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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Coronavirus Spike, Holiday Events

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Unknown Speaker
Hello and welcome to Ask the mayor this week. We're with Terre Haute, Duke Bennett once again October. Thanks for being on the show. It's great to be here. Joe, appreciate you guys having the show. After all these years, it's great. Well, you know, here we are another month I just feel like every time because you know, I want to see you once a month, all the mayors once a month and every time we get out of this it just kind of feels like deja vu with COVID-19 because here we are another month. And now at least in the state and I think a little bit there in Vigo county to last I checked case numbers. hospitalizations are going up. What's the situation right now in Terre Haute? Vigo County? Yeah, we're

Unknown Speaker
seeing the numbers go up. They attributed. I mean, obviously, you know, the college students coming back and a lot of interaction with the community was a big part of it. But the Korea Apple festival recently over here in neighboring Clay County, apparently a lot of folks went to that, knowing that the covered bridge festival was cancelled, you know, in park County, which would bring, you know, lots and lots of people to the area. Well, a lot of folks went to the core Apple festival and apparently contracted. So I'm just getting that from the health department. I don't know what specific numbers but they saw an uptick from that as kind of a spread or event. So it's not outrageous, but it continues to go up and hospitalizations are up. And luckily they're not. You know, what we were afraid of in the beginning was would be a lot of people need to be in the ICU and on breathing machines. It's not quite that bad. We are seeing people hospitalized. So we're not taxing the system yet. But I don't know when if this is just another one of those peaks, and then hopefully it'll level off again. But right now there's some concern that there's quite a bit spread.

Unknown Speaker
What about this, this spike being related to any of the federal prison executions in Terre Haute, we have a press release from the ACLU and believe that the executions earlier this summer caused a spike a few weeks ago. I'm just curious if you've heard anything about that.

Unknown Speaker
Now, I don't think that's accurate. I mean, they may just be putting trying to put pieces together and make that statement that you know, there's been some numbers in the prison, but not anything huge at all. I think the last I saw was 20. positives out of you know, 2500 2700 prisoners, some staff, but it hasn't spread, you know, like wildfire, they're like it could that's obviously a contained situation where people can move around too much. So if it starts spreading from cell to cell, that would be a serious problem. But they seem to have kept a pretty good lid on it. You know, I I'm not sensing that. I haven't heard that from any of my sources here locally, that that's a big spread or location kind of a thing.

Unknown Speaker
There's also the Indiana State University dashboard, Indiana University has a dashboard I'm sure many do. But just in this area, notice those are going down at and although the state seems to be increasing, it seems like the universities kind of know what they're doing.

Unknown Speaker
They kind of hit it a little bit earlier, maybe or didn't have it at all. But you know, some of those students that did get it and staff have been gone home maybe and spread it whether they're local students or not, I don't know. But some of the staff and so the numbers are up just a little bit from just those people's bodies being in Terre Haute, yes, it's a lot more population goes up about 12,000 people almost overnight when they come back to Indiana State University. So, you know, once again, I think it's fairly mild cases in those younger people, but it's when they spread it to you know, older folks or those that are have some, you know, condition where it makes them more vulnerable. That's what that's where our concern is that and so even though our numbers are up, I'm not feeling really concerned overly concerned about it. Right now. We're just keeping a close watch

Unknown Speaker
on governor Holcomb is saying to stay the course. But then you look at some of these numbers went from an average of 825 a day a couple weeks ago to 1500 cases a day. And just read yesterday, hospitalizations are up 65% since since September 19. Should there be a plan change is is the governor on the right track here.

Unknown Speaker
You know, my gut would tell me that right now he is and I'm sure he's monitoring that very closely. I mean, I know he is. You know, we never really had the giant spike in the beginning. So now you don't know is this the second wave and it'll be the worst part of it. Is this really a first way? I mean, I'm no expert on that. I just listen to the experts. And I hear varying opinions to them. And so I am certain that Dr. Box is, you know, constantly in the governor's ear about, okay, here's what it looks like, here's what we're trending. I mean, they're looking at that constantly. And I am certain that if he feels like if there needs to be a change or a step back, that he'll do that, once again, I'm just not sensing that right now. I'm not hearing that and through the grapevine, but guess we'll just have to see as this week progresses, does it begin to flatline? Or does it continue to go up? Especially over here in western India?

