TIMES UNION REPORTS – Friday’s Republican caucus to elect a new person to the Winona Lake Town Council Ward 1 seat was a little different than most.
The Council seat came open after the death of Councilman Jim Zachary, 39, who died Aug. 17 at Kosciusko Community Hospital.
For one, the winning candidate – Austin Reynolds, 27 – wasn’t able to be there because he was in South Carolina with his family on a trip that had been scheduled six months ago. In his place, Al Disbro read remarks from Reynolds.
The second unusual thing about the caucus was that since Zachary was also a precinct committeeman, the vice committeeman – Bruce Shaffner – served on the caucus in his place.
There were four precinct committeemen, and a candidate had to have three votes to be elected. Reynolds was elected over David Phelps, 58, on the first vote.
Members of Zachary’s family were present at the Winona Lake Town Hall for the caucus.
After the Pledge of Allegiance, Kosciusko Republican Party Central Committee Chair Mike Ragan said, “It’s very difficult for me. Jim was a friend of mine and his dad and daughter and brother are here. Dan Zachary, I’ve known since he was a teenager, so we kind of go way back. His daughter, Haley, and brother Mike are here as well. So we’re grateful that you are here, and we’re very sorry that we are having to do this.”
Party Secretary Austin Rovenstine read the rules of the caucus. He pointed out that, “Now we’ve got a unique situation here today. We do have a proxy voting. Jim was actually the precinct committeeman for Ward 10, which has a vote in this caucus. Under the Indiana Code, if a precinct committeeman also holds the office that is being filled, then automatically the vice committeeman becomes a voting member of the caucus without the necessity of a proxy form. So we do have Bruce Shaffner voting here today in Jim’s place.”
Each candidate was given up to three minutes to speak, including someone to introduce them.
Disbro went first on Reynolds’ behalf because Reynolds filed first for the Council seat.
Reading from Reynolds’ remarks, Disbro said, “First I would like to apologize for not delivering this speech in person. As many of you know, I had a previous, out-of-state family commitment that was made six months ago. I hope you sincerely know how thankful I am for this opportunity and how excited I am for the opportunity to learn, grow and help the town and community of Winona Lake by serving on the council.
Reynolds attended Jefferson Elementary School and recalled attending the Fourth of July fireworks, art fairs and other events in Winona Lake with friends and family. After graduating Indiana University and his commissioning as an Army officer, he moved back to the area with the goal of marrying his high school sweetheart and purchasing a home in Winona Lake. He started working for Coplen Construction and found a love for carpentry.
“I believe that as a result of my construction background, I can be an asset to the board when it comes to considering feasibility in future infrastructure opportunities the town might explore,” he stated. “I intend to bring a new perspective and ideas to the Council. One such idea I have involves beautifying the Argonne Road entrance to Winona Lake by partnering with local artists and tradespeople.”
If voted in, he said he will be a strong team member on the Council in helping to make informed decisions that will affect constituents in the district. He will champion for other young people to get involved at the local level.
“I have great resources to help me understand fiscal policy at the local level and will work to develop a strong understanding of budgets and where our money is being spent so that I might make informed decisions on issues of financial concern. I will be intent to listen to the constituents in my district and consider all points of view in order to have sound decision making. I will be diligent in familiarizing myself with standard operating procedures of the Town Council and its meetings,” he said.
His comments ended with, “I am eager to learn, to serve and to listen. I have always hoped to be involved with the inner workings of the town. I view this as a first step in a lifelong journey of serving the town. I view this as a first step in a lifelong journey of serving the town. Winona Lake is special. It is rich in history and charm and I am so thankful that I have the chance to continue to watch it grow and to assist in its continued development and success.”
Phelps talked about his interest in being involved in the community and has been active in it since he moved to Winona Lake in 1988. He said he was excited to be a part of the town’s growth and that he was a friend of Jim Zachary’s. He said he was passionate about moving forward the things that Jim was passionate about.
After Phelps’ comments, the four caucus members were given their ballots, but then went into another room to discuss the candidates. After they voted, Scott Clay and Warsaw Common Council President Jack Wilhite tallied the votes and handed the results to Ragan. Ragan then announced Reynolds was the new Town Board member.
Reynolds’ place on the Council is effective immediately. Rovenstine said any notary can swear in an individual, so when Reynolds returns from his trip either Rovenstine or the town attorney can swear Reynolds in. Winona Lake Town Council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
After the caucus, Jim’s father, Dan Zachary, said, “My hope is that whoever gets the job, their love for Winona Lake manifests itself in serious involvement of the issues and serious engagement with the people. Jim, when he would answer the phone, knowing someone was upset, he would explain things to them and he would also encourage them to become involved, and I think that is very important. Because Jim attended so many Council meetings before he ever thought about thought about being there. I can assure you his goal was not to be a better politician, but he just wanted to make things better for Winona Lake, for people who live here and people who visit here. You can do that without holding an office.”
He offered the winner congratulations, and to the one who didn’t win, Dan said he shouldn’t be discouraged.
“That’s my message,” he stated.
Via text, Reynolds offered the following statement on him being chosen: “I was thrilled to hear the news from friends who attended the caucus today. I feel humbled and honored on their decision to vote me onto the Council. I am very much looking forward to serving the town.”