Viewpoints on Brainard define races in Carmel


There aren’t two political parties in Carmel, but there are two camps.

One aligns with five-term Mayor Jim Brainard. The other, well, they say it isn’t personal.

“I have said over and over again, this is not a campaign about Jim Brainard,” said Rick Sharp, a member of the City Council who is running against the mayor in the May 5 Republican primary. “It’s a campaign about the future of Carmel.”

No doubt, Carmel is and will continue to be a dense, walkable suburb with urban amenities because of Brainard’s vision. The question for this election: At what price? Sharp and his allies worry that redevelopment-related debt will bring about higher taxes. Brainard supporters say Carmel, named one of the best small cities in America, can be the stuff of Money magazine covers without raising taxes, thanks to ongoing growth.

Carmel mayor Jim Brainard Brainard

The debate over Carmel’s bottom line won’t be limited to the mayor’s race. Brainard, who did not respond to IBJ’s interview requests for this story, has supporters challenging each of his critics on the council.

Pets vs. CarmelFest

Brainard’s most authoritative skeptic, Luci Snyder, faces the toughest race of her career.

First elected to the council in 1991, Snyder has been bird-dogging the mayor since the start of his tenure. She ran against him in 2003, and she’s the longtime chairwoman of the council finance committee.

Snyder’s opponent is Jeff Worrell, a local TV show host, newspaper columnist (on an election-season hiatus from the Current in Carmel) and businessman who ran the city’s Fourth of July festival, CarmelFest, for about 20 years.

Worrell is one of several candidates talking about the need for friendly communication between the council and mayor.

“I would like to change the tone and tenor of how business is conducted,” Worrell said. He said he’s been “disappointed” in Snyder’s behavior. “I would try to approach those tough conversations with the hand of friendship extended first,” he said.

In Snyder’s estimation, the problem with Worrell, as a member of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission, is that he hasn’t broached unpleasant topics in the first place. In 2012, the council agreed to pledge the city’s credit for a massive refinancing of the CRC’s debt, helping the commission avoid operating in the red.

“Mr. Worrell has a record, and I have a record, and they need to be checked,” Snyder said.

Snyder doesn’t always vote against the mayor, and in fact she agrees with him on issues like the need for more moderately priced housing.

She said her questioning stance is appropriate for a council member. “People should expect us to oppose each other—not nastily,” she said.

Snyder acknowledged that she faces a formidable opponent in Worrell, who is well-known for his volunteer work. Snyder pointed out that she supports the Hamilton County Humane Society and from her seat on the council dais promotes a “pet of the week.”

Misrepresentation vs. half-truths

Councilor Eric Seidensticker persistently sounds the alarm about the threat of a tax increase under Brainard’s administration.

The most recent evidence, Seidensticker said, was a presentation last fall by city bond consultant Loren Matthes of Umbaugh Associates, who mentioned a scenario in which the city could levy a special-benefits tax, which is essentially a property tax.

That was a change in message from the administration, which has always insisted that the tax would never be necessary, Seidensticker said. “We’ve gone from ‘no way, no how’ … to ‘even if.’”

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And Seidensticker is quick to accuse Brainard and city consultants of misleading the council. “They were misrepresenting the truth initially,” he said. “We need to be prepared for it.”

Seidensticker faces Bruce Kimball, a Twitter aficionado and former mayor’s appointee to the Carmel City Center Community Development Corp. Knocking on doors in the central district that encompasses downtown, Kimball is talking up the need for a Safe Routes to School program and bike- and pedestrian-friendly planning.

“Carmel’s going to have its share of new growth,” he said. “It’s really important that we do it right.”

Kimball said Sharp’s camp is the one spreading misinformation. “Their whole argument is, Carmel’s going to have to raise taxes,” he said. “There’s no pressure to do that.”

On the contrary

The annexation of West Clay brought a new Brainard critic, Carol Schleif, onto the council in 2011.

The annexation was controversial at the time, but Keith Griffin, an attorney who’s running against Schleif, said most of his friends and neighbors are happy with the result. He wants to see Brainard carry out his vision.

“There could be long-term damage to the community if things aren’t allowed to run their course and finish the evolution of Carmel,” Griffin said.

While saying he would evaluate issues independently, Griffin said he wants to put an end to stonewalling by Schleif and others. “I do see a much more functional council, and likely a more efficient council.”

Schleif disputed that she’s a knee-jerk opponent of the mayor. She said southwest district residents share her concern about city finances. “They’re worried about the debt,” she said. “They think we’re spending too much.”

The critical council members aren’t the only Brainard foes facing challengers this year. Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray faces her first opponent since 1995. The challenger is Christine Pauley, a senior contracts negotiator for Raytheon Co.

Democratic political consultant Dan Parker admires Brainard for the way he transformed Carmel, but he said the mayor’s allies won’t strike a chord with voters by talking up the decision-making process, rather than issues.

Voters are very “transactional,” Parker said. “Just because you’re going to be nice doesn’t mean you’re going to do anything for me.”

This isn’t the first time Brainard has faced a budget hawk in his own race while hoping to unseat one or more of his critics. In 2011, he easily fended off both John Accetturo and Marnin Spigelman in the three-way primary, but Sharp, Seidensticker and Snyder all kept their seats.

Since then, CRC refinancing gave the city council oversight of the commission’s debt issuances and a soapbox for the bloc of four.

At-large council member Ron Carter dismissed the gripes about the longtime mayor.

“Rhetoric has been substituted for what they could accomplish and have accomplished,” he said. “All the talk about fiscal problems is a substitute for what those people could do for the community.”•

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