Unknown Speaker
Can you tell are people still wearing masks? They're in Terre Haute? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker
you know, I was my wife and I went on a little drive yesterday and stopped and a couple of places outside of Vigo County, close but outside. And it's interesting, the more you get away from the metropolitan areas, the less likely people are to wear masks. But you know, I stopped by the gas station this morning, on the way in and I saw everybody but one person had a mask on and they were outside. So I don't know, maybe they I don't know when they were inside but and you know, going out to eat a couple times and people wear them in their seat and get their food and wear them out. So I think people are doing pretty good on that. I don't think it's perfect, but I think it's it's pretty responsive. I think people are still even though they're getting a little mass fatigue. We all are. But you just got to stick with it.

Unknown Speaker
You know, I saw report 31 states are having surging rates, not just in Indiana right now, does this come from the top, you know, the Trump administration? I mean, how much of this is is the White House?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I hate to put too much blame no matter who the President would be or anything else. I think their main job is to provide advice and support to the States. And I really see it as a state issue. And we need to deal with our own situation. Some may disagree with that. But that's my approach. I don't think the federal government's the solution to everything for us. And so I think the support they provided has been adequate. Kim, could they have done some things differently? Yes. But if you had a different president a different ministration, you could probably say the same thing about them. I think when this is over with, we'll know so much more about pandemics in general, maybe not a specific virus. But we're going to learn a lot more and be much more prepared for the next time because I don't think anybody was really overly prepared and just ready to go to deal with it. I'm not sensing that. We're seeing that. And all the research I've done. It's a lot of it's been reactionary, and because we really haven't dealt with anything of this significance, it's got this much media play. And, you know, everybody knows about it, everybody's concerned about it. And yeah, I think we've done fairly well, yeah, there are some parts of it that you could look at and say we could do better. And that's what we need to focus on. But my focus is mostly on Indiana, see how it's gonna affect us here. And I think the governor has done a really good job of managing based on the information, he said, but yet, there's still more to come. And we all know what that really looks like it. And so, you know, it's purely speculation on anybody's part. I mean, even when you listen to the professionals, you get two different opinions from two people who are experts in the field. And so I don't know if anybody has all the answers. I think I've said that before. But I still believe that today, you do the best you can with the information in front of you.

Unknown Speaker
Of course, it's election season, we're in the full swing of it right now. How much do you think because a lot of our leaders are up for election, including the governor, how much of our elections having an impact on their decision making of the COVID mitigation plan? You know,

Unknown Speaker
I think at the presidential level, it's going to have an impact without any question. But as you go down ballot, I really don't hear that or feel that anywhere that people are saying, you know, we need a new governor because of the COVID-19 response. I'm not hearing that at all. So obviously, you've got some political people out there making their statements about that, but you do in every election cycle. So if you're the opponent or supporter of in a boat it you know, you try to point out the things that could have been done differently. Maybe it could have maybe it couldn't have that I'm not hearing that through the people around here, both Republicans and Democrats, making that part of the conversation about wanting to you know, get rid of legislators or the governor or any local offices related to COVID-19 at all.

Unknown Speaker
Do you think Holcomb is using the kind of going the opposite way? Is his decision making more on elections rather than safety?

Unknown Speaker
Um, I don't know. Thanks. So but I'm sure anybody in any position like that would weigh every factor I think you would at least consider, you know, anytime you make a decision, whenever a mayor or governor or whoever else you got to think about the politics sometimes about, you get to the meat of it, you want to get the real, you want to do what's right for everybody. But then you think about what does this look like? How do you communicate it? How do you explain it to people, so they don't think it's nothing at all fix, but it is based on science and is based on the business plan or the model that you put in place. And, you know, it's a tough spot, because no matter what you do, somebody is going to criticize you, you know, and you may be right 90% of the time, but that 10% criticism can be pretty rough. And so I think you just got to look at everything, make a decision, what your gut tells you to do. And don't worry about the people that want to say, Oh, that's only you're only doing it for political reasons. Because, you know, I mean, we're all human, and we're all going to make mistakes. And we're all going to make decisions based on the factors that we have in our own head. And I think the governor's navigated this pretty well, I would be hard to criticize him and I would if he was a governor, the other party, I'd say the same thing, because I'm always pretty much a straight shooter on that here. Here's what I think it is. Fake it or leave it, you know, and I think that we've navigated choppy waters halfway decent here, I feel pretty good about it.

Unknown Speaker
Something we get a lot of questions about Trick or treat. And I know Maitland up in Columbus said their phones have been ringing off the hook there. I don't know what people are doing there in Terre Haute, but you did issue a press release, I think even last week that Taro will hold a trick or treat from six to 9pm. But with CDC guidelines in place.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And you know, the CDC really kind of frowned upon any trick or treating or really any Halloween kind of things. So I consulted with the state and of course with the local health department, and they feel like with the numbers of the way they are, we're in pretty good shape here to be able to have it, but you got to use a little common sense. And people wearing masks, obviously not Halloween mask, you need to wear both. But washing your hands do as much contact, let's transfer of candy as you can. So people aren't touching each other. I'm feeling pretty good about that. Normally, we have two nights. And so I just felt like listening to all the opinions about that one night. But just do it that way. And you know, get through it. And hopefully we keep everybody safe and not ready to go. But I I really feel pretty confident about that. It'll be okay.

