Town Hall meeting brings hope, attitudeBy Matt Echelberry
A town hall meeting with the Special Election candidates was held on Feb. 28, at the Galion Public Library. About 35 citizens attended to get acquainted with those individuals, whose comments could be summed up as nostalgic about what the community is (or used to be) like, optimistic about revitalizing the economic prosperity of the community and hopeful to gain a sense of trust and accountability with citizens.
That evening, candidates in attendance were: Mayoral candidate Tom O’Leary, City Auditor candidate Brian Treisch, City Treasurer candidate Paula Durbin, City Law Director candidate Roberta Wade, Council President candidate Don Faulds, Council 1st Ward candidate Andy Daniels, Council 2nd Ward candidate Missy Harris, Council 3rd Ward candidate Mike Richart, Council 4th Ward candidate Matt Strickler and City Council-At-Large candidate Shirley Clark. Mayoral candidate Ken Bodkins was unable to attend due to health reasons and City Council-At-Large candidates Tom Fellner and Jon Kleinknecht were unable to attend due to work obligations.
Don Faulds welcomed everyone that evening: “We all have an investment in this community, some more than others. Let’s hear input from the community and work together to bring Galion back.”
Each candidate offered a brief introduction and their reason for running, then the floor was open for public comment and questions.
Faulds began the introductions, explaining that he was born and raised in Stark County in a railroad family. He recalled traveling through the area, on business with his father, and going to Crestline for swiss steak dinners. He moved to Galion 50 years ago, met his wife and raised his family here.
“We need to plan for the future…Unfortunately, in the last number of years, we’ve not really had a plan that has been presented to our community.”
Faulds views the job of council president as a coordinator and facilitator of the legislative process and to create cohesion and communication throughout the city government and committees. He worked as a salesman for a fraternal insurance company and also as a sales manager and compliance manager. He said he is passionate about people and looks forward to working with them and business leaders.
Andy Daniels, currently the Chief Operations Officer for Avita Health Systems, said there are a lot of possibilities for Galion, as it is located close to Columbus and Cleveland and has a good infrastructure.
“The one thing that’s bothered me for a while is that it doesn’t feel like there’s much hope anymore,” Daniels went on. He said he is running because he wants to get involved in helping the community and to improve disclosure and financial accountability with the citizens.
He has a background in finance and project management, and has previously worked as a high school math teacher and in information technology.
Missy Harris can currently be found serving customers at Big Plate Diner. She was raised in Galion since she was four years old and is a Galion High School graduate. Recently, she founded the Food L.O.V.E. Club and called herself “a bit of a free spirit.”
She said she wants to see more transparency in local government. “As a mom and a waitress, I certainly understand living on budget and our town can make cuts to live more within its means.”
Harris holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Barnard College in New York City and said she has had a varied career, including as a newspaper reporter and a program director for Galion Public Library. However, she cited her practical experience with research and activism as good qualifications for her position.
Mike Richart has lived in Galion for 20 years. “I would like to see a town that is vibrant again, that will make people happy to come here,” he commented.
Richart, currently a customer representative for an industrial supplier, served in the Coast Guard and has also worked in retail and management. He felt the city is wasting taxpayer money and wants to put a stop to it.
Matt Strickler is the youngest candidate running. A graduate of Galion High School, Strickler was not shy about admitting that he does not have a college degree. He works as a roofing contractor in his family’s business, and called himself an open-minded person willing to listen. He added he will take a “common sense approach” for his duties.
Strickler believes there is too much unnecessary finger pointing and bickering in the current government. “A community is like a church,” he commented. “If you don’t focus on growing, you can sustain yourself for a short time but what happens when things decline?”
Shirley Clark also grew up in Galion. She said she lived in Los Angeles for 27 years, and when she came back to town, she saw how the community had changed—for the worse. Clark, who has previously served four years on Council, said she worked to recondition East Park and get the skate ramp added, and helped prevent electric and water rate increases some years ago.
“Let’s see if we can work with the citizens more now than what has been done in the past. Citizens pay the taxes, they have a right to speak,” she commented.
She said she wants to bring in more business, get utility rates under control, and put the government in citizens’ hands. Customer service is important to her and feels that she has the right background to lead by example in that regard.
Brian Treisch, another Galion native and graduate, is the owner of Uptowne Outfitters. He said the position of auditor effectively watches the money, and felt it would be his duty to work to remove city from fiscal emergency. In addition, he wants to give citizens a better understanding of city financials.
