Q&A: Carmel’s mayor-elect talks transition, top priorities

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Sue Finkam will become Carmel’s first new mayor in nearly 30 years when she takes office Jan. 1, 2024. One week after Election Day, she answered the following questions from Current about her campaign, transition plan and top priorities as mayor.

Now that the election is over, what are your thoughts on how your mayoral campaign went?

I knew (the campaign) would be a challenge physically and mentally, but I think I was surprised at just how difficult it was. But it was all worth it. I’m proud of myself and the rest of the team, because we did everything we could possibly do to win this election.

In what ways was the campaign more challenging than you expected?

I expected I could work on my business a little bit more than I did. So, in balancing time, that was challenging. The amount of mental focus it took, 15 hours a day, six and seven days a week, was unexpected. Had I known then what I know now, I would have probably just sold my business before entering into this. I didn’t expect the negative rhetoric that we had to face. I thought it’d be more about local issues.

As mayor, will you continue working for the marketing agency you founded?

I’m going to transition it to my business partner. So, not only are we transitioning to our administration, I’m transitioning away from my business. I want to make sure I am focused 100 percent on the city.

What interaction have you had with Mayor Jim Brainard (who was overseas on Election Day) since you won the race to become his successor?

I had a great phone call (with him after the election). He congratulated me on a win, and I thanked him for the 12 years of mentorship and support that he’s provided me. We talked about different things that are on his mind, boulevards, employee development and serving the community. We’re due to have a sit down dinner where we can focus on the task at hand as far as transitioning the government and where I can pick his brain on some things.

What will your transition team and process look like?

We will stand up a transition team. We’re in the process of doing that now. I did not work on any of that before the election because I felt like any time spent on that was time we should be in front of voters. So, I didn’t want to wake up on Nov. 8 saying we lost the election by 20 votes because we were focusing on a transition.

What is your vision and timeline for rolling out your Elevate Carmel plan?

Some (aspects) are multi-year, because they’re complex. Some of the transparency portal stuff I’d like to do is going to be highly dependent on our IT infrastructure and our ability to invest in that. That’s going to depend on revenue and how we manage our expenses. Other things can be relatively quick. I’m in the process right now of bringing that plan into a (document with) goals, objectives, strategies and tactics with deadlines and prioritization.

I want to do the community survey that I’ve talked about repeatedly, because we need to use that to continue to prioritize and also to augment that plan. I know there’s things that we will want to add from community input or enhance or even change.

What other top priorities have you identified?

Getting the chief of police hired (to replace retiring Carmel Police Department Chief Jim Barlow) and doing it in a collaborative manner that involves a wide variety of personnel. I talked (during the campaign) about an inter-governmental public safety committee. What a great way to kick off that committee with having them have input on the chief of police.

(Other priorities are) taking a close look at our financials and determining what kind of an audit we want to do, standing up the Carmel Housing Coalition and getting to work on all the boards and commissions that we want to fill.

Do you anticipate many changes to city staff with the new administration?

What I’ve learned from serving on other transition committees is to interview everybody and understand where they’re at in their careers, what they want to do moving forward and see if there’s an alignment between what I want to do and how they want to serve and go from there. During the campaign, I felt it was inappropriate to have those conversations until we knew if I was going to be in a leadership position.

I do see a lot of changes on boards, commissions and committees.

Are there unique challenges to succeeding a mayor who has been in office nearly 30 years?

I don’t think it is challenges as much as it’s opportunities to engage our city staff in a new way. For some that’ll be positive, for others that will be moving their cheese, and they may not like it.

It’s an opportunity to have a new dialogue with the residents as well. What I’ve learned through the campaign trail is that people have the utmost respect for Mayor Brainard and what he’s been able to build and accomplish in his career here. They’re also looking for maybe something fresh, not because they really want change, but because I think people recognize when there is a change it’s an opportunity to reset the scoreboard in many areas.

What are you most looking forward to in serving as mayor?

For someone who is motivated by seeing people excel, it’s working with this big, amazing team of people. I’m also looking forward to mining for information from our residents. Our residents are so talented in so many areas, from so many different countries. I’m really looking forward to learning from them, to take their input and turn it into action.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing you as mayor?

Two things. Managing our diverse community. We’ve got people who lived here for a year and people who have lived here for 50 years or more. We’ve got people from all across the world who have decided to live here. We have people who own businesses, and people who stay at home. So, we just have an incredibly diverse community and I want to make sure that we’re aggressively reaching out to them to make sure they feel part of the community.

Fiscally, I have concerns about things that are going to impact our community that we can’t control, namely things that the state legislature does that have an impact on our bottom line.

Is there anything else you want the community to know?

People engaged in so many little ways to get us across the finish line, and I can never thank everybody enough. In many cases, we don’t even know what people did. It’s conversations in grocery store lines. It’s someone talking about our plan at euchre night. It’s so many things people did to help us that I’ll never know that I’m so thankful for.


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