Taking A Stance

When Elizabeth Justice once called her local representatives on Capitol Hill to sound off on health care, she ended up speaking her mind into a voice mail machine – and never heard back.

“So that’s why I’m interested in some form of communication with our elected representatives in Washington, as well as our elected representatives who serve in Indianapolis, that shows that they have received communications,” Justice said.

With hot-button issues jamming answering machines on both sides of the hill, mobile technology is helping make it easier for constituents’ voice mails to be heard.

A new, free app called Stance, available on Android and iOS, allows users to record a message for their local senator or representative, which is sent directly to the lawmaker’s machine.

The messages are sent at night when call volume is typically lower, bypassing all the busy tones and voice mail pick-ups. If the inbox is full, the app keeps trying every night until the recording goes through.

But callers may want to watch what they say. To nudge others to become politically active, each message is posted online at takeastance.us for the world to hear. 

Users can also tweet their recording to the lawmaker.

Following privacy concerns, the team is considering allowing users to opt out of their messages being posted online.

Stance is just the latest digital pipeline to Capitol Hill. Another app, 5 Calls, links users to five key representatives on a given issue and provides a script for delivering the message.

To political observers, the technology is a double-edged sword. While making it easier to reach out, the apps also feed in to “slacktivism” – failing to follow up a call or e-mail with more action.

“You sort of feel like you’ve done something but the question really is, have you done something,” said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue

University Fort Wayne.

Nathaniel Teichman and a team at New York-based digital company Ense created Stance after seeing how difficult it was for activists to reach Congress during a political rally.

The U.S. Capitol’s creaky phone system left some waiting on hold for more than an hour. Others kept getting a busy signal.

“They felt a level of disenfranchisement that I think is natural,” Teichman said.

Using Stance for the first time, Justice wanted U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana) to know where she stood on health care.

She entered her address in the app and selected Young’s name from a menu of local representatives.

Holding down a record button, Justice stated her name and where she lives, and implored Young not to eliminate health care and insurance for low-income and middle class people. 

“I know about the devastating impact on many, many clients and friends when they have large medical bills that they are unable to pay,” she said.

Justice said she would wait and see whether Young called her back and how he would

respond before using the app again.

Her friend, Virginia Servies, prefers to e-mail her representatives, finding it easier to clearly express her thoughts.

Services uses an app called Countable to keep track of the issues. An editorial team summarizes major House and Senate bills and sends mobile alerts on how a particular lawmaker voted on a certain matter.

“I guess in my mind, I use Countable as a place to start and then I look for more detail,’ she said.

Back at Ense, Teichman’s team is looking beyond smartphones at ways to stay connected with Capitol Hill. Social media and cloud-based voice mails are being considered.

“It seems and feels antiquated that the only way you can get your voice to Congress is through a voice mail machine that quickly fills up,” he said.

Canoe race gets seed money

Canoe racing got a big assist at Tuesday’s Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Commission. The Friends of Sugar Creek Canoe Race received the financial backing of the commission that will go a long way in promoting the rebirth of the race.

Montgomery County Visitors Bureau Director Heather Shirk presented a grant application to the commission in the amount of $2,700 which was approved. The funds will go toward promoting and advertising the 15.3 mile race which is scheduled for May 20. Some of the items on the grant request, such as racing safety whistles to be provided to each racer, will be used for more than one year.

Shirk said promotion efforts will be mainly targeted to encourage local residents to participate in the race. She said in past years local manufacturers, schools and other groups would join in the race for a day of fun. She said organizers are wanting to see local participation by residents increase.

“We are working to build enthusiasm for the race,” Shirk said. “Sugar Creek is a hidden gem of the community and we feel the race is a good way to promote the beauty and use of the creek.”

The race, which at one time attracted as many as 400 racers but had seen numbers fall in recent years, was canceled last year. With the efforts of long-time county canoeist Bob Stwalley, the Friends of Sugar Creek decided to be one of the sponsoring organizations for the race along with the Visitors Bureau. 

Austin Brooks is a board member of the Friends of Sugar Creek. He said his organization, which promotes a healthy creek along with recreation on the creek, thought joining in the effort to resurrect the race was a good idea.

“The Friends of Sugar Creek are committed to seeing the race done professionally, efficiently with some pizazz,” Brooks said. “We believe if we do it right this year, the race will grow next year and hopefully keep growing.”

Race registrations are available at the Visitors Bureau located at 218 E. Pike Street. Registration forms will be made available soon on the bureau’s website at www.visitmoco.com . There are several canoe and kayak classifications for professional racers and amateurs.

Shirk said after last week’s announcement that the United States Canoe Association sanctioned race was returning, the local interest has been building. She reported there have been people coming by her office to pick up the registration forms to participate.

Shirk said besides the Friends of Sugar Creek, Montgomery County Emergency Management is helping to promote safety during the race. The local EMA is recruiting volunteers to help man check points along the race route which will begin at the Sugar Creek Campground and finish at Deers Mill Covered Bridge.

In other business the commission:

• Heard that there were no delinquent Innskeeper Tax payments from lodging facilities at this time.

• Received the quarterly Visitors Bureau report from Shirk.

• Received training from County Commissioner John Frey concerning the purpose of the commission.

Merger back on table at North Central Parke

A decision may come as soon as tonight to consolidate Turkey Run and Rockville high schools, a plan the school board rejected last year but administrators say is even more necessary in face of continued enrollment declines.

The North Central Parke Community School Corp. board will meet in a special session at 7:30 p.m. in Turkey Run’s ELC room.

Under the proposed plan, Turkey Run would merge in to Rockville’s building. Turkey Run’s building would be a middle school.

The district’s two elementary schools would remain separate.

