Kokomo Tribune. Nov. 17, 2020

The public’s right to know

Hoosiers support the right to know what government at all levels is up to, and they believe public notices in community newspapers are a trusted source of that transparency.

A 2014 survey by the Princeton, New Jersey-based American Opinion Research asked state residents their thoughts on the importance of public notice advertisements in local newspapers. The study was commissioned by the Hoosier State Press Association’s board of directors and surveyed 1,000 Indiana residents. The findings, published in the Nov. 13, 2014 edition of The Indiana Publisher, were overwhelming:

• 85% supported publication of public notices as a way to inform residents of government actions.

• 64% said governmental entities should be required to publish these announcements, even though they cost them thousands of extra dollars per year.

• 61% said they had read or seen public notice advertising in a newspaper.

State legislators placed a “sunset” in 2013 to the requirement that local government agencies publish their budgets as part of the notice of budget hearings. The rollback took effect in 2014.

The change in the budget-publishing requirement was sought by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. Removing budget details from newspaper public notices reduced resident access to this important information. The Hoosier State Press Association says just 12,000 unique visitors saw local government budgets on the DLGF website in 2017, compared to the 3 million Hoosier newspaper readers who no longer read budget details in their local newspapers.

The American Opinion Research shows Hoosiers agree on the importance of public notice advertisements. It’s pretty difficult to keep tabs on governmental entities if one can’t even find basic information like the annual budgets they will debate.

In the 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers must make annual budgets a part of the notice of budget hearings again.

Such a requirement puts information in the one place where local residents are likely to find it: the community newspaper.

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South Bend Tribune. Nov. 22, 2020

Have you heard what doctors and nurses are saying about COVID?

This is not a lecture.

This is not an attempt to pick a fight.

This has nothing to do with politics.

We are simply relaying the words of our local medical community.

These are doctors and nurses in our cities. These are the neighbors who work in our local hospitals. These are the folks who safeguard our health.

And their words reveal a level of anxiety and stress that we can’t recall being revealed publicly, with this type of urgency, for at least several years.

They’re not just asking and pleading. They’re begging.

The topic, of course, is COVID-19.

Dr. Sam El-Dalati, chief clinical officer for Beacon Health System: “We don’t want to end up rationing care in the hospital.”

Dr. Dale Patterson, vice president of medical affairs at Memorial Hospital: “We have to have people to take care of these patients. And we’re running out of people.”

Amber Hodges, respiratory therapist at Elkhart General Hospital: “We don’t have enough resources. We’re running out of everything right now.”

Dr. Michelle Bache, VP of medical affairs at Elkhart General: “The time to act is now. We really just need something to change.”

Chad Towner, CEO of Saint Joseph Health System: “At the start of the day this morning, we were 11 COVID beds short.”

They are explaining their reality, what they see on a daily basis when they go to work.

They see stressed nurses working 12-hour shifts, equipment that is dwindling and beds that are filling up too quickly. They also see other medical care, including elective surgeries, getting pushed off for months because COVID-19 demands so much.

Elective surgeries, by the way, include procedures such as heart valve replacements.

The doctors are also relaying numbers.

Here’s one: At Saint Joseph Health System, one in five people who tested positive since early October has required at least one night in the hospital.

Here’s another: Elkhart General started the year planning for 14 ICU beds. One day last week, the hospital had 30 ICU patients.

It’s not just about deaths. It’s the fact that our hospitals are strained to an alarming degree, and with COVID-19 patients in their 40s and 50s, not just the elderly.

In the last week, many local schools have shifted to virtual classes and some government offices, including St. Joseph County and City of South Bend offices, have closed in an attempt to slow an alarming surge in cases.

The message has remained the same. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Avoid large groups. Keep your distance.

Many people are indeed wearing masks in public. Many people have been safe for months. But all it takes is one blow-out party, a few restaurants flouting safety protocols or a group not wearing masks for the virus to spread.

