Mayor-Elect Sue Finkam on the Changing of the Guard

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Mayor-Elect Sue Finkam

November/December 2023

The changing of a mayoral administration after 28 years is a critical moment for the city of Carmel. It represents an opportunity for new ideas and priorities to shape local governance. The effectiveness of this process often depends on the degree of collaboration and communication between the outgoing and incoming administrations. Smooth transitions contribute to the overall stability and continuity of local government functions.

Mayor-Elect Sue Finkam sat down with Carmel Monthly to discuss what the transition process entails to ensure a seamless transition of power and what her administration will begin working on once she is officially sworn in as Carmel’s next mayor in 2024.

Post-Election Priorities

The conversation with Finkam began with her expressing thanks to all of her supporters for their time and volunteerism throughout the campaign and, of course, for their votes.

“I am just overwhelmed with gratitude,” Finkam expressed. “I appreciate the folks in Carmel really digging in, looking at the issues and taking seriously the opportunity to elect a new leader for this community for the first time in 28 years. For months, I have pushed messages that engaged our constituents, and the number of conversations that I’ve had this past year is just incredible.”

Finkam shared that going forward, she plans on using her marketing skills to engage stakeholders and constituents on important matters that impact all facets of the city.

“We have a true opportunity in front of us to engage people in just what the city does because there is a new face that’s going to be in City Hall,” Finkam said. “As a marketer, I’m used to using social media to tell stories and shed light on important issues in our community. I welcome this chance to do the same with how the city is run.”

Organizing the transition team was not a priority for Finkam before the general election, but that task has been kicked into high gear post-election.

“I chose not to work on transition at all during the campaign, and some people challenged me on that,” Finkam stated. “I chose not to spend time on the [transition] plan because I felt every minute spent on that was a minute that I could be out in front of a voter. The tactical thing, as far as what we are working on now, is selecting key leaders both within and outside of [the] community [for] the transition team to help guide us and get this next administration out of the gate quickly, professionally and with transparency.”

Finkam added, “We will then start interviewing all of the directors [who] are part of the city now and determine their interest in working in this administration, reviewing all of the executive orders that Mayor Brainard signed, [along with] contracts, boards, commissions, committees and appointments, so there is a lot of work that has to happen in a short amount of time. Not everything will be completed by January 1, but we’ll have a good start on it.”

When asked how instrumental Mayor Brainard has been in the transition process, Finkam replied, “He has been great and has said that whatever we need, we’ll have access to. And having worked with the city for 12 years, there’s a lot that I am already very familiar with.”

A New Administration with Some New Objectives

Finkam spoke about some areas of focus that she will place front and center of her administration.

“First and foremost, I’ve said that I want to change the conversation that we have with our constituents, so I promised and have already started working on a citywide survey to implement. In addition to obtaining feedback, I also want to solicit ideas, concerns and volunteers from the community through this survey. We want to convert that [survey] into a strategic plan—a ramped-up version of the ‘Elevate Carmel’ plan that we put out. Secondly, we want to do an audit of our financials—I’m not expecting to find any concerns in that process. And third, we want to implement the Carmel Housing Coalition that I said I would start, which will bring everybody to the table to talk about housing development, to study our housing, and develop a framework from which we can make decisions moving forward.”

Sue Finkam for Carmel Mayor

Finkam continued, “Apartments and growth were the top issues that I heard at every door, so I want to be responsive to those because that’s what we promised. I feel like we need to dive deep into our financials, not because we’re in a rough situation, but because it is a tighter situation than we’ve had before and because dollars are being diverted to Fishers. We have some legislative action and have filed a lawsuit against the State of Indiana to stop the diversion of those dollars, so that is of prime importance in early 2024.”

Finkam went on to say that depending on the outcomes of the state legislators and court’s decisions on the diversion matter, the decisions that her administration will make in terms of projects and budgets will be either slightly or greatly impacted.

“Another one of [the] biggest concerns that I have is making sure our office [space] assessed values stay high,” Finkam addressed. “I think we have to be smart about how office [space] is being used, and I want to have a lot of conversations about this. I also want to have several conversations about how we take care of our seniors in this community from a housing, recreation and volunteer standpoint. I am also really interested in implementing a 311 program, which is a way for citizens to report issues throughout the city.”

Engaging the city’s youth is also of importance to Finkam as she begins her administration in 2024.

“I was surprised by the number of elementary and middle school students who have been paying attention to this election, probably through the eyes of their parents or family members, and I want to find ways to get them engaged so they better understand what their city does for them and with them so that someday they could be [better leaders] in their communities, wherever that might be. Another initiative that I’m excited about working on is setting up a committee of people who can recruit Greyhound graduates back to Carmel to invest their time and treasure here.”

Public Safety and Continued Prosperity

“We’ve been blessed to have Carmel Police Chief Barlow with the city for decades,” Finkam stated. “He’s a strong and compassionate leader, and he’s due the retirement he wants. We’re already working on hiring a new police chief, and I’ve met with FOP and have had conversations with other public safety leaders, so I’m looking forward to having a very robust and challenging interview process to select the best leader we can find. We’re opening up [the position] externally as well as internally. Of prime importance to me is finding someone who is incredibly professional but is empathetic enough to work with our officers. Today’s officer [who] is just starting out is different from the officer who started 30 years ago, but you have to supervise and lead both. I want to make sure we find the right person to not just police and keep the roads safe, but to take care of the men and women [who] serve.”

As part of her focus on the city’s public safety, Finkam is already reaching out to and plans on interfacing with the surrounding town and city mayors. She also emphasized that she wants to engage people outside of City Hall on a regular basis.

“I am excited about the opportunity to continue to talk with residents and business owners as we go into the new year,” Finkam said. “I hope to not spend much time inside of City Hall, but want to be out in coffee shops and businesses, having conversations and understanding more about what people love about the City of Carmel. We should all give a great deal of thanks to Mayor Brainard for the vision that he put forth as he built this incredible community. If we want to make sure that Carmel remains one of the best communities in the country, we all have to take a piece of that and own it. I think there’s an incredible opportunity to engage [with] and unite our community, and that’s what I’m really looking forward to doing.”

Finkam concluded, “I’m a person who thrives on change. I like it—it’s interesting and fun. It’s how I learn, and I shed the past really easily, which probably helps in politics. But I think we have to remember that change is personal, so if we close an intersection, that means a mom, dad or grandparent who’s jetting a child around in a car will lose 10 minutes that they’re not going to get back, and that could be putting a strain on a job situation or on picking up another child from another location. So, everything we do has to have a personal aspect to it, and we, as an administration, have to keep that in mind.”