Klein: Though not ready for mayoral position, Sharp’s ideas deserve a look

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On April 1, the Indianpolis Star‘s Matthew Tully hosted a mayoral debate between Carmel mayor Jim Brainard and City Council President Rick Sharp at the Carmel Clay Public Library ahead of the May 5 Republic primary. HiLite staff members Jason Klein, Angela Sun and Alex Yom were invited to ask questions to the candidates and take notes. 

Klein wrote the following column on the challenger Sharp.

As we approach the Republican primary election for mayor of Carmel on May 5, the race between incumbent Jim Brainard and City Council President Rick Sharp will surely heat up. Almost inevitably, Brainard will pull away; he deserves to. The last two decades of his stewardship have marked an era of prosperity and growth for Carmel, or in his words, “a record of success.” However, Sharp brings to the table a fresh outlook on Brainard’s points of weakness that the incumbent will be forced to address should he take office for a sixth term.

Photo Essay: Carmel mayoral debate

Sharp’s primary bone to pick with the mayor centers around the issue of economic policy. Some differences between the two are irresolvable, but others could result in compromise that benefits the residents of the city. For one thing, the two can agree on the fact that Carmel has a hefty debt, though they still argue on the amount (Sharp claims it is over $1 billion, while Brainard says it is $550 million plus interest). Sharp says Brainard’s free-spending policies “push Carmel to the edge of a cliff.” Though this statement veers on the side of alarmist, it would be misguided to say he didn’t have a point. In November of 2014, Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray asked the Carmel City Council to approve an audit of the city’s Redevelopment Commission out of concern of its management of taxpayer money (Brainard argued that the request was a political attack). Still, Brainard is correct when he says Carmel “has to get a good budget developed,” and Sharp’s questioning of financial issues should push them to the forefront of Brainard’s agenda if he maintains his position.

Sun: The Brain(ard) of Carmel has correct vision

Still, although Sharp’s attacks on Carmel’s financial management may expose a weakness of Brainard’s, it would be unwise to halt funding for projects similar to the Center for the Performing Arts and Carmel City Center, which have made Carmel into an attractive place to live and do business. Sharp’s ominous rhetoric (“Carmel can only afford so many financial missteps”; “the well is only so deep”; “sooner or later it catches up to you”) makes him look like a doomsday preacher, or at least someone hoping to sway voters who are not firmly set on Brainard. What it hides, though, is the fact that Sharp is not well-rounded enough on other issues to be as successful of a mayor as his opponent. On issues outside of fiscal policy, he often stumbles. For instance, addressing concerns of residents wanting to be connected to the government, Sharp said he would “institute street-corner meetings and hold them on a regular basis,” not realizing (or at least not acknowledging) that the hundreds of neighborhood association meetings Brainard has attended during his time in office serve the same purpose. As another example, Sharp proposed Carmel should “target life and health sciences” as a niche to bring in money to the community, but was quickly rebutted by Brainard, who pointed out that hospitals don’t pay property taxes (taxes on Carmel’s business have traditionally kept those on residents low). Such gaps in knowledge would be worrying for citizens of Carmel if Sharp were elected mayor. It is clear that he has done his research on the financial side of things, but perhaps not as much on everything else.

In essence, Brainard’s Carmel, one with, in his words, “high quality of life, safe neighborhoods (and) exceptional schools,” is one that should be more than satisfied with the prospect of re-electing him into office once again. Integrating solutions to the problems posed by Sharp, though, will be vital to ensuring a successful sixth term. As Brainard said, “there’s fat to cut.”

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