The Elkhart County commissioner seat in District 3 is a two-woman race.
Incumbent Republican Suzanne Weirick, of Elkhart, is being challenged by Democrat Susan Corwin-Cripe, of Wakarusa.
District 3 covers the townships of Baugo, Cleveland, Harrison, Locke, Olive, Osolo and Union.
Susan Corwin-Cripe is married to Toby Cripe. They are parents of two children. She is employed as an attorney at Beverly Peters and Associates.
Suzanne Weirick is married to Dr. Troy Weirick. They are the parents of two children. Weirick was elected as a county commissioner for District 3 in 2016.
What are your qualifications as well as life and work experiences that will help you perform your duties as a member of the Elkhart County Commissioners?
CORWIN-CRIPE: My legal background makes me uniquely qualified to be a commissioner. I have the skills needed to analyze the effects of county ordinances and contracts. I am a problem solver and will work to find positive solutions to the problems our county will face in the coming years.
WEIRICK: The last four years have been a constant opportunity to learn and grow as a commissioner. I have enjoyed the learning process and wish to continue to learn. Before I was elected, I had served on many boards of directors and continue this work as a commissioner. Additionally, I have a master’s in business administration and years of work experience in municipalities and other organizations that have given me the foundation to continue the learning journey.
Now that we are several months into the COVID -19 pandemic, are you satisfied with the county health department’s response to the emergency and what changes, if any, are needed to continue to manage the virus outbreak locally?
WEIRICK: The Elkhart County’s Health Department has not acted alone in the emergency response of flattening the curve. Collectively, the Health Department and the county’s Emergency Management established the Incident Management team back in March. Their collective efforts have been amazing and have pulled together additional agencies, including local first responders and multiple caregivers. Collaboration has been key. Moving forward, this collaboration and increased communication are the only way to understand and communicate how we move forward.
CORWIN-CRIPE: It is always easier to look back at others and criticize the way they handled a situation. Unfortunately, the answers do not always appear so clear amid the crisis. As a resident of Elkhart County, I found myself frustrated with the lack of consistency in messaging and the constant passing of the buck to the commissioners, governor, etc. As a frustrating example, the health department set out specific criteria for the opening of schools, then their recommendations did not follow their own criteria. This behavior leads to a lack of trust in public officials.
With the pandemic recession continuing and its negative impact on government revenues, can the county afford to construct a new courthouse complex that may cost up to $86 million?
CORWIN-CRIPE: The county cannot currently afford to build the consolidated courthouse, but that is nothing new for any municipality. The traditional course is to issue bonds to pay for such infrastructure projects. The county plans to issue $35 million in bonds for the first phase of the project. The economic trend in Elkhart County is heading in an upward direction and the bond markets are getting stronger. I do think it is important to make sure every penny of the budget is used wisely and strive to reduce costs where possible.
WEIRICK: First, the cap will be $80M. Second, the only answer is yes.
Government revenues are multi-faceted and will feel effects of any recession about 18 months after the incident. Currently, if nothing is done to improve the court facilities, the costs in expenses will continue to grow and the deteriorating quality of public service will continue to cause our courts to spiral in the opposite direction.
County government has installed some dark fiber high-speed internet cables and is now leasing business access to those cables. Should the county extend this network countywide to homes, as well as rural areas? And how could such a project be financed?
WEIRICK: Elkhart County has made a significant impact by investing millions of dollars and expanding the available dark fiber by miles. Elkhart County is still behind where we need to be to be a thriving community that not only retains but attracts businesses. This development includes making the infrastructure available countywide. Whether fiber is used for automated manufacturing, agricultural business management or telehealth, Elkhart County needs to keep investing in fiber or we will continue to fall behind.
CORWIN-CRIPE: Rural access to quality high-speed internet is lacking nationwide. The current pandemic has made many rural residents acutely aware that high-speed internet service is no longer just a luxury, but a necessity. The dark fiber network needs to be extended to areas where the private sector will want to provide service and open it up to competition. This means talking with the companies to ensure that fiber is not laid then not used. The county can incentivize private companies to build out their market share by offering wholesale pass-through rates that decrease as the company has more subscribers.
Please tell the voters what initiatives you would undertake in 2021 as a member of the Elkhart County Commissioners.
CORWIN-CRIPE: Starting immediately, I would like to make the board more transparent. We need to make sure that the public is updated frequently on the projects the board is considering. Commissioners’ meetings need to be more accessible. Currently they are held on Monday mornings, when many residents are at work. Meetings that are held later in the day will be more accessible.
I would also like to perform a comprehensive safety study of the county roads and bridges. Currently there are many intersections that are just plain dangerous and others where traffic bottlenecks.
WEIRICK: As county commissioner I intend to continue the investment in fiber infrastructure, evaluate options of bringing technology to the forefront of the business of the county, strive for efficiencies in providing government services, like consolidating the courts, invest in economic development from workforce development initiatives to recruitment of diversified businesses.