Four candidates are seeking the two at-large seats on the city council in November, with the two Democrat incumbents focused on continued progress while their Republican opponents tout the opportunity for fresh ideas.
Incumbents Shirley Rose and Duane Chattin, both Democrats are being challenged by Republicans Tim Salters and Marc McNeece.
All the candidates their own stacked resume to the table, underscored by years of political experience and community activism that they say would serve them well as a council member.
Chattin was first elected to the council in the 1980s, served three terms, then took an eight-year break before being elected again in 2004. He's held his position since then.
He retired in 2018 after 35 years as the director of public information at Vincennes University and, bolstered by his experience working with myriad nonprofit organizations, says he now has more time than ever to continue what he sees as “steady but sure progress” for the city.
City leaders do things incrementally, as they can afford to do them, Chattin explained, which sometimes means they’re not pushing the big, flashy projects that get a lot of attention.
But looking back on all the improvements that have changed Indiana’s oldest city for the better, from the development of the riverfront to the revitalization of the downtown business community to the growth of the industrial park, Chattin can see much forward momentum over time.
“What that has allowed us to do is develop a strong foundation to build on. I’d like to continue that steady but sure progress of moving forward,” he said.
Chattin said he’s proud of many things over the course of his council career, including how well the city has fared financially and the working relationship city government now has with virtually all entities within the community — partnerships that have allowed the city to do things that would have been “unimaginable” in the past, he said.
But Chattin harbors no illusions about being content with the status quo. Leaders always have to be looking on the horizon, he said, for ways to improve. The strong foundation the city’s been able to build, he said, doesn’t mean its leaders should rest on their laurels.
Instead, Chattin said, now is really the time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and continue to work hard on other areas of the community that are wanting.
“Right now, in terms of moving forward, it’s all about quality of life,” he said. “That’s why we’ve invested so much in our parks, our swimming pool, our youth league sports facilities. But we also need to make some major investments in housing.”
Momentum is already picking up on that front, with the impending demolition of the grain elevators along First Street to make way for a new housing complex, an initiative that will also see 22 single-family homes built on empty lots throughout the city.
“I think that will help spur improvements throughout those neighborhoods as those new homes are developed. Housing has to be a major initiative moving forward,” Chattin said. “Because quite frankly, we have more jobs than we have people, but for the people who are filling those jobs, we don’t have an adequate amount of housing for them. That’s sort of an inhibiting factor for us.”
In the end, Chattin said he’s ready to do what needs to be done to help Vincennes reach its full potential.
“I’ve been active in the community well before I was ever elected to the city council … so I think I have a record of service that goes beyond just serving in city government,” he said. “I have a lot of experience, so I think that can be of service as well, and I have more time now than I’ve ever had before to devote to the city.”
Meanwhile, McNeece, who served 15 years as director of the chamber of commerce who now is a bank branch manager with Regions, highlights his tenure as a member of the PACE Community Action Agency board and the city’s Redevelopment Commission, and his time working in the city engineer's office as experiences that qualify him to join the council.
McNeece said his involvement in different industries and aspects of the community has given him a well-rounded view of what it takes for a city to be livable and prosperous for everyone.
“I understand the infrastructure needs of our community, I’ve had firsthand account of that over time,” he said. “I understand the needs of our business community, from what they need financially to what they need in zoning and in the workforce. I also have an understanding of the needs of people in all socioeconomic classes of our community from my work with PACE.”
McNeece also said a fresh perspective and a focus on transparency would help to strengthen city government.
”I think I can bring some new ideas, a new thought process instead of doing things the same way just because that’s how they’ve been done in the past,” he said. “I thought our city, especially at the city council level, needed a little more openness and transparency when doing business. Too much of it is done through email or behind the scenes … I think we also need to make it easier for our residents to voice their opinions and access city government.”
McNeece envisions broadcasting council meetings live to Facebook and archiving them on a YouTube channel for residents to watch at their convenience.
If he’s elected, McNeece also wants to focus on improving city infrastructure. He hopes to ramp-up the sidewalk program, work toward providing better lighting in neighborhoods, and looks to bring back neighborhood watch programs.
“Programs like that, that would allow citizens to really have a say in their neighborhoods in making sure they can keep an eye on it, are important,” he said.
McNeece also pointed to housing as something the city desperately needs if it’s going to continue to succeed — not only in the future, but in the present as well.
“We do a lot of things that are punitive on the zoning side that I think could be more carrot than stick and offer some really nice opportunities for homebuilders in our community,” he said. “I have an 8-year-old daughter. I not only want to make this city a better place for her in the future — I want to make it better for her now. I don’t think it’s fair to everyone that we just think about where our community is going to be in 10 years.
