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Nine Indy City-County Councilors aren't running again. Why the lack of experience concerns some

Posted at 2:43 PM, May 06, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS — Of the 25 members serving on the Indianapolis City-County Council, nine are not running for reelection in 2019.

This means even if every incumbent wins their district (certainly not a guarantee in many areas), there will be nine councilors who didn’t serve in the previous term.

“I think it’s a very high number,” Christine Scales, D-District 3, said.

The lack of experience and knowledge the new councilors would have concerns some outgoing members.

Why Not Run?

Everybody has their own reasons. Some are retiring, some are moving on to spend more time with family or other jobs, and some didn’t have the support within their party.

For Scales, she will have served 12 years by the end of the year, and she feels that’s enough.

“I’ve seen too many councilors overstay their welcome,” Scales said. “They become complacent, or they begin to center on what special interests want from them, rather than what they can do for their constituents. … I didn’t want to be that person.”

At least two councilors, Danielle Coulter, R-District 23, and Joseph Simpson, D-District 7, did not win the slate for their respective parties in February.

Jefferson Shreve, R-District 16, says he didn’t want to commit to a full term on the council. Shreve was caucused into the seat by the Republican party in 2018 after Jeff Miller’s resignation.

“I just decided at the end of this past year I didn’t want to do this job to the end of 2024,” Shreve said. “I suppose it just came down for that. I’d probably be up for it for another year or two. But it’s not a job I had that kind of fire in my belly to do until 2024.”

Low Pay

For the last few years, some councilors have tried passing a pay increase for those serving.

Currently, councilors receive $11,400 per year. They also receive a bonus of $112 per regular council meeting attended, for a maximum of 21 meetings in a year, for a possible bonus of $2,352.

The proposals have failed, as many Republicans (and some Democrats) have opposed it. But those who introduced the proposal have said the lower pay could be a reason people eventually leave the council – they simply can’t afford to remain a councilor.

None of the councilors have specifically mentioned the pay for their reasons for leaving, but it could be a factor for some, Shreve said.

“Well, it doesn’t pay much,” he said. “It does make it tough for someone who has to make that work on the margin. For some of my colleagues, that’s definitively the case. Done properly, it’s a big time commitment. It comes at the expense of whatever day job you may have. It is, in that sense, a costly service.”

Lack of Experience

No matter who wins the primary or general elections this year, there will undoubtedly be many new faces on the council in 2020.

Both Shreve and Scales say the inexperience has the potential to affect votes and decisions made in the city for the next few years.

“There’s a steep learning curve,” Scales said. “You need to have enough veteran councilors in there who have an institutional knowledge of how the process works, the history of a policy and why it wasn’t a part of the policy. They understand all that went into that, whereas new people don’t. Hopefully we’ll have a nice mix of those who have been around for a while and can kind of guide the new councilors, and the new councilors.”

Shreve said the city government is much more complex than it looks from the outside. He said newer councilors tend to be less confident about asking important questions and will instead knuckle under to what their caucus thinks.

“You have to have [curiosity] to dive into and get your head around the subject matter,” Shreve said. “Because you’re going to be pressing a green button or a red button on something that matters without a lot of run-up time in terms of the learning opportunity.”

Primary election day is Tuesday, May 7. The general municipal election for all 25 City-County Council seats will be Tuesday, Nov. 5.