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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Insurrection, Vaccine Distribution

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Unknown Speaker
Hello and welcome to Ask the mayor on Wi Fi you it's the second week of the month end of the year. And I'm with Terre Haute, Mayor Duke Bennett. Hello and Happy New Year.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you, Joe. Great to be here again for another year.

Unknown Speaker
So let's just have to kind of touch upon what's making headlines right now so much swirling around with what's what's happening with the capital attacks, you know that there's talk about Trump impeachment, where the certifying Electoral College, you know, you're the Republican mayor of Terre Haute, Indiana. Can you just tell us a bit about your reaction to what happened this past weekend? How did we get there?

Unknown Speaker
Well, you know, I mean, I think there's a lot of answers to that question, probably, depending on what your viewpoint is. But just for me, personally, it's been a circus for a while here now. And so you kind of felt like things were brewing, you know, I would have never expected what happened in capitalistic short, you know, people go and do your protest, and whatever. But, you know, to march in the building, and they just be like city hall or the courthouse here, or the state capitol, or, I mean, that's just not a place, where do you go get out a line, I guess, is the best way to put it. And you follow the procedures, you do what you need to do outside and protest all you want. But when you start invading a building or packing, security, that's just wrong, no matter what level it is what group you are, you can't do that. That's not how we solve problems. In this country, whether you believe any of the stuff you've heard about the election, it doesn't matter. Because at the end of the day, that's what it is. That's the decisions that are being made. And so for people to what I would consider to be an overreaction to the issue, that the think that somehow you need to march inside the Capitol building and take it over, if you will, is just wrong. I mean, I, I can't imagine anybody would think that's okay, that's in an elected position like this, because that's not how we do things. You just don't do it that way. It's really unfortunate, because all this drama, and all the conversations and all the media and all what Congress wants to do, all that distracts from us doing the business, you know, that we need to get done, and get this COVID thing addressed. And I just, it's just a bunch of noise to me. And it's unfortunate that that seems to be taking the front and center almost every day right now.

Unknown Speaker
And I mean, we know the inauguration is coming up soon. Do you have a take on what should happen now? in the White House? Should Trump resign? Should there be impeachment?

Unknown Speaker
I think he's almost gone. So I, you know, I think he just needs to move on. And just process. I mean, I would hope he can do this in a way that's positive to finish this out here the last few days, and not have to get bogged down and all this impeachment stuff. And all that I'm just, I just think that all that is a distraction from what we need to be focused on. And everybody's just, you know, about that I get all that. I'm not saying there aren't concerns about those things. But what is easy got left are nine days, whatever it is, now I've lost track. But I think the sooner that time comes and we move on, the better. And so I'm not sure what can be accomplished in that shorter period of time. That would be healthy for the country. I mean, I know political parties are going to say, Oh, you know, get rid of the guy tomorrow, any way we can. I wouldn't care if it was Republican or Democrat in there. I would just say, how do we stabilize for the next few days, and then move on to the next administration? That's That's me.

Unknown Speaker
So, of course, the other thing that we've been getting updates from you about is the Coronavirus. COVID-19 levels have been increasing. I mean, I'm assuming that this is part of this post holiday wave, right?

Unknown Speaker
I would assume I've not heard anybody officially say they believe that that's what it is. You know, it may be in some places here in our numbers went up by 67. And my last report from Sunday, Monday. So I don't feel horrible about that. It's still kind of staying in that range. And actually, our overall numbers are dropping a little bit. But is that wave coming from the Christmas holidays? And we just haven't seen it quite yet. You know, test results probably aren't back on a lot of people. And I think another week will probably tell us more about that. But you know, the vaccines rollout seems to be a little slow. I was hoping that would be more ramped up at this point. You know, some of our policemen and firemen are getting vaccinated. I know our local health care professionals and now people over 80 started getting shots this week. So maybe in the coming weeks, we'll start to see you know, the whole thing shift a little bit. Today, I can't tell you that because I don't have any data to back it up.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. Indiana seems to have a plan for rolling out the vaccinations by age group. And I, if you're at an over, you can register online or calling 211. But we are getting, I mean, hundreds of emails in our newsroom. People just want to know, when can they get vaccinated? Do you know any more about the rest of the rollout? No, I