“That isn’t to say we shouldn’t always be thinking ahead and planning, but there are things that can be done right now to make our city more livable, more enjoyable, safer, better for the people and the residents right now. I just want this community to be as good as I believe it can be, and for everyone else to see it as I do.”
Rose, like Chattin, also touts continued forward momentum as the foundation of her re-election platform.
“I want to continue the progress we have made,” she said. “I think the city looks better now than it ever has.”
Over the course of her 20 years on the council, her career in banking and her time spent supporting and serving on organizations like the Urban Enterprise Association and Grouseland Foundation Board, Rose has seen — and helped usher in, alongside fellow council members — a lot of what she sees as positive growth.
Industries have located to the area, such as Futaba Indiana of America and Farbest Foods, Inc., the Vincennes Community School Corp. is on the verge of completing renovations of its elementary schools, and the downtown business district has taken on a new lease on life as well, to name just a few of Rose’s sources of pride — not to mention the Farmers Market of Historic Vincennes, an initiative she’s been a part of for years.
“There have been so many improvements that have been made … and even though we didn’t do some of those things by ourselves, (the council) was a part of it,” she said. “I always feel that if one area cleans up, that sparks the others to do the same thing. Our downtown area has grown, which stimulates Good Samaritan Hospital to bring in new doctors and helps to bring in more students at Vincennes University, too.
“It’s just everybody working together. That’s what it takes.”
If Rose is re-elected, she hopes to see the UEA focus on its newly expanded boundaries, which now reach down to Seventh Street, across St. Clair Street and over to Second Street. She’d also concentrate on bringing more improvements to the city’s parks, streets and sidewalks, and highlights Willow Street as another area ready for further development.
The VCSC’s schools are poised for even more growth, she added, and she hopes to also explore the possibility of nurturing the expansion of coal mining opportunities.
Another term, Rose said, would give her another chance to put her experience, leadership, professionalism and dedication to work for the good of Vincennes.
“I feel that I have really worked hard for this city in a lot of different areas,” Rose said. “But we still have a lot of growth still left to do. And I think when we do well, everyone wants to get on the bandwagon and do good things to improve, too.”
Salters has been the District 5 councilman for eight years, but now hopes to lead the city in a different capacity in the at-large position — a shift in focus perpetuated by a career change.
After teaching for the South Knox School Corp. for years, Salters became the promotional and marketing coordinator for the VCSC. That job entails spending time in every school building throughout each week, giving him the chance to see more of the community than he had before.
That unique perspective, Salters decided, would suit him better in an at-large role on the council.
“I go into different areas, different districts, every single week. And what happens when you’re out in public and people know you’re on the council or know you’re approachable is they come to you and start asking questions or point out what’s working and what’s not in their district,” Salters said. “Part of my job is being out in the community, so that really opened my eyes to what’s going on in each district.”
If he is elected to the at-large seat, Salters, like McNeece, pointed to a need for openness and more visibility in city government. The environment of council meetings isn’t exactly welcoming, he said, and that needs to change.
“We have to be a more discussion-focused, question-focused council,” Salters said. “We’ve got to take the city government to the people, and not vice-versa. We need to be open to talking about things, even when they’re difficult.”
Infrastructure, too, is an area that can’t be neglected, he said, and quality-of-life projects, too, need to stay at the forefront. Salters highlighted the new splash pad and pickleball courts as good examples of unique offerings that make neighborhoods the kinds of places in which people want to put down roots — and in order to make those projects a reality city leaders need to lean on the advice of experts.
“What do we offer to communicate the message that, wow, there’s something exciting happening in Vincennes? We have to ask people who are very passionate in those areas, we have to talk to the experts,” Salters said. “I might not know the best route, but there are people that do.”
He also underscores the relationship he has cultivated with Mayor Joe Yochum as a major plus moving forward.
“While we are members of different parties, are from different age groups and have different areas of expertise, we have been able to work great together to continue moving Vincennes,” Salters said.
Salters believes that the time he has spent serving District 5 and the values he has stood by would make him a valuable at-large council member.
He prides himself on standing up against certain issues, even if his “nay” vote was for naught, something he says the community responded to with positivity and appreciation “for being their voice.”
“Vincennes needs someone who is more open and willing to share all the businesses that’s happening in the city — and someone who is willing to listen to their community,” Salters said. “I want to be the person who listens to ideas, makes the best educated decision I can make, and moves forward.”