Below is a letter posted to the Terre Haute Firefighters Union Local 758 page on Facebook, and subsequently shared by both of my opponents. My responses to their claims are in red. I encourage all to take the time to read this in its entirety, and to consider what would motivate such an inaccurate and misleading letter to not only be written, but to be signed by elected officials in our community who need to be counted on for integrity and fairness.
Terre Haute Firefighters Local 758 Facebook Page
October 18th, 2019, 3:44 pm
*Please see the noted letter that was written and signed by members of our community.*
Over the last several months, the question of public safety has remained central to discussions regarding the race for Terre Haute Mayor. A previous writer indicated that Independent Mayoral Candidate Pat Goodwin had addressed concerns of the police and firefighters and even assured them he is definitely pro-public safety. Statements of this nature are presumptuous and fail to reflect our positions in this matter. Mr. Goodwin himself exercised similar action on August 2, 2019, when responding to an address to the City Council made by Chief Keen of the police department. Specifically, Mr. Goodwin informed visitors to his Facebook page that “the chief ultimately agreed with my assessment.”
To provide context, the rest of the above quote was regarding the advantages of a more central jail location.
This statement was in direct conflict with the presentation that Chief Keen made to the council and made public on the department’s Facebook page.
Chief Keen and I met and spoke in person after his address to the Council. He did agree that in general, the more central the jail is located the better. My comment referenced above was made after that meeting.
As with the previous letter to the editor, Mr. Goodwin’s post presumes to inform readers what members of public safety believe. For clarification purposes, we choose to take this opportunity to speak for ourselves on these matters.
One of the earliest concerns regarding Mr. Goodwin was his intentions to cut public safety. During the forum at the Booker T. Washington Community Center, Mr. Goodwin denied claiming that he was going to cut public safety. In fact, Mr. Goodwin informed the audience that “It just isn’t true. I never said it.” When referencing his opponents, Mr. Goodwin further stated, “I have never said I’m going to cut these departments, and I wish these two would stop telling people that.” These powerful statements become confusing to those of us who were present when Mr. Goodwin addressed members of the fire union and informed us to expect reductions in firefighters.
The actual video of my meeting with the fire union can be found on my website here: https://goodwinforterrehaute.com/public-safety-videos/ I state in the video, “What are the things we can do to improve the department, without increasing cost?” I also stated, “I have never laid a person off in my life and I would hope to never do that.”
Even more puzzling was Mr. Goodwin’s responses at the League of Women Voters’ Forum. After being asked a second time about public safety, Mr. Goodwin admitted that he had met with the fire union and stated, “I said that I think they need to get smaller in the long-term.”
Again, please refer to video for exact comments.
While Mr. Goodwin did say this would be done through attrition and technology, this new admission appears to contradict his earlier statements that he never said he was going to cut public safety. Perhaps Mr. Goodwin did not believe that reductions through attrition were cuts, but we believe his statements were at best misleading and certainly lacked the transparency that he claims to bring as a candidate.
Again, please refer to video for exact comments. I state, “There’s a way to do this, to get you to a size that we can afford, so we’re not so stretched that we can’t buy equipment, and we can’t do other things that need to be done, even for the department, because we’re always up against the payroll limit.”
Even more concerning is the lack of data or research that Mr. Goodwin has offered to explain his plan to reduce the number of firefighters.
After that meeting with the fire department PAC members, I met with firefighters Captain Darrick Scott, Mike Odum, the union president, and Mike Shelton, the PAC president. We went through much of the data I have obtained. I asked for additional meetings in order to learn more, but never received a response from them.
Whether you are going to decrease or increase a public safety department, it should be based on a thorough evidence-based approach.
I 100% agree. Any changes should be as a result of careful study, not politics.
Making impulsive claims that such cuts are needed without an analytical examination of the impact can place any community at risk.
The word “cut” is used 6 times in the above paragraph. I believe it is being used because it is fear-inducing word. Smart organizations know how to get leaner without laying anyone off or reducing services. It is part of the evolution of any entity. Organizations that are not willing to evolve and change with the times are destined to eventually fail. The total cost of the fire department has increased 48%, or $5.6 million, in ten years. This rate of increase is simply not sustainable.
In our opinion, Mr. Goodwin has demonstrated a general lack of understanding regarding the operations of public safety agencies. It is with this same understanding that Mr. Goodwin has felt comfortable referring to the police department as militarized.
This is a reference to a statement I made at the Citizens of Action forum. You can find it in the video at the 55:00 mark. More precisely I said the department is perceived to be too militarized by the general public. https://goodwinforterrehaute.com/debates/
Furthermore, he has repeatedly used inaccurate data as the basis for proposed decision-making regarding public safety. During an argument to the City Council, Mr. Goodwin informed them that 70-80% of jail book-ins were made by city police. Data provided by the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department would later show that the city police accounted for 53.8% of book-ins.
That information was provided to me, as well as the county council, by the prior sheriff. Even during the county council budget process this fall, their budget committee was still under the impression that those were the correct figures. Additionally, the data provided by Sheriff Plasse was only for 2018. Since numbers fluctuate from year to year, I would welcome a more complete analysis that includes more recent as well as older data.
Mr. Goodwin also provided the council with inaccurate information regarding the police department’s transport vehicle and prisoner transport practices.
