GARRETT — Candidates for mayor of Garrett shared their vision and experience in a Meet-the-Candidates event Tuesday at the Judy A. Morrill Recreation Center in Garrett.
Incumbent Democrat Todd Fiandt and Republican challenger Larry Getts will oppose each other in the Nov. 5 election.
Shannon Carpenter, Executive Director of the DeKalb Chamber Partnership, served at monitor for the evening. Each candidate had 10 minutes to offer remarks to the 50 people in attendance. Prior to the event, candidates were given the opportunity to respond to three questions suggested by the community.
“When I start talking about Garrett, I get emotional sometimes because I see a lot of potential,” said Getts who was the first of the two candidates to speak.
“I see we are right next to a lot of growth happening, a lot of new things happening around us, but I am afraid it’s not happening yet to Garrett.”
When he asks people how they think things are going in Garrett, Getts said the response he often hears is, “things are OK, but in my opinion, just OK is not OK,” he said. “What can we do going forward to correct that?
“We need to be open to new ideas, progressive thinking,” Getts said. “I think we can do better than that; to be more open. If someone doesn’t look like you, act like you, think like you, that is OK. Some of that is really good and you are going to get a different perspective that maybe you have never thought about that might open up your mind to some new ideas — especially with the growth coming up this way.”
One question was if given a million-dollar grant, how would you use that? Getts responded it would not be his decision, but a community decision to make.
“Because though I would be mayor, I would work for you, the citizens of Garrett,” he said, “but my heart has always been with kids and youth, so my knee-jerk response to that is I would put it in the parks, or the JAM Center, or the schools, or early education, somewhere where it would be affecting people to be the most bang for my buck to help kids and to help the citizens of Garrett — period.”
He also mentioned a need in workforce development. While praising the school’s Community Development Program, he sees the need for an adult program. While mentioning low unemployment in the county, Getts sees underemployment to be an issue. He suggested skills training to improve wages for adults to work on economic issues.
He also responded to a question as to how to utilize members of the community to help solve city problems.
“For me, whatever you do, it is about relationships,” he said. “It’s not about infrastructure, it’s not about growing, it’s about relationships — to get their input and communicate with that person,” suggesting town hall meetings similar to those now being held in Waterloo.
Going forward, Getts said the first thing he wants to do is to come up with a strategic plan; where you want to be in five-10, 25 years down the road?
“I don’t think we have that strategic plan in place,” he said. “Where do we want to be as a community as far as the involvement? With all the great things going on around us, we can do better. I also want to create a ‘safe place’ to discuss hard topics.”
Among those are the meth issue, not just prevalent in Garrett but in county and even statewide, he added.
“Our population is not growing,” he said, comparing the population of Garrett in 2010 at 6,286 to 6,390 in 2018. “Compared to the regions around us, we are not getting it. That’s not OK. I think we can do better in that area.
Also in communication, Getts said he wants to be a full-time mayor. Although the position is considered part-time, he said he would be available at all times, and offered cards with his contact information at the event.
He also wants to work more with regional partnerships such as the DeKalb County Chamber Partnership and the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership.
“I don’t want this election to be about two good guys. To be totally transparent, that’s why I drug my feet about getting into (the mayoral race),” describing Mayor Fiandt as a “great guy.”
“I want you to vote for who is the best candidate to promote Garrett, to advocate for Garrett, to have progressive views for Garrett, to have a plan for Garrett in the future,” Getts said.
Mayor Todd Fiandt
Fiandt began his remarks by saying everything that has been done in the city during his first term as mayor has been a team effort. ”Everybody who works for this city has contributed in one way or another,” he said.
“For the past four years, this administration has been busy focusing on making Garrett a better place to live, to have a business, to buy a home and to live the American Dream,” preparing Garrett to attract families of people of all ages, he said.
Among accomplishments are tearing down longstanding eyesores including the former Baptist Church, the Torco gas station and removal of homes along Cowen Street to add a city parking lot.
He also cited industrial growth, including Assman Corporation adding 34,000 square feet. F&H is preparing to add 24,000 square feet. Mossberg Industries doubled in size twice in the last four years, with the last one at 34,000 square feet, resulting in new equipment and jobs.
Fiandt said 129 new homes are planned in a new development on the south side of Garrett. New home construction is also underway at Iron Horse Crossing on the north side, and a new housing development is planned in Brennan Estates through the Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools.
In the year 2000, the population was 5,820 with a most recent numbers at 6,441, nearly 150 more than quoted by Getts.
“Our population will be growing even more with the addition of these new homes,” he said.
Fiandt was also excited about the number of businesses, both small and large that have opened in town, including the addition of a pharmacy, the Curiosity Shop moving to Garrett and Miller’s Market buying the grocery store that was scheduled to close. Fiandt credited the Miller family for that effort.
“This is probably the thing I enjoy the most,” Fiandt said as he listed nearly two dozen new shops and businesses.
“Our streets were in disrepair when I took over. We started a Community Crossings grant with about a million dollars for street repairs,” he said. More funding is expected later this year or early next year.
Infrastructure improvements include new Americans with Disabilities Act corners, new sidewalks through the Safe Routes to School grants, new water lines to replace some that are 100 years old to “provide safe water for you, your children and for your grandchildren.”
Water and sewer lines have been installed for new additions and industry, he added. He credited city workers for building new flower boxes and trash receptacles and new downtown lighting. The state has just finished repaving S.R. 327 (Randolph St.) from the Mile Corner to S.R. 205 and some businesses have taken advantage of the city’s new downtown façade grant to uplift their storefronts to look even better than ever.
As for community outreach and collaboration, Fiandt praised J.E. Ober teacher Jeff Hurd for improvements his students have made in Eastside Park. The high school has met in City Hall for the Model United Nations program and partnered with them twice in Industrial Forums. The city has hired Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education students from the high school as well as interns in a variety of departments. The city is getting ready to add new signage around the school at a cost of about $40,000 to keep kids safe going to and from school.
Fiandt said he launched a youth advisory council about a year and a half ago with between 15-20 kids.
“A couple years ago, we had a fact-finding group to help us find out what the public wanted to see in our city,” he added. “We consist of four groups: the educators, professional, youth and John Q. Public. The main concern is to try to get the theater open.”
“It’s funny we were asked what we would do with $1 million because we just had a million given to us. We will use it for (the donor’s) wishes,” he said of a project that is still in the engineering phase.
“We have got to take a look at the people in Garrett. There are a lot of people who are very generous,” he said.
He mentioned other immediate goals include repairs and improvements to the bath house at the city pool, implementation of the first residential phase of fiber optics with Auburn Essential Services, upgrade parks with new playground equipment, install a centrifuge at the water treatment plant to lower the cost of producing sludge, addition and repair of sidewalks on north and south side of town, new welcome signs at the edge of town, paving a new city parking lot, and replacing a dump truck he described as “old enough to vote.”
He concluded by noting he has been a businessman for 43 years and has been married 37 years to wife Vickie. His three grown children are Garrett graduates who have gone on to post-secondary education. He is currently the president of the Northeast Indiana Mayors Roundtable that collaborates once a month, from Peru to Whiting, to Angola and Berne.