Southern Indiana

For the first time in its more than 200-year history, Floyd County, Ind., has a Black member on its county council.

Floyd County Democrats appointed Tony Toran in a caucus this week to replace Tom Pickett. Pickett died last month at the age of 68, after serving 14 years on the county council.

“I’m just very honored that I can help our government look like the community in which we live,” Toran said. “I think diversity in all walks of life is very important.”

Toran previously held several positions within the governments of Floyd County and the city of New Albany, including with the Floyd County Prosecutor’s Office, the Floyd County Solid Waste District and the New Albany Housing Authority.

Toran said that background will help in his new position.

“I want to be fiscally responsible to the citizens of Floyd County while creating an infrastructure that will make people want to live, work and raise a family here,” he said. “I also want to give the elected officials and the county department heads the appropriate, necessary tools to run an efficient and effective office.”

About 88% of Floyd County residents are white. New Albany, the county’s largest city, is slightly more diverse. About one in five New Albany residents are people of color, with Black people comprising just over 9% of the population.

But nearly every elected position in Floyd County and the city of New Albany is held by a white person. The county council, county commissioners, New Albany City Council and New Albany Floyd County Schools board have 26 elected members total. Prior to Toran’s appointment, only one of them — less than 4% — was a person of color.

As the first ever Black Floyd County Council member, Toran hopes to inspire the next generation of local leaders.

“I hope to be a great part of that change, and I hope that some young boy or some young girl can be inspired and walk in my footsteps and know that the sky’s the limit,” Toran said.

Floyd County Democratic Party Chair Adam Dickey said it’s important for all Hoosiers to feel represented and to bring new perspectives to leadership positions. That, along with Toran’s background in public service, is why he was happy with the party’s choice.

But Dickey acknowledged there is more work to be done. To create a more diverse government, local leaders must foster an environment that is welcoming to the voices of people from all backgrounds, he said.

“I think we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to preserve that principle that this is a democracy for everyone,” Dickey said. “And we have to be deliberate in our actions to preserve those opportunities for everyone.”

Toran will serve out the remainder of Pickett’s term, which runs through the end of next year.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.