Republican mayoral hopefuls for Rochester, Indiana do Q & A about Downtown

The Rochester Sentinel

Sentinel Q&A: Downtown

Rochester GOP mayoral primary candidates: Two-term incumbent Mark Smiley; challengers Ted Denton, Dave Fincher.

Primary date: May 5. Winner to face unopposed Democrat Dick Roe on Nov. 3.

Round 1 topic: Management.

Round 2 topic: Law and Order.

Round 3 topic: Downtown.

Round 3 questions: 

1 – Were you pleased when it was decided to do away with the Round Barn Festival? Should Rochester have a Round Barn Festival and an annual parade?

2 – How do you plan to go about keeping businesses full on Main Street?

3 – The owner of one of Downtowns prime properties has frustrated local authorities – at one point going so far as to threaten to shoot a zoning official. How do you propose to facilitate a solution to Ninth and Main streets and the citys long-standing differences with Toby Seiler?

If you have a question for the candidates send it to Sentinel Editor W.S. Wilson, 574-224-5329 or .


#1 I had mixed emotions when I heard the news about the Round Barn Festival’s future. In one way, I was saddened to hear that a long- standing tradition in Rochester was coming to an end, but I also agreed with and applauded the Chamber of Commerce for adhering to their mission to help the businesses in our community instead of competing with them. I am also very excited because I have met with the Chamber director and the Rochester Downtown Partnership on many occasions in the last year and I know that they are planning a community parade and other events that will enhance quality of life for our citizens, our guests and help attract folks to the downtown area and the surrounding communities.

#2 Donna and I have been retailers in downtown Rochester longer than almost anyone else in town. DeBruler Imaging’s retail history (85 yrs) is second only to Webb’s Family Pharmacy, Rochester’s oldest retail business. We have seen many changes in our 33 years, and the downtown of 30 years ago no longer fits today’s merchants. There are at least fifteen fewer retail locations now that existed 30 years ago, because several businesses have expanded or service- type businesses have taken over the spaces. Our downtown does not serve the same role it used to previously; however, our downtown is the most visible indicator of community pride. Our downtown must be an asset in the attempt to recruit new residents, new businesses, new industries, and others to our community. The good news is with the leadership of Fulton County Chamber of Commerce, and the “Indiana Main Street” program, we have started the Downtown Partnership with a plan for revitalization and restoration of downtown areas in Rochester. I am the only candidate involved in this program. I believe that this program will do more for our downtown than anything we have tried in my thirty plus years as a business owner in the community. As mayor, I will do everything in my power to support the Downtown Partnership. A vibrant attractive downtown is essential for economic growth.

#3 The city has tried filing lawsuits and issuing violations for ordinances, and all parties involved have made the situation very contentious. Leading up to this election, in an effort to make it look like the city was being active about the problem, they filed another lawsuit over the sidewalk on 9th Street. That sidewalk has been in bad shape for more than 20 years and the street has been paved so many times it is as high as the curb. Toby has visited my office many times over the last couple of years. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t, however, we always treat one another with respect. During my 26 years of volunteer work, my 33 years of running a small business and my 34 years of marriage, I have become very good at conflict resolution. I understand I can only control myself. I have learned how to get along with people who don’t always agree with me. I have learned to listen to others’ concerns and try to find common ground to make things work. In regards to how I would work with Toby, I think it is imperative to have mutual respect, look beyond the incidents of the past, and to request solutions from him directly. Once that has occurred, the next steps would be to identify solutions all parties could agree on, form an agreement, and start to move forward. I believe if we had true leadership in place, things on the corner of Ninth and Main would look very different today.


#1 I was not pleased to do away with the Round Barn Festival. I have found it somewhat bittersweet, as I look forward to new events in Rochester. Unfortunately the festival, did not bring in enough money to cover all of the expenses needed to keep it going. The Fulton County Chamber of Commerce is set up to promote the members and their businesses and to help engage in their success, however the festival blocked the entrances to the local downtown businesses and somewhat hindered their cash flow.

The Fulton County Chamber of Commerce inherited this event years ago and they have done a remarkable job coordinating the event. I admire the countless volunteers that worked diligently to keep this event on track. The Chamber Board reached an agreement, that the Round Barn Festival had run its course. At this time an event committee is working on finding a replacement event. I would like to see a new event scheduled to coincide with the Lake Manitou Marathon and the Opening of the Lake. This event could help promote our beautiful City and Lake Manitou.

