Evansville’s 10 Most Significant Events in 2010


City County Observer Readers Respond

The City County Observer solicited and received nominations from our readers for the10 most significant things that occurred in and around Evansville during 2010. We asked for things that will have lasting impact on Evansville and its surroundings from a political or economic perspective. Here are the selections:

The Closing of Whirlpool: The closing of Whirlpool in 2010 was a stark reminder that this region is not isolated from the rest of the world or immune to market forces. After a multi-generational time in Evansville, a city that was once known as “the refrigerator capitol of the world”, the Whirlpool Corporation ceased all manufacturing in the big aqua building on North 41.

In a further reminder that this region’s future depends upon brains and not brawn, Whirlpool has continued negotiations to establish a “Midwest Design Center” that will preserve about 300 of the highest paying and most impactful jobs that they recognize the organization wide value of.

Whirlpool came to symbolize then City of Evansville having employed over 10,000 people at its peak in the early 1980’s. Globalization started a trickle out effect that eventually reduced the workforce to just over 1,000 in an aging facility that eventually was not cost effective to use for manufacturing.

As the shut-down was NAFTA related the workers who lost their jobs are eligible for extensive retraining that many are currently taking advantage of. We wish each and every one of the Whirlpool workers good fortune in their retraining and cross our fingers for an influx of career opportunities as they join Evansville in emerging from a brawn based to a skill based economy.

The EPA Sewer Deal with the City of Evansville: In a well negotiated move on the part of the Weinzapfel Administration, the EPA has granted the City of Evansville a two year reprieve from fines associated with combined sewer overflows. If an approved plan is not in place within two years the fines will start again. This design will be difficult and expensive and the time period will bridge two city administrations. We hope and encourage the current administration to focus on getting this plan completed ahead of schedule and not stick the next administration with this responsibility during its first 10 months in office.

Roberts Stadium Ball Fields: The intent of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors to borrow $18 Million to build 8 baseball fields and tear down Roberts Stadium was thwarted by a focused and determined effort led by the residents of the area around Roberts. The ball fields became an election issue in the race for Vanderburgh County Commissioner where incumbent Troy Tornatta was defeated by Marsha Abell.

The defeat of the Roberts Stadium ball fields proposal has the potential to become a turning point in Evansville politics where accountability to the public takes precedent over the will of a few elected officials. The ball fields may be resurrected next year in a less expensive form in another location and gain public support but what happened in 2010 is that public officials and in particular the Vanderburgh County Council listened to the people. It was a refreshing change.

The Executive Inn Dilemma: 2010 was the year that the wheels came off of the bus when it came to poor or no comprehensive planning with respect to the Executive Inn. It was revealed that the Executive Inn and its parking garage were structurally unsound and had to be demolished, that Browning Investments would not be going forward with the 4-Star hotel that they had committed to build in 2007, and that the lot where the Executive Inn sits was not large enough to support a parking garage. This comedy of errors and oversights also spilled over into the race for Vanderburgh County Commissioner.

Eventually John Kish, who has been doing an exemplary job of keeping the Evansville Arena on schedule and budget, had his role expanded to include the oversight of the hotel project. Until Mr. Kish was re-directed this particular part of the entertainment complex was a case study in how not to do things. The chaos has cost the City of Evansville its viability as a place for downtown conventions along with the loss of many room nights and tourist dollars to the local economy. The losses will continue until there is an operating hotel in place between the Arena and the Centre.

Mr. Kish did provide some comic relief when he made a statement that the earthquake in Haiti made him think about the structural integrity of the Executive Inn and parking garage. Of course he was not responsible for the Big E at the time of the Haiti quake, but it was obviously on his mind.

The lesson to be learned going forward from the Executive Inn Dilemma is that an overall plan needs to be in place and a project manager needs to be on the payroll when projects with multiple time lines are being undertaken. The silo approach to a master plan never has worked and most likely never will.

The Executive Director of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau: The fireworks started at the ECVB early in 2010 when former Executive Director Marilee Fowler was placed on administrative leave for making a public statement about a plan to build some ball fields at Roberts Stadium. Subsequently Ms. Fowler resigned and has since filed a lawsuit against the ECVB. The lawsuit remains unresolved and a search for a new Executive Director has thus far been fruitless.

At a time when professional leadership is needed the board of directors of the ECVB has spent much time and a substantial amount of money in an attempt to sell bonds to demolish Roberts Stadium and build 8 baseball fields. That time and a sufficient salary would have been better spent to find and hire a replacement for Marilee Fowler. The board has been vocal that all local candidates have been eliminated and Mole #27 tells the CCO that the salary offered for the position is not drawing much interest in the outside world.

Filling this position is of utmost importance and brings with it much difficulty. We are on record in support of a local candidate for this position. We also have a view of reality that to an outsider the facts that there is a lawsuit hanging over the organization, there will not be a convention hotel before late 2012, and that the salary is not competitive on a national level will just not be very attractive. We therefore reiterate our position that Bob Whitehouse is qualified, knows the job, and is eager for a chance to prove his capabilities as the Executive Director of the ECVB. He is also the best person for the job given the whole package that comes with it.

