delgazette.com

Richard L. Turrill

October 20, 2011

ANDREW TOBIAS

Staff Writer

While some difference of opinion emerged, a public forum for Delaware city council candidates this week was largely an amiable affair.

Squaring off were councilwoman Lisa Keller and challenger Jim Roberts for the city’s Second Ward seat, councilman Joe DiGenova and challenger Robert Hoffman for the city’s Third Ward seat, and councilman Andrew Brush and challenger Larry Garrett for the Fourth Ward. First Ward Councilman Chris Jones is running uncontested.

All the candidates introduced themselves to those in attended, discussed their knowledge of the city and shared what they would do if elected. Roberts, a retired Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper and former executive director of the state troopers’ association, did not criticize Keller’s performance; he and Keller agreed on all issues that audience members quizzed them over.

In fact, Roberts praised Keller, who said among the accomplishments on council she is most proud of is establishing a new community center in her ward.

“I think they are very worthy accomplishments,” Roberts said.

Roberts noted all candidates would likely say they plan to focus on economic development.

“Everyone is going to say something. But there has not been a lot going on in the past few years,” Roberts said.

Hoffman, a former two-term Delaware city councilman, was most pointed in his criticism of council. The commercial and industrial credit lender said council lacks “financial discipline.”

“Of course revenues are down, so we need to reduce our spending and set our priorities a little higher. I am concerned that the first thing we do when revenues decline is to raise taxes. I think that should be a last resort,” said Hoffman, who in 2010 opposed a 0.3 percent income tax increase to fund fire/EMS before it narrowly passed.

Hoffman also said he is concerned over a city proposal to reduce water usage. If people use less water, the city will receive less revenues and may have to increase rates, he said.

“It’s going to cost the same for a lot less water,” Hoffman said.

DiGenova, who has served on council 20 years in total, said he is proud of the work he does. The city should end the year with a balanced budget and a cash reserve of $3.7 million, he said.

“I think we’ve done a real good job,” said DiGenova, a retired business manager.

Both said if elected, they would work to better engage people in the southern part of the Third Ward who attend Olentangy schools.

In the Fourth Ward race, Brush and Garrett both touted their experience as business owners.

Garrett’s most direct criticism of the current council came after he was asked if he supports the Delaware City Schools request for a 7.9-mill property tax levy (all seven candidates said they did). While Garrett said he supports it, he said the necessity for a levy could have been avoided.

“I have to say it’s a shame Delaware City Schools finds themselves in this financial condition, because had council put in its work (on economic development), we could have had a larger tax base to support these schools,” Garrett said.

Brush said he took exception to Garrett’s characterization. He said the city has granted record numbers of commercial permits for the past two years.

“I would submit the city is doing its part,” Brush said.

Jones said he is most proud of the construction of the new YMCA center, the new fire station and the passage of a balanced city budget.

Also in attendance at the event, organized by the League of Women Voters and held at the Delaware Township Hall, were four candidates who are running for two Buckeye Valley school board seats.

Incumbent Tom Kaelber, as well as challengers Dave Godsil, Denise Herrell and Joe “J.R.” Roden, discussed their backgrounds and vision for the school district.

Both Godsil and Roden offered ideas to allow for more communication between the public and the school board.

Roden, a network solutions manager for Verizon, said the current school board has lost touch with the community.

“It’s become more of a monologue, rather than a conversation,” Roden said.

Godsil, a former Delaware city councilmember who has since relocated into the Buckeye Valley School district, said he would vote to change current school board rules for public comments. Currently, people must wait until the end of the meeting to discuss something that is not on the agenda, and can only address action articles at the very beginning.

“I would run the meetings so that people have a chance to talk, so they can feel like they are being listened to,” he said.

Godsil, a regional sales manager for a heating and cooling equipment company, cast himself as someone who knows how to get things done. The current school board, he said, struggles at times with indecision.

“I think sometimes we get caught up in the weeds. But if we keep the long view and the high view, the possibilities are unlimited,” he said.

Kaelber is a two-term school board member and a retired BV teacher. He said he has concerns with the direction BV is headed.

“I’m running again because I have concerns about where our leadership is directing us, and I hope to help correct that,” he said.

In response to most questions, Harrel said she has not yet formed opinions on issues, and would do more research in the future, particularly if she is elected.

“I believe that the experience I have just being around and raising children in the district will give me the experience I need to listen to the public,” said Harrel, a pediatrician’s assistant and former school employee.

While Harrel said she has not yet decided how she will vote, Godsil, Kaelber and Roden all said they plan to vote for a 0.5 percent BV income tax hike request.

Kaelber, however, was lukewarm, saying that while he always supports BV on Election Day, for the first time he won’t be campaigning for the levy this year.

Godsil spoke as if the levy’s failure is an inevitability.

“What I would tell you is if I’m elected, obviously this is going to come up again, assuming it is defeated, is to work on economic development with the township and the county before voting (to place another levy request on the ballot.)”

Roden, meanwhile, said he supports the income tax issue, but that the school district needs to reduce costs so it will not have to return with another tax increase request any time soon.

Matthew Weller, a Delaware city school board member who is running unopposed, attended the event and answered questions from the audience. He said he is proud that Delaware city has gone from “academic watch” to being rated “excellent with distinction” in the past decade.

“You can count the other Ohio schools that have done that on one finger,” Weller said.