Unknown Speaker
don't. I mean, the last I heard was with last week when they announced how they were going to roll out the shots for those 80 and above. And I'm kind of waiting on the next official release of information. Because, you know, they were supposed to start giving those shots this week. And I'm sure they're doing that. I don't know what the numbers are, though, how many people are showing up to do that. And so I think by the end of this week, we'll have a better feel for how that went. But then, you know, obviously, the numbers are going to get bigger, the pool is going to be bigger here as you lower the age and begin to add other people to the mix. And I guess that will tell us whether the system is solid to be able to handle that I've heard stories around saying you can't get in the lines too long, whatever then other places saying that we got plenty of vaccinations left. So here locally, I think at the end of this week, we'll know how the first public round wind of non essential personnel. So I'm hopeful. But I don't know if there's enough vaccinations out there for the numbers that we need.

Unknown Speaker
Is there a certain place people can go in there in Vigo county to get the vaccine, but you can continue

Unknown Speaker
both hospitals are providing some service, obviously. But so was the at the annex Vigo county annex here, the health department is doing shots this week for those 80 and above. So that's, you know, you need to get get plugged in with that. That's the key right now is getting those folks taken care of. And then I don't know if that gets wrapped up this week, because I've once again, I apologize, I haven't had time to get an update today. But they're beginning the shots now. And so the next few days will tell us did we have enough? Did the system work like they wanted it to before we take the next step for the next

Unknown Speaker
day? Yeah, and I, to start, I believe there was a process with registering the mass of people trying to come into register, there was some delays. It seems like that's back up and going again, it seems like there's enough vaccine, but I'm is the bottleneck, the effort to actually administer it? Is that where that is?

Unknown Speaker
I don't I don't think that's going to be they just you know, I mean, that just kind of happened last week, here or Butte County Health Department do this. And I think it was just everybody jumping in saying Okay, now the vaccines are beginning to spread outside of the health care worker, public safety, because they've all had access to it for a few weeks now. But even with them, getting people scheduled, get in there and get them has been a little bit of a challenge with people working, worried about maybe if there is some kind of reaction, they want to kind of do it when they're off, I get all that. But now when you begin to open it up to the general public, that's where I'm a little bit more concerned. I think the hospitals and others know how to manage that better than anybody else, because we've not done that from that public perspective of mass immunizations. And so, once again, I think if we were having this conversation next week, I'd probably tell you, I think they did a pretty good job, or I think we got some things to work on. But I would bet the plan is good. But let's see how it's executed and see how people respond to that they sign up and show up, you know, that kind of thing. That'll be important. And how many people at the end of the, you know, finally did we get registered? versus how many, you know, immunizations they had, they told me they had 500 last week going into this week? Well, that doesn't sound like a lot. But you know, we'll just see what happens by the end of this week. And we handle that group of folks, you know, the way we need to, and I'm hopeful. And I'm confident that they'll do the best they can. But there's a lot of surprises and all these, you know,

Unknown Speaker
yeah. Well, then you get all these questions too about something our teachers considered essential personnel, and then we get the questions. Well, if I'm 68, but I'm caring for my 88 year old client, can I get it to at all

Unknown Speaker
great questions, because I don't think, you know, when every state's doing something a little different. And then I'm sure locally, you're working with the state guidelines that come down but you know, you're probably pressured by the people on the front lines saying hey, why can't I get a shot I've got and you know, and determine and how, how many health issues do you have to make you qualify maybe than somebody else because if you're 80 years old, You're in perfect health. That's one thing. If you're 80 years old, and you have four underlying health conditions, it would seem like you'd want to get all those people immunized. But it's should there be a pecking order? I don't know. That's the questions we get. I don't have the answers to that. Because, you know, that's not I don't have access to that data. So I don't know how you make those decisions. Without knowing all those facts. You try to just do the best you can and hope you're doing it, right. I mean, I feel good about what they've rolled out. But my guess is we don't have enough vaccinations out there. That's what I'm worried about.

Unknown Speaker
What's the plan there for going back to school it our students back.