Unknown Speaker
And I see that the Christmas parade is still on. I know Columbus canceled there's due to people gathering but they're in Terre Haute found a way to still have it safely.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, so we're gonna reverse it. So we'll be fair banks parked down by the river. And all the floats will be lined up along each side of the road. And people can drive through and view all the the floats and displays that people normally put in the Christmas parade. So we felt like, you know that way you stay in your car, and you won't be exposed anybody and you'll be able to come through and still see all the you know, the really neat floats and things that we have in the parade every year.

Unknown Speaker
Talked about election a little bit earlier. How is early voting going there in Terre Haute? last couple

Unknown Speaker
days, it jumped up a little bit. I think it's kind of settled in now. I mean, some people were just ready to go vote on day one. You know, I think it's pretty accessible. I don't think I haven't heard any big lines or anything outside the first day a little bit. So I think they got off to a great start. And my guess is that people will decide sometime between now and Election Day. More people vote early, and so more power to them. I mean, get it out of the way. And you know have to be around the minimum amount of people. I wouldn't have picked the first day just because a lot of people went but I think it'll each day after here, it'll be just fine. And I'm not hearing any complaints from anybody or any significant issues. I think the accounting clerk and is was prepared for this and the election board, they've just done a good job to lay it out and just keep people separated and let them exercise their right to vote.

Unknown Speaker
If you if you have them two quick updates that anything on the casino and the new police station,

Unknown Speaker
so the casino they still haven't scheduled the groundbreaking day, but it'll be the first part of November so we shouldn't hear that thing. We may have already had it by the time we are next on air session here. And the police station we have we've rolled out our schedule now. So in November, it will go through the approval process and we'll close on the bond then later in November. So we'll be fully funded by the end construction started. And I'll be able to share a timeline of when the construction should be finished next month when we visit again. So it's you know, it's been a process but we have nailed it down mail and God are different with different app, you get the city council, you get the redevelopment commission, there's a variety of meetings that have to happen in a certain order. And so that's all been laid out. And we're doing our due diligence on the bond right now. So be ready to take it to the market in November.

Unknown Speaker
And that's still the former Tribune star site. Yes, yes. So it's basically a major renovation.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And it's some expansion, we're building a garage on it, to be able to process vehicles and things for evidence, and some canines space for storage of canine equipment, etc. So we'll be doing a small addition to the building. It doesn't currently have a garage,

Unknown Speaker
I haven't been able to follow a lot of the budget talks and all the cities have just everything going on, like in years past, but I assume you're either in the middle of hearings or completed them right now.

Unknown Speaker
We've completed it. So the budget was approved nine to nothing by city council, I was very happy with that, we actually reduced our budget from the 2020 budget by just a few hundred thousand dollars. And we're still able to give 3% raises to all of our employees. So it turned out pretty good. Because really, what I'm trying to do is face in cash next year has been we head into 22, we think our biggest tip from COVID will come will be in 2022. So our ideas to sit on a little cash going into next year, and at the end of next year. So that will be I can hopefully I'm uncertain, I will. But I want to be able to have another balanced budget, we've got six straight years of balanced budgets, and I'll be shooting for seven and 22.

Unknown Speaker
That was all the time that I had. I always like to leave you with last word, anything, any announcements that you'd like to say?

Unknown Speaker
I guess all I would say is, you know, people just need to still need to be diligent about this coven. I mean, they may hear a new story or two. But just think about your own family and how you can protect yourself. And I know a lot of people don't want to wear a mask and don't want to social distance. But just keep it up a little while longer. We'll get through this. And I keep feeling like that, you know, every few weeks, I start feeling better. And then it kind of takes a little bit about a step back. But just be diligent and just to enjoy the fall and the colors are beautiful. And Halloween is coming up. We'll have our one night here. And so I just asked people just to try to enjoy and move hunker down and kind of get through this code thing. And hopefully by the time we get to Christmas, we're having a normal conversation about the upcoming year. So that's my goal.

Unknown Speaker
All right. Well, again, thank you very much for your time, and we'll see you next month. Thanks, Joe. All right. Thank you. Bye bye.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett (Zoom)

The federal prison in Terre Haute isn't to blame for the county's uptick in coronavirus cases, the governor is on the right track to the pandemic response, and the new city police station is on schedule.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more on a Zoom conference call. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: There's been an increase of coronavirus cases throughout the state and in Vigo County, the ACLU released a statement saying executions at the federal prison there earlier this summer is causing the spike. Is there a connection there?

