GALION — The Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce held its Candidates Night at Galion Community Theatre on Thursday.
Chamber President Joe Kleinknecht welcomed the crowd of more than 100 and thanked Galion Community Theatre for donating the use of the facility. Kleinknecht recognized Chris Stone with Rock Solid Media who live-streamed the evening, and also to GHS Government teacher Bill Stepro and his class who presented the questions to the candidates.
The four GHS students who comprised the panel were junior class officers Sari Conner, Alex Eckert, Abby Foust and Clay Karnes.
LaMar Wyse, a retired healthcare executive and Galion resident, was moderator.
“This is an opportunity for civil discourse, not personal attacks,” he said. “All candidates will answer the same questions in the interest of fairness.”
Several candidates were missing, after having to have their own get-together a few blocks away.
The first candidates to speak are unopposed: Carl Watt and Bill Comerford. Also running unopposed is current council member Mark Triplett who was not in attendance.
“I am running for my third term,” Watt said. “If you look back over those four years, we have accomplished a lot. I certainly don’t take credit for all of it, but I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Said Comerford, the city’s 1st Ward representative on city council: “I am not originally from Galion, but this is where my wife and I have chosen to live and raise our family. I firmly believe Galion must be aggressive in dealing with perspective businesses and developers. The reason why is simple, we are in competition with other municipalities.”
Next to speak was candidate Mike Richart, who is running against Joe Haley for the 3rd Ward seat. Haley did not attend the event.
“We’ve come a long way, but there is so much more to do,” he said. “I work as an industrial supplier. I help many businesses in this community and those in surrounding counties build and promote their business. I understand the ins and outs and what’s important. I hope we can continue to work together for the betterment of our community.”
Jennifer Kuns is running for the 3rd War council seat against Tammy Siclair-Erlsten.
Kuns was asked: What do you see as necessary steps to release Galion from fiscal emergency, and what is your role in that process?”
“Galion has been in fiscal emergency since 2004,” she said. “The state auditor has given us some great guidance, and we are doing a good job to get out of it. Part of getting out of fiscal emergency is the electric fund, and purchasing power happens to be our greatest expense.”
Kuns spoke about Galion’s spending as a balance to the current and future electric rates. She is hopeful that with better negotiations in employee benefits and contracts, future employee retirements that may not need to be replaced, and a line item of the Electric Fund that can be moved to the General Fund, will all help to save money.
“I know it isn’t popular, I don’t want higher electric rates either,” she said. “But if you really think about it, what was proposed recently was the cost of one pizza per month, and with the hope of the rate change only being temporary with the items I just showed, there is the possibility of being out of fiscal emergency in the next couple of years. That is what I would help to do.”
Kuns is an eight-year member of the Galion school board, a Vice President at United Bank of Galion, and has served on the board of directors with the Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce.
Her opponent did not participate Thursday.
Dr Tom Fellner, Shirley Clark, and Gail Baldinger — three of five candidates running four three council-at-large seats, were next.
“I approach this position as a resident and business owner,” said Fellner. “Citizens need to be heard and taken into consideration. I will continue to serve with truth and grace.”
Clark talked of her accomplishments in the Parks and Recreations Committee. During her time on council, she said, the committee has helped to finalize the Disc Golf course at Amicks Reservoir as well as the splash park facility at East Park.
“We should be proud of what we’ve done,” she said.
Baldinger was a Galion firefighter and was president of the local International Association of Fire Fighters union. During that time he said he negotiated contracts between the city and the union. He also worked as a road maintenance equipment installer for 14 years.
“I will continue to support the storm sewer upgrades,” Baldinger noted. “Efficient drainage is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”
At-large candidates not in attendance were Alice Mathews and Carrie Zeger.
Current director of law Tom Palmer encouraged residents to think ahead when voting in the election. Palmer is running against E. Roberta Wade, who is not in attendance.
“I urge you to choose a positive path for our future,’ he said.
An attorney for 25 years, Palmer noted that while his position is more involved than he could’ve imagined, he has enjoyed it immensely.
City auditor candidates Brian Treisch and Susan Bean were asked what they felt was the biggest financial challenge facing the city of Galion, and how would they address it?
“I think the biggest challenge is not just the electrical fund, but in all the funds,” Bean said. “We need to ‘lower the mountaintops and raise the valleys’ to create more balance in all of the funds.”
Treisch, the incumbent auditor, was asked as to what he felt was the necessary steps for the city to be released from fiscal emergency?
“To move forward, there is a review of a management letter that was given to the city in approximately 2009,” he said. “We are 99.9 percent sure we have everything in line to do that when the time comes. Our fund balances are there. We’ve enacted the policies and worked through all of the dotting of Is and crossing of Ts to be sure we can move forward in an adequate manner.”
Mayoral candidates Ken Bodkins and incumbent Tom O’Leary were the last to speak. Candidate Jim Hedges did not attend the forum.
They were asked about the city’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunities.
“We need jobs. But look around, it’s not just Galion,” Bodkins said. “We’ve gotta try harder to develop the area on the east side by the airport. We have some acres of commercial land out there and I do believe we can develop it. But we do have to spend some money to get there, and I don’t know how we get the money. It’s a long way out.”
“We also have to generate business. And I don’t know how to do it except to work hard. Get on the phone and talk to the right people,” he continued.
O’Leary discussed his reason for becoming mayor.
“One of the great opportunities I’ve had in life was to serve with former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich. Every time I was around the governor, he would mention the importance of family. The main reason I pursued this job four years ago — and the reason I’m running again — is the love of family and the love of community” he said. “The primary reason I am running again is to see that my family and your families have a Galion that they are proud of. I think that we have turned the tide as far as that goes.”
“This is not a place for on the job training,” he said. “This is a job that requires people who know what they are doing in the specialized areas of service, law enforcement, electric, and the rest of the utilities.”