Rick Davis’ Announcement of his Candidacy for Mayor of Evansville: In a move that was discouraged by Democratic Central Committee leadership, just after Thanksgiving Vanderburgh County Treasurer Rick Davis announced his candidacy for the party’s nomination for Mayor of Evansville. Mr. Davis is still the only announced candidate and has been gathering support and going door-to-door securing the base of the Democratic Party.

Prior to Mr. Davis’ announcement a mini-scandal erupted at the mere rumor that he might announce his candidacy before Mayor Weinzapfel had been given the political advantage (deference) to announce first. The Democratic Central Committee’s reaction to the rumor that Rick Davis was considering running for Mayor of Evansville was to remove their booth from the Westside Nut Club fall festival under the cloak of darkness. This was followed up with an admonishment about “Deference to a sitting Mayor” from the Democratic Party Chairman and with tough language from union leadership. What remains to be seen is whether this reaction defines what the Vanderburgh County Democratic Party is or whether it simply reflects the preferences of the current stewardship.

Convention Hotel Announcement: In a surprise move Mayor Weinzapfel has announced an agreement in principle with Woodruff Hospitality to enter an agreement to develop a Hyatt Place hotel in Downtown Evansville. This forthcoming agreement was brought about by local seed money that was leveraged into outside investment in a manner that will hopefully be emulated by other aspiring developers and entrepreneurs. Investment begins at home and this group has so far proven it. We look forward to the grand opening.

The Republican Comeback in 2010: The 2010 elections saw a Republican sweep of Indiana state legislative positions with only one exception and that was in a heavily Democratic district. That sentiment was reflected at the county level with the County Council and the County Commissioners being voted into Republican majorities.

Perhaps the biggest surprises came in races that were clearly upsets. Marsha Abell defeated incumbent County Commissioner Troy Tornatta who had held some public office for most of his adult life. The upset was aided by Tornatta’s silence on the Roberts Stadium ball fields projects, his assumption of a following role in the Executive Inn Dilemma, and culminated in his decision not to use a controversial TV commercial about the Homestead Tax Credit fiasco because Mayor Weinzapfel told him not to.

Another major upset occurred when Nick Hermann defeated five term incumbent Stan Levco in the race for Vanderburgh County Prosecutor. 2011 promises to be an interesting year and holds the potential for a balanced or Republican majority on the Evansville City Council for the first time in over 30 years.

Knight Township Trustee Debacle: The danger of partisan landslides and long political coattails was driven home in Knight Township in 2010 when it was discovered that the elected Democratic Trustee Linda Durham had expended all of the funds of the township. Some of those funds were spent on poor relief and other funds were allegedly spent on personal items.

The Knight Township debacle brought focus onto the office of the trustee and to the governance of the trustee. Ms. Durham was removed from office, the responsibility for fire protection was transferred to the City of Evansville, and a hotly contested election for the Trusteeship was decided by less than 10 votes. To add insult to injury a request for recount was denied due to a technical oversight.

The Barnett Compensation Scandal: The City County Observer broke the story of the two paycheck manner that Evansville Director of DMD was being paid. Specifically Barnett was paid at the scheduled level by the City of Evansville in the amount of $71,000 and had a supplemental deal arranged by Mayor Weinzapfel to receive an additional $42,000 from GAGE, a non-profit organization where he served as Chairman of the Board. The Mayor furthermore arranged for the City of Evansville to reimburse GAGE for those dollars essentially circumventing the authority of the City Council to establish salaries for city employees.

This scheme was recently corrected and Mr. Barnett will go into 2011 with an appropriate salary of $109,120 paid entirely by the City of Evansville. The two check arrangement was necessary to attract Mr. Barnett because the salary schedules of the City of Evansville are simply not in touch with what equivalent positions earn in peer cities. The Mayor’s hands were tied by City of Evansville policy and he devised a way around those restrictions. Perhaps in 2011 these two wrongs will make a right and the City of Evansville will adopt competitive salary guidelines across the board so some future Mayor is not faced with the same situation the next time a “national search” for talent is required.

Honorable Mention:
Evansville Arena Project Makes Wall Street Journal for Largesse
Evansville City Council Deadlocks on Smoking Ordinance
Taxes Pledged to Backstop Arena Bonds
Art’s District TIF Approval
Front Door Pride’s Difficulty in Selling Homes at 50% off
Green Brick Alley in Goosetown
Evansville Attracts Meager Sum of Stimulus Dollars
Vanderburgh County’s Record Suicide Rate
Post Election Staff Firings
GAGE’s Return to its Roots of Business Support
Arson Rate in Evansville Increase
The First Summer with no Freedom Festival in over 30 years


  1. And the City’s bonded debt starts reaching toward a BILLION DOLLARS under the Weinzapfel Administration.

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