Mitnick In The News
Howard County’s Top 5 government stories of 2016
1. Howard County moves to vote centers
In March, Howard County officials approved the final plan to bring vote centers to the county. The Howard County Election Board, County Council and County Commissioners agreed to implement 15 vote center locations – a decision that played a major role in the 2016 primary and general elections.
In May, some voters expressed frustration as they waited in long lines at vote centers across the county. The waits were attributed to the first-time implementation of the new vote center system and Indiana’s pivotal role in the presidential primary.
When vote center early voting was implemented for the general election, however, sentiments about vote centers took a drastic turn.
Prior to the Nov. 8 Election Day, 26,896 ballots, or 71 percent of the county’s overall turnout, were cast as absentee, or early ballots, at a vote center or the Howard County Government Center. It was reported that Chapel Hill Christian Church and the UAW Local 685 hall were the busiest vote centers.
Overall, Howard County saw the highest percentage of early votes cast in this year’s general election compared to other Indiana counties, according to information provided by the Indiana Election Division.
And unlike the primary election in May, lines at Howard County polling stations were kept short on Nov. 8, with a number of the more popular stations reporting a busy beginning followed by a steady stream of voters.
2. Bill Clinton visits Kokomo
Pancakes, politics and, of course, former President Bill Clinton brought hundreds of Hoosiers out to the United Auto Workers 685 hall on the morning of April 30 as the 42nd president of the United States campaigned for his wife and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
On that morning, Bill Clinton, who spoke just days before Indiana’s primary, was the featured guest of a Howard County Democratic Party pancake breakfast. Hillary Clinton was defeated in the Indiana primary on May 4 by Bernie Sanders.
Clinton focused much of his speech on Indiana’s job growth through manufacturing and the auto industry. And although mistakenly referring to Hoosiers as “Indianans” during his speech, Clinton focused largely on how Indiana has provided auto exports to China, and how the fairly new Chrysler transmission facility, built in Tipton County in 2014, has helped job growth in the region.
Later in the day, Clinton surprised customers at Cone Palace, arriving with U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly and Senate candidate Evan Bayh at the popular fast food joint.
As Clinton shook hands and took pictures with customers, before ordering off the Cone Palace's menu and heading out to his next stop in Fort Wayne, Lisa Rink, a 45-year UAW member, said she was happy for the opportunity to meet someone who has left a positive impact on her life.
“The best years with the UAW was with Clinton in office,” Rink said.
3. Washington Street construction
In the fall, the city embarked on a road construction project that will drastically alter one of Kokomo’s busiest thoroughfares.
Once it’s fully completed next year, the Washington Street Lane Modification Project, as city officials call it, will reduce Washington Street from Sycamore Street to Monroe Street to two travel lanes and a center turn lane, and it will add roughly 40 parallel parking spaces on the street’s east side.
City engineer Carey Stranahan said restriping in that area will allow for changes involving the light at the intersection of Sycamore and Washington streets, which currently provides protected left turns for both northbound and southbound traffic.
In fact, Stranahan said the project is likely to save motorists roughly 20 seconds while traveling on Washington Street, a thoroughfare that sees about 10,000 cars per day.
One aspect expected to cut travel time is the elimination of traffic lights at the intersections of Washington Street and Walnut, Mulberry, Taylor and Monroe streets.
Stranahan said those signals “were determined to not be warranted because there wasn’t enough volume to warrant a signal in those locations.”
In Stranahan’s opinion, Washington Street also is likely to become safer for pedestrians, mostly because driving speeds will be reduced by the presence of on-street parking and subsequent bump-outs. He said he expects pedestrians will likely wait about the same amount of time to cross Washington Street.
4. Howard County hit by ransomware
Shortly after Madison County made national news for falling victim to a devastating ransomware attack, it was revealed that more than 76,000 Howard County government files had been encrypted in a similar attack.
When the county government system was attacked on two separate days in mid-November, officials in the information systems department initially thought around 33,000 files had been encrypted. After more research, they discovered the number was actually more than 76,000.
Two emails, disguised as the same FedEx message, had been opened by county employees two days apart, one in a work email, the other a personal account. The emails told recipients that a package was undeliverable and provided an attachment for an invoice or certificate.
Once the attachment was clicked, encryption of county files began, according to Howard County Information Systems Director Terry Tribby.
The difference, however, between Madison and Howard counties came down to one major factor – backups.
While Madison County had its backups online, leaving them open to encryption, Howard County utilizes three backup systems, including tape backup, disk-to-disk backup and cloud backup. These backup systems allowed the county to have nearly 100 percent recovery after last month’s attacks.
Moving forward, Howard County is safeguarding against any future attacks with Sophos security software, which specifically targets ransomware and has proven effective in multiple tests.
County employees also will undertake online training modules to become more familiar with the Internet’s always-evolving threats. Those modules, said Tribby, utilize the genius of Kevin Mitnick, an infamous computer security consultant who was once arrested by the FBI and deemed the most wanted hacker in America.
5. Curbside recycling and city, county dispute
After years of anticipation, Kokomo kicked off its full curbside recycling program at the start of 2016, dotting driveways across the city with blue recycling totes.
Months later, though, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight in August proposed a takeover of countywide recycling services, a plan which was ultimately rejected by the Howard County Recycling District board.
After weeks of public disputes, the board put an end to the controversy by voting against the proposal, which was criticized by some as a half-formed idea.
Others, however, touted Goodnight’s proposal as an opportunity to lower spending and bring additional drop-off locations to the city.
With Goodnight saying that “[Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman] and his group have no desire to save taxpayers” hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Wyman questioning Goodnight’s motives, the conflict added another chapter to the ongoing saga of city and county discord.