Have too many of us grown weary of hearing the message? Yes. Are we frustrated with having to fumble with masks and avoiding groups? Sure. Do we really want to stay apart from family members even longer? Of course not.

But these are the best tools medical experts across the country and world are recommending.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, with two vaccines soon to be available, but it will be months before mass distribution will occur.

In the meantime, sure, we can keep fighting over orders and flu comparisons and herd immunity and the political motives of everyone involved.

But can we pause to listen to the doctors and nurses in our community? They’re living it every day. And their message is a frightening one.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune Star. Nov. 20, 2020

Future getting brighter for downtown Terre Haute

Fall of 2020 does not feature a lot of economic confidence and momentum across this nation.

Americans’ jobs remain tenuously tied to the ongoing course of the coronavirus pandemic. Half of the 20 million jobs idled or lost in the U.S. after the initial COVID-19 wave in March have been regained, but the recovery appears to be slowing as a broader virus wave sweeps the country. Restrictions to slow its dangerous spread could reemerge this winter, limiting productivity in businesses and industries. In states and cities that resist such restrictions, the virus itself still could curtail jobs and output by infecting large swaths of workers.

Thus, any progress toward the future, on real projects, is a precious commodity.

Terre Haute has such coveted forward motion.

A proposal to build a new $20-million-plus Marriott Courtyard hotel and parking garage on the northwest corner of the original Crossroads of America, Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue downtown, was unveiled to the public Wednesday.

The project was presented at a meeting of the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board, the panel that oversees the in-progress Terre Haute Convention Center. The CIB moved the proposal forward with a 5-0 procedural vote, allowing the Terre Haute City Redevelopment Commission to take ownership of the lot currently occupied by the Vigo County School Corp. administration building.

If all goes as planned, Hoosier hotelier Tim Dora’s Terminal Hotel Partners LLC will develop the $20-million Marriott Courtyard and parking garage complex on that land.

The school district sold the property to the CIB for $3 million as part of a VCSC cost-reduction plan. The VCSC can remain at the site until next September, unless it moves to a new location sooner. The district building would be demolished and replaced by the Marriott.

The prospect changes previous intentions for a surface-parking lot at the site and sets up encouraging possibilities for the downtown cityscape. The hotel parking garage rooftop could feature a pool, fire pit and outdoor seating, and a bar or restaurant overlooking the Crossroads. A covered walkway would extend from the Marriott across Seventh Street to the Hilton Garden Inn and the new convention center.

The project is “in a very preliminary stage,” said Steve Witt, city redevelopment director and a CIB member. Thus, changes could come, and the timeline is not yet defined. But, it is a “very exciting project,” Witt added.

Dora’s interest stands as a pillar of encouragement. His group also owns and operates the Hilton Garden Inn and Candlewood Suites downtown, and the Holiday Inn Express and Home2 Suites by Hilton on the city’s growing east side at the Indiana 46 exit of Interstate 70.

This latest venture shows a belief that an investment in downtown Terre Haute can be profitable.

It also represents a series of ventures, private and public, that will shape the community’s economy and culture for decades to come. Construction of the $32-million convention center is underway, with half of its foundation already set in place. That project includes a new Larry Bird Museum, honoring the former Indiana State University great and adding to the city’s healthy museum and gallery roster.

ISU’s $50-million renovation of Bird’s former home court, Hulman Center, wraps up this month and looks impressive.

Hulman Center, the convention center, hotels and the apartment complexes added to downtown in recent years can further turn the Crossroads area into a destination. The arts-driven Turn to the River project will create a walkable connection of Wabash Avenue to its namesake, the Wabash River. A new Rocksino casino is being built on the east side, a $100-million investment by Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson that could bring a million annual visitors to the city and boost convention business.

The list continues to grow.

Real hurt, loss and heartaches are hitting this community right now through the pandemic and its consequences. Addressing those critical needs should be the top priority for local leadership. Hope for life afterward is crucial, too. The plans for new businesses and opportunities provide one of the lights at the end of the tunnel.

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