As the result of the Republican sweep in November’s election, nine state and county officeholders were sworn into office Saturday morning.

Three of the six incumbents given the oath of office by Bartholomew Superior Court 1 Judge Jim Worton have held the same office for more than 20 years, including:

  • County Council member Evelyn Pence (since 1981)
  • County Surveyor E.R. Gray (since 1985)
  • County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz (since 1993)

But three newcomers represent a changing of the guard at three different levels of county government.

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Following the ceremony, the freshman officeholders took some time to discuss how they’ve prepared for the transition of power, as well as their respective plans and goals.

Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin

Now that Stephen Heimann has retired to the status of Senior Judge after a record-breaking 25 years on the bench, Circuit Judge Kelly Benjamin says she hopes to take quick action to address a case backlog in the juvenile court system.

“We have serious issues, due to drug use nationwide,” Benjamin said. “But we do have ideas on how to make that process more efficient.”

Some of those ideas come from a recent conference on juvenile detention alternatives Benjamin attended in Santa Cruz, California – at the urging of Heimann and Bartholomew County Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo, Benjamin said.

One idea is to create a drug court within the Children In Need Of Services (CHINS) program, Benjamin said.

But offering nothing but praise for her predecessor, the new judge says she will continue Heimann’s efforts to create a local residential drug treatment center for offenders.

Benjamin, who defeated Scott Andrews in the May primary, had been assured of succeeding Heimann since early July, when the deadline for a Democrat opponent to file passed.

Since that time, she has already attended a one-day training seminar for judges sponsored by the Indiana Judicial Center – and is now enrolled in an eight-day training session coming up later this winter.

But Heimann has also allowed Benjamin to occasionally preside over selective cases on a pro-tem basis, as well as review some of his more complex decisions to get her opinion.

“He won’t give you the answers sometimes, but that’s the appropriate way to do it because you have to think for yourself,” Benjamin said.

Since late summer, Benjamin has also traveled to neighboring counties to watch how other judges work in their courtrooms.

When asked whether she plans to change current members of Heimann’s staff, Benjamin said: “When you have something that works, you maintain it as long as you can.”

But while she doesn’t plan any staff changes, Benjamin said she will attempt to increase efficiencies wherever possible.

County Coroner Clayton Nolting

After serving five years as chief deputy coroner to the now-retired Larry Fisher, Clayton Nolting is already familiar with how the office operates.

Since defeating Democrat Paula Rothrock in November, Nolting has been working to fulfill his campaign pledge of developing new standard operating procedures for the coroner’s office, he said.

Effective immediately, that office is officially located within the Bartholomew County Governmental Office building at the corner of Third and Franklin streets.

Nolting says he has recently completed the process of transferring all electronic documents into a new and secure hard drive system located within his new office.

During the Dec. 27 meeting of the Bartholomew County Commissioners, Nolting said he has also been ensuring that his five new deputy coroners are properly trained and certified to perform their duties.

But Nolting said he continues to field inquiries raised during the campaign on how he can simultaneously serve as coroner and a Columbus police officer for at least the next four years.

After consulting both county attorney Grant Tucker and city attorney Alan Whitted, Nolting cited an Indiana statute that states if there is a conflict of interest, he is required to contact a neighboring agency to oversee the case.

“But the code says it’s up to me to determine if there is a conflict of interest,” Nolting said.

The new coroner said he has sat down not only with Tucker and Whitted, but also with local administrators and the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center, to determine what situations might arise that might constitute a conflict of interest.

County Councilman Matt Miller

The former sheriff’s deputy-turned-business owner says he has prepared to succeed fellow Republican Jim Reed on the council by talking extensively to county government department heads and employees.

Although Miller said he’s against taxing people any more than needed, the owner of Raft To Rafters also said he won’t promise not to raise taxes.

But although he’s heard from department heads and county employees that they need more money, Miller said he’s not willing to consider raising taxes without being assured county government is operating as efficiently as possible.

“If somebody is trying to tell me county government is 100 percent efficient, I’m going to say that’s absolutely not true,” Miller said. “There’s no business or government that is 100 percent efficient. I don’t buy it.”

Miller said he would like to implement a system that rewards county administrators and employees for coming up with ways to make their departments more efficient.

The biggest challenges ahead will likely occur during the annual budget talks in the late summer and early fall, Miller said.  One top concern is to increase the amount in the county’s reserve fund, which is commonly called the Rainy Day Fund, Miller said.

He anticipates that compromise will be essential in his new position, in order to ensure the over 400 county employees feel they are supported while taxpayers feel they are getting “the biggest bang for their buck,” Miller said.

Deputy coroners

After being sworn in Saturday, new Bartholomew County coroner Clayton Nolting announced the following members of his staff.

Chief Deputy: Jay Frederick

Senior Deputy: Charlie Deweese

Deputy coroners: Chris Imel, Andrew Plank and Tony Kummer

Incumbents

The six incumbent officeholders sworn in to serve new terms by Bartholomew Superior Court Judge 1 Jim Worton are:

  • State Representative (District 59) Milo Smith
  • County Commissioner (District 1) Larry Kleinhenz
  • County Commissioner (District 3) Rick Flohr
  • County Council (at-large) Evelyn Pence
  • County Council (at-large) Bill Lentz
  • County surveyor E.R. Gray
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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.