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Column: Candidates step up to serve in public eye


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Politics.

Some people consider it a dirty word. Why, I’m not sure.

After all, politics is public service. What’s not good about that?

By Wednesday night, as my writing deadline was approaching, more than 90 names already were on the list of potential public servants seeking to win a spot in the Bartholomew County May 6 primary or Nov. 4 general election.

Almost 100. I think that’s pretty good, especially for a job some public servants consider to be thankless.

Public employees, like the rest of us, do what they believe is right to the best of their ability. But often, the only feedback they get is critical. Sometimes, people in the private sector feel the same way.

For myself, I am going to use this space to thank all of the would-be politicians for running — and agreeing to serve.

Jobs in elected office often don’t pay that well — especially in town and township positions — so there must be other motivations to serve.

And yet other public jobs pay especially well.

For example, Sheriff Mark Gorbett is the county’s highest-paid employee — out of local funds, anyway — at $114,800, and I know Mark works hard for his salary.

Other highly compensated employees such as county prosecutors and judges have most or all of their salaries paid by the state.

But one of the downsides of being paid with public dollars — at any level — is your public servant salary is ... yes, public.

I got my pay stub this week in a sealed envelope. No one knows what I make except the payroll department and others higher in the Home News food chain, which is the way it should be.

But the names and 2013 salaries of 518 Bartholomew County employees were listed in Wednesday’s Republic. Why? Because they’re paid by taxpayer dollars. And those amounts are public, which is also the way it should be.

In fact, a salary database was created in 2006 as a result of a partnership between the state of Indiana and Indiana University, part of an Information for Indiana initiative. The Indiana Gateway for Government Units provides state-collected salary information on individuals who work for school districts, libraries and municipalities. This information is provided for the benefit of all Indiana citizens.

You can access the salary information on the Internet at gateway.ifionline.org.

Some folks might not want to work in the public sector because of the lack of privacy regarding salary information.

I respect that.

But as the election season has heated up, a lot of individuals seem more interested in serving the public than in keeping their earnings secret from the public.

Good for them.

The first politician out of the gate for the Bartholomew County May primary was Maj. Todd Noblitt, chief deputy for the sheriff’s department. He announced his intentions to run for sheriff in late April 2013, more than eight months ahead of the opening of filing and more than a year ahead of the primary.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Dean Johnson announced his candidacy in June, and three others — Sheriff’s Sgt. T.A. Smith, Sheriff’s Capt. Rob Kittle and Columbus Police Lt. Matt Myers — went public regarding their campaigns by the Fourth of July, although Kittle has now dropped out.

Noblitt was also the first to officially file the morning of

Jan. 8, when candidates could finally submit their paperwork.

There is an eagerness to serve the public, not just as sheriff, but as county commissioner or council member, county assessor, county recorder, county auditor and county treasurer. But candidates this month also expressed their willingness to serve on town councils and in township leadership positions.

They also placed their names on the ballot in order to serve as precinct committee members, who select replacement candidates for office when an elected official leaves during his or her term. And they have stepped up to serve as state convention delegates.

The Republic covers local politics to serve the public’s interest. We don’t choose sides but approach each assignment with an expectation to be as fair and even-handed as possible, which is the way it should be.

Once the primary ballot gets set Friday, you can look for a lot more Republic coverage over the three months leading up to May 6. After that, it’s on to November.

Hang onto your hats, whether they’re red or blue. I have a feeling that politics at the local level is going to get even more interesting.

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at tjekel@therepublic.com.

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