Treisch has a business background, with an undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and a master’s in business from Ashland University. He has worked as director of advertising for Domino’s Pizza and served on the Galion Board of Education. He added that his involvement in the community—along with other candidates as well—is another deserving qualification.
Paula Durbin is from Ontario but spent much of her childhood in and around Galion. She is currently retired, but volunteers at the library and is part of the group Save the Depot. Durbin is an OSU graduate and has worked as a teacher and owned her own travel agency. Durbin explained that while living in Waco, Texas she worked for the City and had to deal with budgeting and supervision.
She commented that Galion has a lot of assets and has a chance to grow with the right people, but the citizens need to be more involved.
Roberta Wade is currently serving her second term on Galion City Council. She has a law practice in German Village and has been an attorney for more than 20 years, focusing on healthcare issues. Wade credited herself as one of the key people who initiated the Charter amendment which has led to the transition in government and said she is proud to be a part of the team that will lead the transition.
Wade holds law and business degrees. She previously served on City Council under the statutory government and has been a city auditor. Because of her experience, she said she will be a good resource for the transition and is “committed to Galion.”
Tom O’Leary spoke last that evening. He comes from a railroad family and moved back to Galion in 1981. He said he has direct experience with how the statutory government system works. “Everything we have is invested in this town…City government had not done its job to uphold its role in enhancing or appreciated those investments,” O’Leary stated.
He said his administration skills and 30 years of experience in public service will contribute to his job. Previously, he was a county commissioner when he was 27 years old and worked for Governor Voinovich. Before retiring, O’Leary worked for Jobs and Family Services for four years, which he said allowed him opportunities to work with Galion-area families.
For question portion of the meeting, the first question was directed to O’Leary: If he intended to appoint a Service-Safety Director or how those duties would be carried out. O’Leary said yes, he would appoint a position of some sort, but would look at some sort of administrative assistant to function in that role.
Instead, he said he would utilize department heads more and empower each department. His philosophy: Less is more when it comes to management.
Electric rates and utility shut-offs were another topic. Candidates emphasized they want to work more directly with those who are having trouble paying bills and create budgets for them.
O’Leary added that they could look at changing the billing cycle itself to better accommodate people, especially retirees and others living on fixed income. “It’s amazing that [the City] shuts people off for a few hundred dollars when we have a $650,000 a month bill from AMP Ohio,” he commented.
Wade referred to a Finance Committee in which representatives from Community Action Center said that, out of all the utility departments they deal with, the City of Galion was the worst. “We have a lot of room for improvement in working with these kinds of delinquent accounts and other social programs.”
On bringing jobs to Galion, O’Leary noted there is only so much capable of being done in seven months. However, he said the revolving loan fund can be used to assist existing businesses and strategies can be developed for differentiating Galion from similar communities. He said the city needs to line up its assets, such as the quality labor force, and potential development areas.
“It’s also important to present a positive atmosphere” O’Leary said, because of competition with other communities.
Wade pointed out that in years passed, there has been a disconnect between government leaders, the citizens and the business community.
Richart added that they could work with existing industries, as well and help them expand, to increase employment in the short-term.
Before moving into the next discussion topic, Faulds used the meeting as a soapbox to complain about the City’s power contract with Prairie State Energy Campus, a coal-fired power plant that Faulds has adamantly opposed since last summer. He criticized past city officials for entering into so many “one-sided” power purchasing agreements with little to know discussion.
One audience member asked about the proposed drug treatment rehabilitation center that fell through, even though there is a lack of resources in Crawford County to help people suffering from a drug addiction.
O’Leary said the biggest issue with that proposal being made was that there was never any input from the neighborhood and community, so things “got off on the wrong foot.” He acknowledged that there is a need for transitional living, but community input is needed on where it should be located in the county. “The right place, the right plan, efficient security,” he concluded.
Another audience member said the “not my job attitude” of current city officials is pathetic. Some discussion about the importance of appropriate attitude and a focus on customer service ensued.
The final question that evening was: “During Council meetings, will you allow more that five minutes for citizens to speak?”
Faulds responded that respect for the citizens is the heart of the issue. He suggested that, instead of saving citizen comments for the end of the meeting, that portion could be moved toward the beginning, before the meeting business begins.
On Thursday, March 7, some candidates will be at Granny’s Kitchen from 4:30 — 6:30 p.m. if any citizens are interested in speaking with them more and offering further insight.