Three in race to become next mayor of City of Huntington

Huntington mayoral candidates are (from left) Larry Buzzard, Johnnie Hiles and Richard Strick.
Huntington mayoral candidates are (from left) Larry Buzzard, Johnnie Hiles and Richard Strick.

Three candidates are vying to become the next mayor of Huntington.

Those candidates are Republican Larry Buzzard and independents Johnnie Hiles and Richard Strick.

Larry Buzzard
Buzzard, 61, has been a Huntington County commissioner since 2012 and currently serves as the commissioners’ president. He previously served on the Huntington Common Council and Huntington County Council.

Outside of politics, Buzzard states that he worked for a pair of Fortune 500 companies. He has been self-employed since 2003, establishing ChemTech Consulting and Spokesmen Cycling.

Buzzard has served as president of the Huntington Chapter of the American Red Cross and as a board member for the United Way of Huntington County and the Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center. He has also participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana.

Buzzard is a member of St. Mary Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus.

Buzzard previously sought the mayor’s office in 2011 and 2015, pursuing the Republican nomination in those years’ municipal primaries. He finished second to Brooks Fetters in those races.

In this year’s primary, Buzzard defeated Fetters for the GOP nomination.

Buzzard says that he is running for mayor to adjust the city’s priorities.

“I think we’ve spent a lot of time on quality of life issues, on developing the downtown,” he states. “We’ve gotten away from what I feel are the core basics of local government – streets, public safety, open spaces and parks and utilities.

“I’m going to concentrate on those areas.”

If elected, Buzzard says lowering the tax rate would be among his priorities.

“It’s hard to sell your community when they can go to a neighboring community and pay half the taxes,” says Buzzard, referring to residents and prospective residents. “I want to be competitive.”

Buzzard says another priority would be equipping the city’s workers to better handle municipal projects, reducing what he believes is an overreliance on contractors.

“I want to take more of our work projects, our maintenance and construction projects, back into the city,” he says. “That’s the only way you control cost. You’ve got to be able to leverage what you can do yourself and what a contractor can do for you.”

Buzzard’s other priorities include developing the city’s new industrial park, Riverfork Drive West, facilitating the construction of residential housing and apartments and managing the city’s County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars differently.

Ultimately, Buzzard says his experience in government makes him a better choice for mayor than his opponents.

“I have more experience than they do combined,” he states. “It’s not an easy job. It’s a hard job.

“And I’ve got a good basis to get in and, day one, be effective.”

Johnnie Hiles
Hiles, 49, is an addiction counselor at Premier Care, in Marion. She also has a part-time position at Pathfinder Services, in Huntington.

In addition, she is pursuing a bachelor’s in criminal justice.

Previously, Hiles ran a business in Huntington for 10 years.

This is the second time Hiles has run for mayor. Running as an independent in 2015, she was defeated by Republican Brooks Fetters.

Hiles says she was motivated to run again because she believes Huntington would be well served by a candidate who is a political outsider and not beholden to the desires of a political party.

“I think it’s time for a fresh start,” she says. “We’ve had too many people in there for their political agendas. It’s time to have a new outlook … I’m just a normal person. I work two jobs every day.”

If elected, Hiles says she would focus on paying down the city’s debt and consider adjusting the tax rate.

Additionally, she says she would work toward solving substance abuse issues in Huntington.

“We have a drug problem in town that needs to be addressed,” she states. “I work as an addiction counselor. So, I’m well aware of what we need to do with that.”

Hiles shares that she would also endeavor to recruit businesses to Huntington. Another priority, she notes, would be devising amenities and programming to make Huntington more appealing to families.

“We need to bring things into the community for our children and families, that way they stay in the community,” she observes.

Richard Strick
Strick, 36, is a member of the Huntington Common Council. The board’s 3rd District representative, he was elected to that seat in 2015 as a Republican.

Strick previously served as the pastor at St. Peter’s First Community Church, in Huntington. He currently works as an associate director on the Love In the Name of Christ national staff.

Strick suggests that the skills he teaches in his position at Love INC are skills that would serve him well as mayor.

“A lot of my work is training and teaching leaders to communicate effectively, to work with a team, to make sure that the funds, that all come from other people, are being managed not only legally, but responsibly, to get the results that they’ve been given for,” he states.

Strick says he was motivated to run for mayor after researching Buzzard and Hiles’ platforms, as well as their platforms from their 2015 mayoral bids. That research, he says, led him to deduce that Buzzard and Hiles’ visions for Huntington differed from his own, prompting him to enter the race as a voice for citizens whose priorities for the city lined up with his.

One of Strick’s main priorities as mayor would be continuing the state-mandated separation of the city’s storm and sanitary sewers. It’s a process, he says, that Huntington cannot fall behind on, as it has in the past.

“We lapsed, in part because of the budgetary crises that we had under Mayor (Steve) Updike,” he explains. “And then the Fetters administration got us back on track and ahead of schedule with those projects.

“But in order to stay out of the state’s doghouse, we need to finish those projects by 2024.”

In order to meet that deadline, Strick says that the city must begin planning those projects and bonding for them this coming spring.

“That requires an investment from our city to take care of our responsibilities, so that we don’t pass those onto our children,” he says. “Because as much as we get concerned about passing debt onto our children, passing the broken infrastructure on to them is just as bad, if not worse, because they have to take care of that and the problems that they’re facing.”

Another of Strick’s priorities as mayor would be amassing a pool of contacts with business experience who could mentor aspiring business owners and position them for success.

“There are things we can do to help people move concepts of a small business to a reality with actually making sure that they have a working business plan, that they don’t open up and then have to close three months later, like we’ve seen all too often,” he states.

Strick says he would also listen to citizens’ ideas for amenities that they believe would improve Huntington’s quality of life.

While on the campaign trail, Strick shares that many citizens have expressed interest in the city having a public pool.

“I don’t know if that needs to be something created and run by the city,” he says, “but I think the city needs to be part of pulling together folks to explore options and then figure out what’s the best course of action for our residents and how do we move forward on that.”

In addition, Strick says he would prioritize improving the city’s communication with the public. One of the ways he would achieve that, he says, is by updating the city’s website, www.huntington.in.us/city, making it easier to navigate.

Ultimately, Strick says he’s the right candidate to lead Huntington going forward.

“I feel like, as a city, as a young person within this city, I feel like we’re right on the edge of really turning a corner and really seeing us start to enjoy and thrive again, the way that folks reminisce about things having been,” he says. “But we need leadership that helps take us around that corner – not leadership that thinks they’re doing me a favor by not spending my tax dollars. If I’ve already paid my taxes, I expect to see a return on that investment.”

The early voting period is underway. For a list of locations that offer early voting, visit the Elections page on www.huntington.in.us/county.
Election Day is Nov. 5.