Monday, November 7, 2011

Candidate Profile: Benjamin Hunter (R-District 21)

EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in a series of candidate profiles for the upcoming municipal election. While I do have my own opinions, I believe the purpose of this blog is more to inform than to opine. While I don't "softball" interviews, I want the candidate's answers to speak for themselves so my readers can make an informed decision at the polls.

The first candidate profile is Benjamin Hunter, the incumbent Republican councilor in district 21. District 21 is an east side district that contains the Irvington and Cumberland areas.

Meeting at the Lazy Daze Coffeehouse, Councilor Hunter and I started off with some issues that we had started discussing on Facebook.

During the Public Safety Committee budget meetings, Hunter and Councilor Vernon Brown (D-District 18) talked extensively about "chargebacks" within the Animal Care & Control budget. Asked to explain what a chargeback is, Hunter says it's essentially when another city department uses it's own resources to assist another department to carry out it's needs. When that service is provided, one city department essentially charges the other for the service, and eventually the city department in need of the service reimburses the city department providing the service. Hunter singled out Corporate Counsel (City Legal) and information technology as the two biggest issuers when it comes to chargeback.

Since chargebacks can't exactly be predicted, they are included in a section of the budget for estimated costs. Several times, Hunter said he "isn't a fan" of chargebacks and joked that some departments could practically hire an entire law firm with what they currently pay in costs to Corporate Counsel. The trick with chargebacks, as far as Hunter is concerned, is if you need someone in a field for a specialized task, that money still needs to be there in those cases. But he hopes to tackle these issues further in future city budgets.

In a discussion about consolidation over the last several decades, Hunter segued into the topic of how time consuming council work can be and talked about how, initially, he wasn't planning on running for re-election. But after talking with fellow Republican and council president Ryan Vaughn (District 3), he agreed to run for one more term. He also said he thinks it's funny that some people think he's only on the council to run for Mayor in a few years, which he ruled out.

He talked about what he sees as accomplishments the council and the Mayor Greg Ballard (R) administration has made during his term, such as the sale of the water company, the infrastructure improvements on both the "wet" and the "dry" side of the city, and the long-term parking meter lease. Hunter said that while it's worth having a discussion on how these were structured, he believes that ultimately it was the right decision to pass them due to the noticeable improvements.

Hunter says that the big issue that faces the east side is still an image problem because of its association with crime. He thinks the media could use some education on what the east side really is, while at the same time the city needs to continue to cultivate the environment that has led to development in areas such as Irvington.

He also talked a bit about the police reform package that he authored that passed the council. "I didn't have someone from Corporate Counsel write it for me," Hunter said. He felt that his experience as an officer in the Indianapolis Police Department gave him experience to back up where reform was needed.

A lot has happened since Hunter proposed a comprehensive smoking ban in 2009, which ended up being tabled by the full council. The state legislature took up a smoking ban in the 2011 session, and Governor Mitch Daniels even said he'd sign it. But the ban died in the state Senate when advocates for the ban refused to add exemptions. I questioned Hunter what his views are on a smoking ban considering what all that has happened and he stated "My views haven't changed." He explained that it's just one of the things that will give Indianapolis an edge in attracting young professionals and businesses. When asked, he said that he would introduce a comprehensive smoking ban if re-elected.

One of Hunter's final remarks was about the size of the council. He mentioned "nine councilors, full time" would be a good fit for Indianapolis-Marion County. Currently, the council is a part time job and has 29 members (25 districts, 4 At-Large).

Hunter is often thought of as a moderate within the GOP, but I found it interesting that he described himself as a conservative at least once. It shows how political beliefs and philosophies can really be diverse at the municipal level of government.

Later in the day, I'll finish my piece on candidate Vop Osili, the Democratic nominee running in district 15.

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