District 2 commissioner challenged in primary
SOUTH BEND - Despite, in his own words, having done "a good job representing the citizens of St. Joseph County," incumbent county Commissioner Dave Thomas finds himself in a battle this year for his party’s nomination in District 2.

Thomas, who has represented the district since 2009, must defeat former county commissioner Steve Ross, who represented the district prior to Thomas, and newcomer Mike Jacobs in order to earn a shot at re-election to a second term on the board.

Thomas already defeated Ross once, during the 2008 Democratic primary.

“With 267,000 people in the county, odds are someone else is going to run,” Thomas says, downplaying the situation. And besides, he adds, “I’m not really running against anyone, I’m running for the people of St. Joseph County.”

Predominantly rural, District 2 includes New Carlisle, North Liberty, and Lakeville, plus all of Olive, Greene, Lincoln, Centre, Union and Madison townships.

Dave Thomas

As a member of the Board of Commissioners the past three years, Thomas, 43, an accountant, says he’s not only done a good job, “but I’ve done a good job in hard times.”

Upon taking office in 2009, “I inherited a lot of … unresolved issues,” he says, including a budget deficit and two separate lawsuits, one filed by the sheriff and one by the county probate judge.

Those issues have since been resolved, he says.

“In the last few years, we’ve turned things around immensely,” he says. Not only did the county not lay off hundreds of employees, as had been predicted, he says, but “by playing peacemaker, we got rid of the lawsuits.”

On top of that, he says, county employees received a bump in pay this year for the first time in nearly a decade.

Also on his watch, Thomas says, the county increased spending on road repairs in District 2, streamlined the budget process, and “cleaned up very well on stimulus” funding by presenting shovel-ready projects for consideration to the federal government.

If re-elected, he says, he would like to continue to consolidate the county’s emergency dispatch centers, as mandated by the state, turn the vacant, former jail space inside the County-City Building into new courtrooms, and enact a ban on leaf burning in the county.

“I very much enjoy being a commissioner,” he says. “I enjoy meeting with people and hearing their concerns and seeing what I can do to make life better for them.”

Steve Ross

Ross, 66, owns Framer’s Workshop in Mishawaka and Virtuoso Distillers, which makes 18 Vodka.

During his time in office, between 2004 and 2009, the self-described “reformer” saved taxpayers thousands, he says, by insisting the county switch from new to remanufactured ink cartridges and that the highway department deliver voting equipment on election days.

He supported the countywide smoking ban, he says, and opposed the county wheel tax. He also opposed a proposed coal gasification plant in New Carlisle and a proposed concentrated animal feeding operation in Lakeville.

Of the power plant and CAFO, he says, “I don’t want polluting companies to come in here and make the area a polluter’s playground and discourage attractive businesses from coming here.”