MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Commissioners debate was a one-man show Thursday night, as Republican candidate Bill Pursel was the only representing candidate for the race. Democrat candidate Donald Bovinett Jr. was unable to attend citing familial obligations.
In previous statements at the Republican Women’s luncheon regarding strong private partnerships to solve local issues, such as combating drug use in the county, Pursel elaborated by citing a statistic which claims that when a child reaches the fourth-grade and is unable to read at a fourth-grade level, 66 percent of the time that child will be incarcerated or be in the welfare system in their lifetime.
“We need to have a strong relationship with our schools to be able to help the children, to be able to get at that reading level, because it’s those children, and those future children, that are going to need that assistance.”
Pursel referred to this stance as “getting out in front of the problem.”
With those that are incarcerated or battling drug issues, Pursel explained they need help to break the cycle that they find themselves in, which will take “a lot of people and effort to do that.”
Specifically, Pursel pointed to recovery houses as a way forward for those individuals, as they need to “break the patterns that have helped put them there.” The recovery homes, Pursel asserts, will help them “rewire” and “re-program” so that they can get their lives moving in a different, more positive direction.
The role of the commissioner in this capacity, Pursel described as a “helicopter person.”
“That’s why I went around to all of the village townships and the councils, because I’m finding that there are similarities to some of the problems that the townships and the councils have,” he said. “As a commissioner, I want to be able to be working with those churches and agencies so that they can join forces together.”
Another area where Pursel said he believes he can be of assistance and help spread “best practices” is with the county’s fire departments. Specifically, he mentioned Eastern Knox County Fire District does not bill insurance companies for EMS runs, also known as soft billing.
“I’ve had discussions with Eastern Knox County Joint Fire District and I believe they are the only district that does not do soft billing,” he said. “I’m a strong contender that soft billing is something we should do on a county-wide basis.”
Pursel outlined that someone that resides outside of the district needing a squad run to the hospital would receive that service for free on behalf of the EKCJFD, because of the lack of soft billing.
“Anytime we have someone come from outside of the area into an area that doesn’t do soft billing, we’ve given them a free service,” he said.
Medicare was also listed by Pursel as a service that provides free care on behalf of the fire districts.
Pursel said that as he has attended some of the fire board meetings, and with “all of them pretty much struggling for dollars,” there needs to be some common ground for funding for fire and EMS on a county-wide basis, but he could not outline what that system would be.
Although connecting the fire districts together with information is not explicitly the role of a county commissioner, Pursel explained that the commissioners have a purview of the entire county, representing 61,000 people. He said the key aspect is the county budget for the commissioners, but it also provides a way to connect people together.
Pursel has visited with all 22 townships in the Knox County area, he said, and has already taken steps to help the townships with their project funding. He cited specifically the village of Brinkhaven, where he discussed the availability of grant money from Ariel Foundation with Mayor Josh Moreland. According to Pursel, he was able to walk Moreland through the process to acquire $4,300 to fund projects like stop signs, roof repair, carpeting in the village meeting room and pot hole patching within the village. Moreland was able to secure the grant from the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County.
In his closing remarks, Pursel reiterated his interest in serving the people of Knox County.
“My heart is one of a servant,” Pursel said. “If elected as a county commissioner to continue to use guidance and learn people’s wisdoms [sic] and build on the foundation that the people before me have laid at the commissioner’s office.”
The debate was sponsored by the Mount Vernon News, with media partners KnoxPages.com, WNZR and WMVO/WQIO. The evening was hosted by Mount Vernon Nazarene University.