Unknown Speaker
So elementary is back full time, middle school and high school are on the A B schedule. But hopefully that will ramp up and get back to normal soon. So everybody came back after the holidays, and I've not I saw a report yesterday, I think they had nine positives in the school system between teachers and students. So you know, they're still going to be some activity there. But it seems like it's going pretty well from the sources that I have. My grandson's glad to be back in school. You know, he's, he's a first grader and he was ready to go back. You know, he he's excited about it. And I feel he's in a safe environment.

Unknown Speaker
Now, and then there's been a lot of controversy. Some say going back to school is better than not to

Unknown Speaker
believe that because I believe there's social issues with all of this. There's obviously the educational issues. I think kids need to be in the classroom. That's just me personally. So I like it. I'm glad that we are and we just have to monitor and help and make sure we do the right things to manage the COVID as we move forward, and I think they're doing that I feel pretty good about

Unknown Speaker
that. No Bloomington is making some news on evicting encampments from a downtown public park mayor says he's concerned in Bloomington about the frigid temperatures, shelter officials saying they're full but displacing those experiencing homelessness will only hurt them further during a specially during a pandemic. Has this been an issue in Terre Haute?

Unknown Speaker
Not a big problem. You know, we've got people, obviously homeless people that are sleeping downtown and other areas, a lot of them around here are more camping out in the woods kind of a thing. So you don't necessarily see them all the time. We've just not had a big encampment or anything downtown, and I don't want to do that. I don't think that's the right place for them. We just got to find ways to get them plugged into our homeless shelters. Same thing. I read that story about that down there. And, you know, I really feel for those folks, a lot of homeless people don't want to be at a shelter, or they've been kicked out. And so you go round loop de loop, you know, and we just have to find different methods to deal with different parts of that population, because they're not all the same. You know, some have addictions issues, some have mental health issues, some have both, some just having defiance and social anxiety issues. I get all that. And there's no one answer. So that's why you have to have multiple solutions for that problem. Ready real soon here, they open up a day drop in center. So that property has been closed down by the local not for profit reach services, we have provided some funding to some of the COVID relief money, we're going to give them $300,000 to help rehabilitate that facility as soon as we can get it going with them. And that'll be a place for the homeless during the day. It's not a place to sleep at night. That's the place to try to capture and have a focal point and provide services to them and interact with the homeless shelters, other social services, mental health and addiction services. It's going to be a real tool for us not a solution to that homeless overnight problem, but it may be overtime will help us be able to start attacking that issue.

Unknown Speaker
Where's that located?

Unknown Speaker
It's just south of poplar on 1614 three, sorry. No, we'll take that back. 16th Street, I'm thinking about another project we have going on 14th Street at some duplexes we're going to put in so it's just east of downtown a little bit in a former nursing home, huh. And the read Services provides a lot of services down a lot of it related to homeless and this will be a major expansion so I'm excited about this opportunity to be able to send people there so they don't necessarily have to hang out here if you need you know, we can plug you in with all kinds of services just go there and talk to the folks get warm. shower. You know, we can do a lot of things there to help them out.

Unknown Speaker
A couple more things I would like to get to quickly the Indiana legislature under way 2021 session. Many things on the table. I know last week, Columbus Mayor Linda who was talking about TIF district strikes and the powers that the emergency powers the governor has are their cup, just a couple top things that are that you're looking at.

Unknown Speaker
I'm watching the TIF legislation, as I do every single session, it seems like every year, there's attempts to tighten that up more and provide some funding out of that for other, you know, taxing entities in the county. You know, the tips were created as a financial incentive to get development. That's I mean, that's, you know, that's the whole purpose of them is to help you provide funding to be able to build out areas in your community. I believe we've done that with our TIF dollars, we've not misused any of those monies, you know, you hear stories around, say, well, they're using it for this, and they're using it for that, and the legislature kept somebody in the legislature catch wind of it, like we need to fix that. And then we all get penalized because of some decisions made across the state. I just don't want them to tighten it up anymore. I think it's a great tool. It's one of the we have, we can do tax abatements. Or if you're in a TIF district, we can help with infrastructure and other needs there, I need those tools, I don't have much many other tools in the toolbox. So don't make it more difficult, or start pulling money out. Because you're running short in revenue somewhere else. Just thought about that when the tax caps came, we should have thought about that. When you look at local option, income taxes and everything else that we have. It's it's just one piece of the puzzle. And when you change one piece, it affects the rest of the puzzle. And so we've got to be conscious of that. I'm also watching you know that the executive stuff with the governor, I think he's done a good job. And I'll continue to say that, that there are some legislators who want to be at the table. Well, maybe you should run for governor, I mean, I you know, I some there has to be some balance there with the legislature planning session all year. So they can't possibly be in on a daily conversation, and pull the session back in or have a session every time you want to make a decision, a significant decision. So I guess I'll be interesting to watch how that plays out.

