connecting me to the Kremlin. Mayors can take vacations and the city keeps working,” he said. “I don’t want this to be blown up as some big deal, because my doctor says it isn’t.”
Miller said he would rather focus on what he would do if he becomes mayor again.
“I would be honored for the opportunity to serve again. I know what I’m in for, I know what’s required,” he said.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus
A profile of Democratic mayoral candidate Rod Roberson will run Friday.