The brand new policy regarding transport of prisoners to city court by the county sheriff rather than city police had not been made public until it was announced by Chief Keen that evening. It had not even been shared with the county council by the sheriff. This policy change should have been made public immediately upon implementation.
Once presented with actual data, Mr. Goodwin claimed to have received the numbers from others. Most recently, Mr. Goodwin informed the public at the Tribune-Star forum that 50% of building fires occur at abandoned structures, and funding should be prioritized based on this fact. The use of abandoned buildings has been Mr. Goodwin’s go-to example whenever public safety and potential cuts are questioned. However, on October 1, 2019, the Terre Haute Fire Department published numbers regarding structure fires on their Facebook page. Those numbers indicated the average number of structure fires that occurred in vacant buildings since January 1, 2016, was 16.1%.
This may be the most insidious and underhanded statement of this entire letter. The information was provided to me by city firefighters Scott, Odum, and Shelton when I asked them what the percentage was. All three of those firefighters have signed this letter, all the while knowing that they provided the information to me in the first place.
Despite Mr. Goodwin’s earlier use of erroneous data, he continued to rely upon word of mouth over actual data to shape his public safety proposals. These are not the behaviors expected of an “analytical problem-solver” as Mr. Goodwin frames himself. Poor research and guesswork have no place in public safety decision-making.
If I am guilty of something here, it is that I trusted data given to me and others by public safety officials at the highest levels.
Perhaps the best insight into how Mr. Goodwin feels about public safety and unions in general was conveyed during his closing statement of the forum hosted by the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Goodwin stated, “the city unions really shouldn’t get involved in politics, and that it wasn’t really good for the community or for those departments. And that they should just concentrate on providing the best possible service they could.”
Once again this quote has been taken out of context. The full video of the forum can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/goodwinforterrehaute/videos/768536390272699/ My closing statement begins at the 52:45 mark.
Mr. Goodwin made no mention of his desire to have city unions stay out of the election when he sought an audience with both police and fire unions earlier this year. However, now that both police and fire unions have endorsed Mayor Duke Bennett, Mr. Goodwin wishes for the unions to remain silent. Furthermore, his remarks very closely resemble those made by Kevin Burke in his address to the police union in 2007. As was done with Mr. Burke’s remarks, we ask what is meant by not good for those departments?
At no time did I want or seek the endorsement of either the police or fire unions. I simply don’t feel that any city union should feel any obligation whatsoever to endorse any candidate. From my experience the vast majority of city employees would prefer to concentrate on doing their jobs, rather than feeling they must engage in politics, which all too often is a dirty business in Terre Haute.
Many of us are military veterans in addition to being first responders, for any political candidate to feel that our service doesn’t rate us a voice in the discussion about our city’s future is both personally offensive and an affront to our democratic process.
This is a complete misrepresentation of my feelings and my position. It’s a blatant attempt to use people’s respect for veterans as a political weapon. This is shameful.
While it is healthy to have differing opinions, one thing that we should all agree with is the right of groups of all kinds to have their voices heard.
I agree 100%.
When a political candidate informs members of unions or any other groups that they should not be involved in the democratic process and should instead focus on their jobs, he is essentially seeking to silence their voices. Whether it is teachers, plumbers and steamfitters, electricians, steelworkers, police officers, communication workers, firefighters, or any of the other unions that represent our local workforce, Terre Haute and Vigo County have a heavy union presence. While Mr. Goodwin’s participation in the Labor Day Parade and his subsequent appearance at the dinner in support of organized labor would suggest he understands the purpose of these unions, his remarks are in sharp contrast. Imagine a state level candidate telling the teachers’ union that its members should just do their jobs and not worry about the effects political decisions will have on their work. Mr. Goodwin did exactly that when addressing the city unions.
The above paragraph is attempting to turn what was a statement about city employees being free from getting involved in politics for fear of retribution, into me somehow being against not just these unions, but unions in general. This appears to be a political tactic to try to deceive other unions so that they will oppose me politically.
As Mr. Goodwin has stated, the mayor is the face of our community. As members of public safety and citizens of this community, we believe our city and county has more positive opportunities in our future than at any other time. We feel that the best way to take advantage of those opportunities is by taking a team work approach where everyone’s viewpoints have value. In order to do that, it is our opinion that our community deserves better representation than that of divisiveness.
I agree. And yet, rather than working together with me through the above issues, this clearly divisive letter has been crafted. I hope that we can still have a cooperative and collaborative relationship in the future.
John Plasse – Your Vigo County Sheriff
Terry R. Modesitt – Your Vigo County Prosecutor.
Michael Shelton – Was present in meeting where I was told 50% of fires are abandoned buildings.
Robert L Malone
Wesley D Key
Michael Morrison II
Darreck C. Scott – Was present in meeting where I was told 50% of fires are abandoned buildings.
Bradley Newman – Your County Clerk, in charge of local elections.
Paul J. Chalos
Michael Odum – Was present in meeting where I was told 50% of fires are abandoned buildings.
Donald C. Toney
Kurt J. Brinegar
Mitchell W. Hunt
Floyd D. Mason
Rick J. Decker
James Jason Kane
Phil Van Sant
Martin Dooley Jr.
David J. Roach
James W. Kempf
Gene F. Knezevich
Kyle T. Pettijon
Fred A. Hamblen
Gary J. Turner