Unknown Speaker
I got going back just really quickly to the TIF. Is there anything in place right now that the legislature has like in front of you? Or is it something they're just working on right now,

Unknown Speaker
I've seen one piece of a bill that says they want to carve out money for schools. So obviously, they're looking for money to pay teachers more and pay and I have no problem with putting more money in education. That's not the issue at all, if you take it out of there, and I'm going to have to go find another revenue source to replace them. And so then the schools take it, let's just say if that's the case, the schools taken care of, but then I have to go, either try to get the county council to raise the tax or go go back to the legislature and say, Well, now how do I make up this revenue to do that infrastructure out there? I'll have to use that at phones, then that means other parts of the city won't get the use of the enterprise because I have to put it in the fifth district. I mean, it's a vicious circle. And so if you take anything they do, I just hope it doesn't hurt us. I don't want any more taxes. I don't need any more taxes. But if you take something away, I gotta replace it. Well, don't put that on us. Don't make me go, you know, try to get some tax raise somewhere. That's not right. In school corporations, you know, they can go do a referendum now for operating or capital. I can't do that we can't do a referendum. You know, so municipalities are kind of have the least amount of options available. So they take something away. You know, we're just kind of out of luck.

Unknown Speaker
Before we go, I wanted to get a quick update on the police station, I believe, renovations? Did

Unknown Speaker
they start this week start? Yep, starting this week, we got we were supposed to start last week. And we ran into a couple of little legal issues with closing. And so they delayed the closing. And which that means in order to go in there and do work on the building, we wanted to own it, you know, that was kind of the what was lined up. So we had to go back and put some legal documents in place to move ahead with the project, and then delay the closing a little bit, but I get a couple of little. It's just all legal stuff that popped up at the last minute. And people were off on the holidays, and didn't happen. And so now though, we've got everything worked out and the closing will be coming up here in the next few weeks, we can go ahead and get started on the building itself. What's the time to get those things in place?

Unknown Speaker
What's the timeframe on that?

Unknown Speaker
The project is about a seven to eight months total project from beginning to end. And so I'm hoping that we're in there in August. That's still my goal.

Unknown Speaker
And how much is budgeted for that whole project?

Unknown Speaker
Well, everything it's not $11 million total for everything. That's furniture, I mean it's just everything across the board so we got plenty of money. recovered on that, we just had to do some legal steps to ensure that what we were doing, or we invested a dime in it, that everything was going to play out on the closing, and it

Unknown Speaker
will. And then what happens to that old building, because I know that's an extra day on.

Unknown Speaker
So as soon as we move out, I would hope this fall, then when we're out of there, we'll get that building tore down and we're going to redevelop that site, we'll probably talk to some community partners or others that outside of Terre Haute that may want to come in and acquire that property. There's about two and a half acres there right on Wabash Avenue on old National Road. And I think it'll be a great site for future development. Get it back on the tactical.

Unknown Speaker
That was all I had. Did you have any other announcements or things you'd like to say?

Unknown Speaker
No, I'm going to be doing a city update on the 28th of January. With the chamber. Normally, it's an in person event kind of kicks off the year, but talking about last year, and what we've got coming up for this year. So it'll be my first public events that we'll be doing virtually. So we'll get that information out the Chamber's already started promoting Apple, we'll get it out through the media here very shortly. But on the 28th at nine o'clock, we'll do a live stream of that. And so I'm looking forward to that beginning to plan for that just doing a lot of end of the year closure on things and only 21 planning and it's just a crazy time you would think January and be slow, but it never is. It's a very busy time for us. And it's fun. It's exciting, and it's really looking forward to a prosperous 2021.

