Hendricks County Commission President Eric Wathen recently announced that he's withdrawn his name from the ballot for county commissioner in November's general election.
He cited family issues as the reason. His mother and uncle both died of cancer two years ago. In January, his maternal grandmother passed away. Wathen and his family, who are Brownsburg residents, are moving out of his district to Lizton to care for his grandfather.
He will complete the remainder of his term.
"It's been an honor to serve and I've really enjoyed it," Wathen said. "I really wanted to continue serving, but family comes first."
He was first elected to the commission in 2007, replacing Ed Schrier. He became commission president this year after David Whicker chose not to seek re-election. He sought to replace Republican Steve Buyer in Indiana's Fourth Congressional District in 2010. Former Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita ultimately won the Republican nomination and the general election.
Wathen says public office wasn't entirely what he expected when he started.
"It's a lot more work than most people realize," the civil engineer by trade said. "People see our meetings twice a month, but there's much more of a time commitment than that. There are constant phone calls and talking with people."
He said he still feels a sense of accomplishment from his five years in office. There's the completion of two sections of the Ronald Reagan Parkway, including the bridge over the CSX railyard in Avon, which is set to open later this year. And there's the streamlining of county government by having department heads conduct annual reviews of their employees, as well as the implementation of an online system that allows residents to submit questions and concerns to county employees. That last one, Wathen says, is a key component to making county government more accessible and transparent to its constituents.
A stagnant economy made the job tougher. Commissioners cut their budget some 20 to 30 percent the past few years. The county as a whole has had to do the same thing.
"Even with these tough economic times, I think we've shown Hendricks County to be a great place to be in business," said Wathen, citing the Johnson & Johnson development at Exit 59 off of Interstate 70. He credits town officials with helping to attract new business by being fiscally prudent.
"That's been a true success story for Hendricks County," said Wathen, who is a Tri-West High School and Rose Hulman graduate. "Even though the economy was slumping all around us, we still have a fairly low unemployment rate and have been successful at attracting new businesses and keeping the ones we have."
A caucus to replace Wathen on the ballot has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 11 at the Hendricks County Government Center in Danville. Candidates have until 72 hours prior to the caucus to file in the voter registration office. Two have already done so: former Indiana House Rep. Matt Whetstone and recently-retired Hendricks Regional Health CEO Dennis Dawes.
"We regret the departure of a great elected leader here in Hendricks County, but certainly respect his decision in the best interests of his family," Michael O'Brien, chairman of the Hendricks County GOP, said in announcing the caucus.
Wathen says what he'll miss most about public office is the feeling of making a difference. He still plans on staying involved in politics, as his schedule allows.
"It's nice to be able to actually effect change rather than just be someone complaining about it," Wathen said. "I've really enjoyed that aspect."