VALPARAISO | The race for south district county commissioner pits Democratic County Councilwoman Laura Blaney against Republican Mike Heinold, a political newcomer and son of former state Sen. Vic Heinold.
Both candidates placed economic development and job creation among their top priorities if elected to replace outgoing Democratic South District Commissioner Carole Knoblock.
Blaney, 44, of Porter Township, said as commissioner she would work to make the county more user-friendly for businesses eying the area by establishing an easier way for them to gather the information they need. This likely could be done with existing resources within the planning department and/or commissioners office.
"Just to make the process as streamlined as possible," she said.
Blaney is familiar with the needs of businesses as former owner of Kelsey's Steak House and Stay Clean Carpet Cleaning, and current owner of One Guy With Tools.
Heinold, 45, of Morgan Township, said as commissioner he would work to enact and facilitate the concept of synergy when it comes to economic development by encouraging a unified vision of the county with the various county and municipal officials working more closely with one another.
This synergy is part of his three-prong approach to the job that also calls for serving residents from all parts of the county and honoring the office's fiduciary responsibilities.
"We are stewards of people's money," he said. "I don't take that lightly."
Heinold works as director of sales at the FranklinCovey business consulting firm and is co-owner the Iddea Group information technology company. He believes his business, leadership and fiscal background make up for his lack of government experience.
The financial responsibilities of the commissioners include helping to decide on the fate of the $160 million in proceeds from the sale of the county hospital, along with the interest, which totaled $11.8 million at the end of July.
Both candidates said they would like to preserve the principal, but were open to considering tapping into the interest if the right projects come along. While they both said they want to see the interest money focused on economic development projects, Blaney added quality of life and technology spending; Heinold mentioned the potential for tax relief.
Blaney and the other council members took some heat last year when they ended weeks of work on the county's 2012 budget by simply flat-lining all the numbers to 2011 levels, forcing the need for followup work this year. Blaney placed some of the blame on all the new department heads and said she was not in a leadership role on the council.
The commissioners serve an executive role for the county, while the council is charged with fiscal matters. Both candidates said they will be able to transcend the current communication problems between the commissioners and council.
Blaney said she would maintain the balance on the board of commissioners as a Democrat among two Republicans. Heinold said he is focused on his quality of vision rather than his political party.
The commissioner post pays $35,411 ($39,491 for president) a year and access to county health insurance.