Unknown Speaker
All right. Well, thank you very much and hope to see you next month.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, Joe, thank you.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett on the Zoom interview Tuesday morning. (Zoom)

Bennett says he isn't sure there are enough vaccinations for the number they need, he's watching for any TIF changes in this year's state legislative session, and renovations are underway on the new police station building.

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: So much swirling around with the Capitol attacks, there's talk about Trump impeachment, certifying the Electoral College... you're the Republican mayor of Terre Haute, Indiana. What's your reaction to what happened this past week and how did we get here?

Bennett: Personally, it's been a circus for a while here now. And so you kind of felt like things were brewing. I would have never expected what happened in the Capitol. People go and do your protest, and whatever, but to march in the building, and that would just be like City Hall or the courthouse here, or the state capitol, I mean, when you start invading a building or packing security, that's just wrong, no matter what level it is what group you are, you can't do that. That's not how we solve problems.

It's really unfortunate, because all this drama, and all the conversations and all the media and all what Congress wants to do, all that distracts from us doing the business that we need to get done, and get this COVID thing addressed. It's just a bunch of noise to me. And it's unfortunate that that seems to be taking the front and center almost every day right now.

Hren: Indiana started a plan for rolling out the vaccinations by age group. If you're over 80, you can register online or calling 211. But people just want to know, when can they get vaccinated? Do you know any more about the rest of the rollout?

Bennett: No I don't, the last I heard was last week when they announced how they were going to roll out the shots for those 80 and above. And I'm kind of waiting on the next official release of information. Because, they were supposed to start giving those shots this week. And I'm sure they're doing that. And so I think by the end of this week, we'll have a better feel for how that went. But then, obviously the numbers are going to get bigger, the pool is going to be bigger here as you lower the age and begin to add other people to the mix. And I guess that will tell us whether the system is solid to be able to handle that. But I don't know if there's enough vaccinations out there for the numbers that we need.

Hren: Then you get all these questions too about are teachers considered essential personnel, and then we get questions such as, if I'm 68, but I'm caring for my 88 year old client, can I get it too?

Bennett: Great questions, every state's doing something a little different. And then I'm sure locally, you're working with the state guidelines that come down but you're probably pressured by the people on the front lines saying hey, why can't I get a shot? How many health issues do you have to make you qualify? But should there be a pecking order? I don't know. That's the questions we get. I don't have the answers to that. But my guess is we don't have enough vaccinations out there. That's what I'm worried about.

Hren: What are you watching for in the Indiana General Assembly that's underway?

Bennett: I'm watching the TIF legislation, as I do every single session, it seems like every year, there's attempts to tighten that up more and provide some funding out of that for other taxing entities in the county. The TIFs were created as a financial incentive to get development. I believe we've done that with our TIF dollars, we've not misused any of those monies. And then we all get penalized because of some decisions made across the state. I just don't want them to tighten it up anymore. I think it's a great tool. I don't have many other tools in the toolbox.

I'm also watching the executive stuff with the governor, I think he's done a good job. And I'll continue to say that, there are some legislators who want to be at the table. Well, maybe you should run for governor, I mean, there has to be some balance there with the legislature planning session all year. So they can't possibly be in on a daily conversation, and pull the session back in or have a session every time you want to make a decision, a significant decision. So I guess I'll be interesting to watch how that plays out.

Hren: And renovations on the new police station started this week?

Bennett: Yep, we were supposed to start last week. And we ran into a couple of little legal issues with closing. And so they delayed the closing. In order to go in there and do work on the building, we wanted to own it. So we had to go back and put some legal documents in place to move ahead with the project, and then delay the closing a little bit. It's just all legal stuff that popped up at the last minute. And people were off on the holidays, and didn't happen. And so now though, we've got everything worked out and the closing will be coming up here in the next few weeks, we can go ahead and get started on the building itself.

The project is about a seven to eight months total project from beginning to end. And so I'm hoping that we're in there in August. That's still my goal. So as soon as we move out, I would hope this fall, we'll get that building tore down and we're going to redevelop that site. We'll probably talk to some community partners or others outside of Terre Haute that may want to come in and acquire that property. There's about two and a half acres there right on Wabash Avenue on old National Road. And I think it'll be a great site for future development. Get it back on the tax roll.

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