There is a parade scheduled for July 10, 2015.

#2 We have a great team on our Rochester Development Commission. Currently we are working with a grant writer to help facilitate the receiving of funds from the Office of Community Rural Affairs (OCRA) to promote business growth. Slowly we are seeing new small businesses move in, however we are seeing some close as well.

I envision revitalization of our downtown business street scape. With new street lights, bike racks, benches and flowers, we can make our downtown more vibrate and visible.

#3 The property at 9th and Main has been a major concern of many, unfortunately the property is owned by an individual in the private sector.

Personally, I have had conversations with the owner Toby Seiler concerning the property and I made several calls to find out the status of this property issue, but it is locked up in the judicial system and there seems nothing that I can do to speed up the process. I do not believe that Toby Seiler knew what he was getting into, when he was offered to purchase this property. Currently through the City Attorney and the Board of Works and Public Safety, we are requesting that the sidewalk be fixed along the south side of the lot. This repair needs to be done to comply with the American Disability Act and the city ordinance and resolution.

Hopefully the property will change hands soon, by the selling of the real estate to someone who will have the best interest of the community on their mind. I will say, that since this particular incident has occurred, the City has instated a new ordinance that should help prevent this from happening again.


#1 I was saddened to see the Round Barn Festival go. But, if we do not keep improving, updating and being dynamic, we fall back. This was the fate of the festival. For a program like the festival to survive for over 40 years is remarkable in today’s world and the residents and committee members who year after year came together to make it happen, I extend a whole hearted thank you. A festival is a celebration of a City’s people, history and success. A time for all to participate and be proud of our hometown and its accomplishments.

We not only SHOULD have a celebration of Rochester (including a parade) we NEED it.

This subject is another piece of the program called “Economic Development” or more simply stated, the SUCCESS of Rochester. Themayorhasto be a good facilitator bringing representatives from all groups, civic as well as private, together to MOVE Rochester forward.

We cannot, nor should we, expect any one group or individual to be responsible for our fate. The mayor needs to believe this concept and be the FIRST to show it daily in his actions, participation and leadership. We WILL celebrate in Rochester again!

#2 Again, this is a question of “Economic Development” and the mayor must be a very active participant. The first thing on the agenda is to identify the owners of the buildings downtown. Contact each one of them and inquire as to their future thoughts for their building. I am certain this will lead to a dialogue with others resulting in a plan. Some of those others would be the merchants in each building (unless they are also the building owner). This would be done with the support of Terry Lee (Economic Development Director) as well as the downtown merchant’s group and the Chamber. The mayor must be involved and committed to use all available tools for the advancement of Rochester.

As part of the process I would be traveling outside Rochester, with Terry Lee, visiting businesses and industries that have voiced a need to expand or relocate. I’m convinced that a request from the mayor of Rochester for an appointment would be granted and provide an opportunity for us to listen to their needs and sell Rochester as a solution. I know from experience in industry that mayors practically never do this and I am convinced that I can use my title and office to help open doors and reach people typically not attainable. After years in marketing I know that the successful group is one that has a strong active sales force. “Economic Development” boils down to discovering the specific needs of “customers” and the sale of Rochester as their solution. We need to use every tool we have available, including the mayor.

#3 The key phrase used in this question is “to facilitate” which Webster’s define as “to make easier, bring together.” This is exactly what is needed. I know all parties involved and believe I have a good relationship with all. I have had many discussions with Toby Seiler concerning various issues over the years and have found him to be passionate about his ideas but usually willing to listen and discuss opposing thoughts. I would first of all collect information from all involved parties. Then bring all together for a discussion. I would be able to serve as an impartial facilitator because I would have had no dealings in the past issues.

This process is similar to the steps taken to resolve grievances in a union setting or part of conflict resolution in a non-union setting. I have years of experience and training in both practices and realize the first step is to provide leadership that will deal with facts and not emotions.

It starts and ends with each party acknowledging they may disagree but they must show each other courtesy and respect during the process of resolution. This would be the start of moving this issue to a conclusion that would be beneficial to all. Yes, even lawyers would be invited.

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