Bennett: Now, I don't think that's accurate. I mean, they may just be trying to put pieces together and make that statement that there's been some numbers in the prison, but not anything huge at all. I think the last I saw was 20 positives out of 2,500 prisoners, some staff, but it hasn't spread like wildfire.

That's obviously a contained situation where people can't move around too much. So if it starts spreading from cell to cell, that would be a serious problem. But they seem to have kept a pretty good lid on it. You know, I'm not sensing that. I haven't heard that from any of my sources here locally that that's a big spread or location kind of a thing.

Hren: Records of positive cases across the state are being reported, Indiana went from 825 average cases a day a couple weeks ago to 1,500 cases a day…. Hospitalizations up 65 percent since September 19. But Governor Holcomb says to stay the course – is this the right plan?

Bennett: My gut would tell me that right now he is, and I'm sure he's monitoring that very closely. I mean, I know he is. You know, we never really had the giant spike in the beginning. So now you don't know is this the second wave? And it'll be the worst part of it. Or is this really the first wave? I mean, I'm no expert on that. I just listen to the experts. And I hear varying opinions to them. And so I am certain that Dr. Box is constantly in the governor's ear about, okay, here's what it looks like, here's what we're trending. I mean, they're looking at that constantly.

And I am certain that if he feels like if there needs to be a change or a step back, that he'll do that. Once again, I'm just not sensing that right now. I'm not hearing that through the grapevine, but guess we'll just have to see as this week progresses, does it begin to flatline? Or does it continue to go up? Especially over here in western Indiana.

Hren: How much do you think elections are part of elected leader's COVID mitigation plan?

Bennett: I don't think so, but I'm sure anybody in any position like that would weigh every factor. I think you would at least consider, anytime you make a decision, whenever a mayor or governor or whoever else - you got to think about the politics, you get to the meat of it, you want to do what's right for everybody.

But then you think about what does this look like? How do you communicate it? How do you explain it to people, so they don't think it's nothing at all, but it is based on science and is based on the business plan or the model that you put in place. And, it's a tough spot, because no matter what you do, somebody is going to criticize you. You may be right 90% of the time, but that 10% criticism can be pretty rough.

And so I think you just got to look at everything, make a decision, what your gut tells you to do, and don't worry about the people that say, 'Oh, you're only doing it for political reasons.' Because, we're all human, and we're all going to make mistakes. And we're all going to make decisions based on the factors that we have in our own head. And I think the governor's navigated this pretty well, I would be hard to criticize him and if he was a governor of the other party, I'd say the same thing, because I'm always pretty much a straight shooter on that here.

Hren: I understand you have Halloween and Christmas Parade updates?

Bennett: The CDC really kind of frowned upon any trick or treating or really any Halloween kind of things. So I consulted with the state and of course with the local health department, and they feel like with the numbers the way they are, we're in pretty good shape here to be able to have it, but you got to use a little common sense. And people wearing masks, obviously not Halloween masks, you need to wear both. But washing your hands, do as little as much contact of candy as you can, so people aren't touching each other.

For the Christmas Parade, we're gonna reverse it. So we'll be at Fairbanks parked down by the river. And all the floats will be lined up along each side of the road. And people can drive through and view all the the floats and displays that people normally put in the Christmas parade. So we felt like, you know that way you stay in your car, and you won't be exposed. And you'll be able to come through and still see all the really neat floats and things that we have in the parade every year.

Hren: Any casino, police station updates?

Bennett: So the casino they still haven't scheduled the groundbreaking day, but it'll be the first part of November so we may have already had it by the time we are next on air here. And the police station we've rolled out our schedule now. So in November, it will go through the approval process and we'll close on the bond then later in November. So we'll be fully funded by the time construction started. And I'll be able to share a timeline of when the construction should be finished next month when we visit again.

Hren: And budget hearings should be wrapping up?

Bennett: We've completed it. So the budget was approved nine to nothing by city council. I was very happy with that, we actually reduced our budget from the 2020 budget by just a few hundred thousand dollars. And we're still able to give 3% raises to all of our employees. So it turned out pretty good. Because really, what I'm trying to do is save some cash next year, but then when we head into 2022, we think our biggest hitch from COVID will come in 2022. So our idea is to sit on a little cash going into next year, and at the end of next year. So that hopefully, I'm uncertain, I will, but I want to be able to have another balanced budget, we've got six straight years of balanced budgets, and I'll be shooting for seven in 2022.

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