First-term Warsaw City Councilman Jack Wilhite did not spend his first three years on council just getting acquainted.
The 63-year-old Zimmer Biomet engineer can point to a few initiatives he’s been involved with that are making a difference in city government.
At the top of his list, the at-large councilman points to his efforts to encourage transparency through the live-streaming program established last year by the city administration.
When visitors to council meetings started videotaping meetings of the council and the board of works, Wilhite approached Mayor Joe Thallemer and suggested they look into live-streaming meetings themselves.
He then began working with Staci Young, assistant to the mayor, who worked to implement the service.
Today, every city board meeting is available online to watch as it happens or later at any time.
Having entire meetings available helps put issues into context better.
“I think it’s important for our constituents to not only know what is said, but how it’s said,” Wilhite said.
As a result, Warsaw is one of the few cities of its size in Indiana providing a vast amount of coverage on its own. The service caught the eye of Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese, who has inquired about doing the same, Wilhite said.
He thinks live streaming could be expanded in different ways and pointed to how communities in California used it to update its residents during last year’s wildfires.
Locally, he thinks the city could prepare five-minute updates when needed that would give residents updates on a range of issues.
“There’s some untapped potential there that I am kind of excited about,” Wilhite said.
He served on a wage committee charged with trying to fine tune city employee wages.
When he arrived on council, he said, there were some contention among colleagues about wages and recalls city councilman Jeff Grose saying the practice felt like throwing darts when trying to pinpoint who deserved raises.
The committee worked with Jennifer Whitaker, direct or of human resources, to add more detail to job descriptions, which helps assess wage levels.
“One of the main things I wanted to make sure was that people got paid an honest wage for a day’s work and I wanted it to be commensurate with the market,” Wilhite said.
He said he’s pleased with the improvements, but says it will be an ongoing process. “Council has come to the conclusion that it’s not a one-and-done” task.
Another role for Wilhite was his involvement with the utility task force, which studied the breakdown of sewer rates ahead of last year’s new rate structure.
The rate hikes were based on a cost of service study that looked at the various types of customers, including residential, industrial and businesses.
The changes included a big hike for small businesses. By one estimate, some within that group could see an increase in bills by as much as 50 percent after the service study indicated they were not paying an appropriate share.
The change raised some concerns from the public and council.
“I feel the plan we put together is balanced to a degree that everybody is pulling their weight,” Wilhite said. “I believe this is the most equitable system we could have come up with.”
Part of the calculation in sewer rates is based on the size of the water main and the city has encouraged businesses to assess they are using the right size main. In some cases, the pipes can be changed and thereby reduce their rates, if warranted.
On another issue, Wilhite said he teamed up with Council President Diane Quance to work on an ordinance that would stymie problems at the bridge along Sunset Drive, which began attracting people fishing at all times of the day and night.
While some of those fishing were respectful, neighbors complained that some were staying overnight, playing loud music and, in a few instances, were intimidating them.
Last year, council unanimously approved an ordinance banning people from standing on or near the bridge, essentially ending the fishing.
Wilhite said he is well positioned to serve the entire city as an at-large councilman.
He said it is imperative he balance the interests of all residents.
“I don’t own a business that would gain from my position and I don’t have a personal axe to grind. I have no agenda other than to do what is right for the residents of Warsaw,” Wilhite said in a prepared statement.
He added, “My votes always have and always will be balanced and have the best interest of the whole community without playing favorites to one faction or another,” he said.
Wilhite said he understands the unique opportunities the community has given his family, including a work environment that is generally “recession proof” and one that offers many lakes and streams to enjoy.
He said it’s his hope to continue serving the community.
“Warsaw has so much to offer and yet has so much more potential. So it is my desire to serve and give back to a community that has given me so much,” he said.