It’s the same plan the board defeated last June, after nearly a year of public forums and executive sessions. Since then, staff members have spoken up in support of consolidation and the school district has shed more students.

Superintendent Dr. Tom Rohr said combining the schools is a step in the right direction.

“Back in June when they voted it just wasn’t the right time... but over the last several months, it just became more and more evident that consolidation was needed,” Rohr said.

District enrollment stood at 1,223 for the 2016-17 year, a loss of 18 students from last year.

Overall, the student headcount has dropped more than 6 percent since 2012.

Both high schools have lost students in the past five years, but declines have been felt most at Turkey Run. The Warriors are down 65 students over that period. This year’s enrollment is 222.

Rockville is down 17 students from 2012, with a current enrollment of 348.

Parke County lost about 100 residents from 2015 to 2016, according to Census data.

Declining county population was among the reasons cited for consolidation during last year’s discussions. Administrators said the plan would also save on extra-curricular and transportation costs, while giving students more course opportunities.

At last month’s school board meeting, staff members said merging the schools would better meet student needs and relieve prep time for teachers.

The board has two new members since June’s vote. Mike Neeley was recently appointed to replace Joe Steward, who resigned. Brandi Vandivier was elected last fall to replace Greg Harvey, who did not seek another term. 

During last year’s discussions, Vandivier — a Rockville graduate — said she favored consolidation to give students more opportunities.

Among the other board members, Greg Harvey, Jim Wrightsman and Scott Ramsay voted for consolidation last June.

Members Joe Seward, Gina Sunderman, Rusty Akers and Kim Cooper voted against.

City eyes potential Fusion 54 building

The city of Crawfordsville is moving forward with an attempt to purchase a downtown building.

The building — located on the southwest corner of Washington and Main streets — would house the city’s Fusion 54 Center, one of the cornerstones of the city’s Stellar Plan. Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton went before the City Council Fiscal Affairs committee for approval to move forward with the purchase.

Barton said that because the purchase price would be more than $25,000 the council must give its approval 

Councilwoman Jennifer Lowe (R-Ward 4) pointed out that the mayor was asking the council to approve the sale without knowing the purchase price. Barton said that while the city has submitted an offer on the building, because the city is still negotiating with the building’s owners, he would not disclose the amount offered. He said the city

received two appraisals on the building.

There currently are multiple tenants in the building, Barton said. 

“PNC (Bank) has a long-term lease,” he said. “We have to go through the (other) leases.”

Barton said that if the bank is the only tenant that stays, the city will still have three floors, as well as part of the building’s first floor for the Fusion 54 Center.

“Usually when you buy a building the more leases you have in place the better,” Barton said. “That is not the case for us. We need the rest of the space.”

Barton said the building owners are meeting this week to consider the offer. He anticipates they will return with a counter-offer next week. While he is confident the two sides can reach an agreement, Barton said the city will not overpay for the building.

“This building was Plan B,” Barton said. “I already have Plan C. You just never know.”

The city planned to build a facility at the former site of Crawford Food Stores on South Washington Street for about $4 million, with half coming from a grant.

Estimated total costs have since risen to about $6 million.

“This gets the center downtown,” Barton said, adding the city can do it at a lesser expense and free-up grant money that was going to be used for the purchase for other projects.

Fusion 54 will contain offices for Crawfordsville Main Street, Crawfordsville/Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, the Montgomery County Visitors & Convention Bureau and the city’s economic development team. 

It will also be home to the Montgomery County Leadership Academy’s volunteer program, Wabash College’s Center for Innovation, Business & Entrepreneurship and co-working space for entrepreneurs.

The city still plans to acquire the South Washington site to develop into parking and other amenities for the Big Four Trail, which will eventually replace the nearby east-west railroad tracks.

The fiscal affairs committee unanimously voted to send a resolution approving the building’s purchase onto the full council with a favorable recommendation. The full council meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the city council chambers at city hall.

In other business:

• The fiscal affairs committee forwarded an ordinance making an additional appropriation to the Street Department Budget. The city is taking $90,000 from money paid by the Storm Water Utility and appropriating it into various street department budget lines.

• The annexation committee unanimously voted to forward an ordinance that would annex the properties known as the “Montgomery County Community Foundation Farm.” Barton said the city needs to think about future housing development within the city and said the community foundation officials approached the city about their property being annexed into the city with the potential of the foundation selling the land to a developer.

JUMP gives back to community by serving lunch

The Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau’s JUMP program gave back to the community on Saturday. Nine children and 12 adults prepared and served the noon meal to food insecure families at the Friendship Kitchen. The JUMP participants prepared taco salad, nachos, refried beans, fruit and cookies for 60 people.

“The kids in the JUMP program love this event. Not only do they love preparing the meal and helping in the kitchen, but they love to serve the public as well,” JUMP program manger Jill Hampton said. “In the JUMP program, we not only have monthly group activities that are fun but we try to do a couple events a year where we give back. This is a rewarding task but it’s also a good lesson about the importance of working together to help make our community better.”

The JUMP program is a mentoring program where an adult is matched with a child in order to provide support and one on one time with this child. The presence of a consistent caring adult can mean the difference in a child staying in school or dropping out, making healthy choices or engaging in risky behaviors and achieving their potential or failing to achieve their dreams.  Mentors make a big difference in the lives of their mentees, many times they don’t realize it until years later when their now grown mentee tells them how the time they spent together changed their life. It’s the little things in life that have the power to make positive changes, mentoring is one of those things.

If you believe you have a couple of hours a week to spend with a youth or would like to know more about the JUMP program, contact Jill Hampton at 765-362-0694, ext. 103; or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To learn more about the YSB, visit www.mcysb.org or visit them on their Facebook page at www.face-book.com/mcysb.

The YSB is a MUFFY Partner agency.