Commissioner hopefuls present their platforms during Sunbury forum
LENNY C. LEPOLA
For the Gazette
The Sunbury/Big Walnut Area Chamber of Commerce, the Delaware County League of Women Voters, the Eastern Delaware County Republican Club, and the Delaware County Democratic Party hosted a standing-room-only “Meet the Candidates Night” in Sunbury Town Hall Thursday. Candidates in contested races each were allowed three minutes to speak and respond to questions.
All five Republicans vying for Delaware County Commissioner seats participated. Challengers Joe Garrett and Gary Merrell are seeking the commissioner seat held by incumbent Tommy Thompson. Challenger Al Myers is seeking the seat held by incumbent Ken O’Brien.
Garrett, a Concord Township trustee, described himself as a business owner who is passionate about cutting county spending.
“A lot of people are struggling,” Garrett said. “We need a government that spends dollars like average people do — not just when it’s time to do the annual budget, but looking for savings every day.”
As the former publisher of The Delaware Gazette and The Sunbury News, Gary Merrell said his business background would be valuable at the commissioner dais.
“I never ran for public office in my life,” said Merrell, who has a degree in marketing with minors in finance and accounting. “I’m a fiscal conservative. My parents grew up in the depression and they taught me that you could do more with less if you try.”
Commissioner Tommy Thompson, who’s retired from public education, said he has tried to be diligently efficient with dollars while in office.
“We’ve spent money where we’ve needed to and have to, but we try not to spend money,” Thompson said. “People complain about high taxes in Delaware County, but they don’t realize that 60 to 80 percent of county taxes go to school districts.”
Commissioner Ken O’Brien said during his term in office he has accomplished the things he set out to do.
“We didn’t finish a $52 million courthouse, and we did finish the Hayes building,” O’Brien said. “People wanted the tornado sirens on the ballot; we put it on the ballot and people said no. We consolidated 911 services.”
Former Delaware County Sheriff Al Myers said he understands budgeting and added that his entire family has been in the small business industry.
“Three things make Delaware County — commercial enterprises, business enterprises, and agriculture,” Myers said. “We have to bring in small and larger business ventures. I’m conservative about spending taxpayer dollars wisely so you have growth, but I don’t believe we should freeze dollars. We can’t afford to not give raises to people who haven’t had a raise in four years.”
Myers also brought up an issue that got a response from the audience — a three member county commission with, in his words, a reputation of two fighting against one.
“We need to take personal animosity out of the office,” Myers said. “County commissioners need to vote in the best interest of the people of Delaware County.”
Merrell said he believes a county commission working together is necessary, considering the challenges commissioners face on a daily basis.
“I think it can be done, if there’s a willingness to work together,” Merrell said. “We’ve got to work on it because it’s important.”
Thompson said he is also bothered by the apparent divisiveness on the county board of commissioners.
“The commissioners seem not always to be in charge,” Thompson said. “Commissioner Dennis Stapleton has added a lot of stability to the board.”
O’Brien said it’s important in our democracy to be clear and represent those who elected you; and that only two to three percent of the commissioner’s votes have not been unanimous.
“But it’s that two to three percent that makes the newspapers,” O’Brien added. “I’ve always believed that it’s important for the community to have a good, fair, logical debate.”
Garrett said people are flawed; people always like to get their own way. But he also said an electorate should expect commissioners to disagree.
“If commissioners didn’t ever disagree we would only need one commissioner, but you have to show respect while you disagree,” Garrett said. “We teach our kids to respect others of different opinions. As adults, we should do the same thing. Being a commissioner is about the community you represent in Delaware County. You should act in such a way that you do not embarrass the community you serve.”