Make your home page

‘All INdiana Politics’: Westfield primary could decide city’s next mayor

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — The three Republican candidates for mayor told News 8 the city needs to diversify its tax base to meet its future needs.

Current Westfield Mayor Andy Cook is stepping down after four terms in office. Three Republicans are running to succeed him: Kristen Burkman, Scott Willis and Jake Gilbert. There is no Democratic primary for mayor, though party officials have until July 3 to caucus in a candidate for the general election in November.

Westfield sits immediately north of Carmel in Hamilton County. The city grew rapidly between the 2010 and 2020 census, from about 30,000 people to more than 46,000, and topped the 50,000 mark in 2021. It is home to Grand Park, a 400-acre sports park for which the city still owes more than $77 million.

Kristen Burkman

Kristen Burkman is a marketing executive and a member of Westfield’s Advisory Plan Commission. She said she is running for mayor because the city needs to find a way to draw commercial businesses. Burkman said her marketing background would help her put together a data-driven plan to do so.

“Everything happens when you plan,” she said. “We need the information to put in these plans and then go out and market our community to companies so they see what an incredible place Westfield is to not only raise a family but also bring their business to Westfield.”

Burkman said Westfield is not in any danger of running out of housing anytime soon but city officials need to develop a strategy to update the city’s roads and public safety to meet the needs of a growing population. She said she also would collaborate with schools to help them meet their needs in terms of classroom space and teachers.

Burkman said she is not in favor of selling Grand Park. Instead, she said the city needs to find ways to draw businesses that would complement the facility and boost the city’s commercial tax base in the process. She said young athletes need Grand Park’s fields and baseball diamonds as the fields in use before the park was built are no longer adequate. Burkman said Westfield should continue to market itself as a youth sports hub while also seeking businesses and events unrelated to youth sports as a way to diversify its portfolio.

Asked what sets her apart from the rest of the Republican field, Burkman pointed to her academic credentials, including a nearly-completed doctorate in leadership and organizational innovation. She also cited her marketing background and her planning commission experience.

Scott Willis

Scott Willis is a city council member and a retired Marine Corps officer. He said he is running for mayor because he sees it as a natural continuation of his service and a way to address the city’s challenges.

Willis said the city depends too heavily on homeowners to provide tax revenue. He said bringing more commercial business to the city would mean a broader, more stable tax base as well as lower taxes for homeowners themselves.

“It starts, first, by identifying land that fits into Westfield, fits into our strengths as a community, get that land zoned, bring the infrastructure into that development and then you go out and market that to the business community,” he said.

Willis said he would like to slow down Westfield’s residential growth to give infrastructure time to catch up. He said the way to do that is to focus on developing land within the city limits, including pockets that are currently unincorporated, before annexing additional land. Willis said doing this would head off problems associated with sprawl.

On Grand Park, Willis said the city needs to make the facility more profitable and develop businesses around the park to capture dollars spent by people coming to town for sporting events. He said he doesn’t think Westfield is pinning too much of its economy on youth sports but the next mayor should try to draw high-tech businesses in particular and promote more mixed-use development.

Willis said his experience running two businesses as well as overseeing Marine Corps units gives him an administrative and budgetary background his primary rivals lack.

Jake Gilbert

Jake Gilbert is a teacher and high school football coach who also serves as the president of the Wellbeing Coalition of Westfield. He said he is running for mayor because he loves his city and wants to help it reach its full potential.

Gilbert called the management of the city’s growth the million-dollar question. He said growth is good as long as it’s quality growth and city officials are clear with developers and businesses on exactly what they are looking for. He said the next mayor will have to make sure the city’s roads and schools are able to absorb growth.

“Westfield is a special community but we can ruin that with growth that exceeds the services we can provide,” he said. “So I think we have to be really thoughtful, smart about all of our residental growth and really well plan when it comes to the comprehensive plan.”

Gilbert said he has never been in favor of selling Grand Park despite the city’s outstanding debt on it. He said a better idea would be to find a private-sector partner to lease it or sponsor it. Gilbert said Westfield should continue to attract youth sporting events while at the same time recruiting other businesses, such as advanced manufacturing.

Gilbert said he is the best choice because in the primary because his background is built around community service rather than public office. He said his educational and coaching background gives him the ability to build teams and culture and then pursue a goal. He said his current jobs also give him the organizational and budgetary experience necessary for the city’s highest office.

The primary is set for May 2.

“All INdiana Politics” airs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WISH-TV.