Penny Githens 2024

Four women are running for office in 2024, and have applied for endorsement by the DWC.  All were interviewed in March by the DWC Endorsement Committee whose recommendations will be presented at the DWC lunch on Friday, April 5.  They responded to same questions posed to all of them so that our members have information prior to voting on whether or not to endorse them.  There was no word limit.  Here are the responses from Penny Githens.

Penny Githens, running for re-election as County Commissioner District 3

1. Why are you running for this office?
I have been a Monroe County Commissioner for almost 5 years, and during that time I have successfully pushed for the agreement to expand the Monroe Convention Center, led the efforts to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars to expand early childhood education and provide food for local residents, secured additional state opioid settlement money, initiated Monroe County’s efforts to bring the Integrated Reentry and Correctional Supports (IRACS) program to our community, and a host of other things. It is the hardest, and most rewarding job I have ever held. But there is more to do. After years of discussion, site visits, and training, I want to be part of the team which oversees the building of a new correctional campus. I want to bring more treatment and housing options to our community for those with mental illness and substance use disorders. I want to help develop the new Quarryland Park. I want to explore ways to reduce what goes into landfills while also reducing costs. And so much more, things that one doesn’t learn overnight.

2. Describe the duties of the office for which you are running.
County commissioners are the administrative and legislative body of the county. There are three commissioners who must work together to get things done. We set policies and oversee all offices that are not overseen by another elected official, such as the highway department. One policy example is was the creation of a mask mandate in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We appoint residents to boards and commissions. If someone is unhappy with a ruling from a township trustee or the decision from the county highway department about a driveway, those appeals are decided by a commissioner. We are the final decision-makers on requests for rezones in the non-urban parts of the county. We review and approve almost all contracts and grants. We are responsible for buying land and buying and maintaining buildings, as well as allocating space to each department. Commissioners serve on the boards of both the Waste Reduction District of Monroe County and the Stormwater District. We split assignments to other boards and commissions, and right now I sit on the Substance Use Disorder Awareness Commission, the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, Downtown Bloomington, Inc., the Executive Board of the Waste Reduction District, and the Heading Home Advisory group.

3. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Richmond, IN, and have a B.S. in chemistry and math education from Purdue and an M.S. in educational psychology from IU. Between completing my undergraduate degree and starting graduate school, I taught science and math as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya for two years. As a trailing spouse, I have had the opportunity to hold faculty research positions at Yale and Vanderbilt Universities, assist with educational program development at the University of Pennsylvania, and serve as a project director at Indiana University. My husband, Ed Buffie, and I have two sons. Our older son has autism, and I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years to support him. It was during these at-home years that I led the effort to mandate health insurance coverage for autism in Indiana. I have been a Monroe County Commissioner since April 2019.

4. Please share information about your community involvement.
After learning that our older son had autism, I became involved in the South Central Indiana Chapter of the Autism Society of America (no longer an active chapter). I was on the board for several years and served as vice president for two years. I was also on the board of the Autism Society of Indiana for 2 years. In 1997 I became an IN*SOURCE-trained volunteer advocate for special education students, something I was actively involved with for 20 years. I still occasionally get calls from families asking for help, which I gladly offer. I helped start an adapted martial arts program at the YMCA, a program which ran for almost 20 years before being shut down due to COVID. When my sons were young, I volunteered hundreds of hours in their elementary school, and when they were in middle school and high school, I was an active supporter of their athletic teams. I have been a member of the DWC’s Steering Committee for 8 years and am the immediate past president. For the past 4 years I have volunteered at the Hoosier Hills Food Bank’s drive-through food distributions and helped with Pantry 279’s Thanksgiving Food distribution.

5. Tell us about any previous elected offices you’ve held or other political experience you’ve had.
I ran for Indiana State Representative 3 times, twice in HD 60 and once in HD 62, losing all 3 times. I was Isabel Piedmont-Smith’s campaign manager in 2015 and helped with her re-election in 2019. I was caucused in as a Monroe County Commissioner, District 3, in 2019 and was elected to the seat in 2020. I have helped with DWC trainings and coached other candidates, such as Thomas Horrocks and Michelle Higgs.

6. What do you believe is most important to serving successfully in the office you are seeking?
Caring about people and understanding that the actions we take today impact not only current residents, but also residents for decades to come. An example of this is the new justice center. The decision on where to locate the justice center is important, as is the design. Jails typically have a life of about 30 years, and when the new jail is deemed beyond its useful life, we want the site to allow for both expansion and for a new facility. We also want a facility that allows for more programming. Another example is helping to fund a new refrigerated truck for Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

7. What makes you the best candidate?
Experience, experience, experience. And the fact that I care about the residents of Monroe County and our employees. I have been a leader on several initiatives, such as funding for childcare initiatives, food – Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Pantry 279 – and allocation of the county’s opioid settlement funds. I have spent countless hours learning about jails, treatment for those with mental illness and substance use disorders, and combating homelessness. I attend numerous events, like the Ellettsville Chamber of Commerce luncheons and local fundraisers. Being County Commissioner is a full-time job for me.

8. How do you plan to win this election?
I have begun fundraising, ordered yard signs, acquired an ActBlue account, and have a website. I plan to begin knocking on doors in mid-March. And, if my fundraising goes well, I plan to do at least 3 mailings. I will contact individuals who request mail-in ballots and be at the early voting site as often as I can.

9. Are there existing aspects of the office you are seeking that should be addressed in order to be as equitable and inclusive as possible? If so, how will you go about that?
Monroe County was the first, and is still the only, county in Indiana with 3 female Commissioners. When I leave office, I will search for another woman to succeed me. The Commissioners recruit broadly for our boards and commissions; however, we could do better. We hold virtual office hours 6 times per month, some in the middle of the day and some in the evening, with the office hours coinciding with times that the Monroe County Public Library is open. When there are important public issues to discuss, like a community discussion of the Integrated Reentry and Correctional Support (IRACS) program, we publicize the event widely and invite people from various sectors of our community: Private citizens, non-profits, business leaders, etc. In the future, we should consider having the publicity also done in Spanish. (We had a Spanish interpreter present for the two community discussions we held about possibly siting the new justice center on the Thomson property.)

10. What issues impacting women are most important to you right now?
Childcare, homelessness, reproductive rights, and earning a living wage. After the SB 1 was enacted in 2022 in Indiana, the Monroe County Commissioners quickly offered a travel allowance to anyone covered by the County’s Health Insurance if they wanted to terminate their pregnancy.