OTTOVILLE — The Ottoville Area Chamber of Commerce “Meet the Candidates” night Monday nearly turned into a full-fledged debate when Democratic Putnam County Commissioner hopeful Mark Schmiedebusch took a question on the county’s Road 5 widening project and ran with it to challenge his opponent, incumbent Republican Travis Jerwers, on what Schmiedebusch called his “flip-flop decision.”
Putnam County Commissioner Travis Jerwers, left, Putnam County Sheriff Jim Beutler and county commissioner candidates Barry Woodyard and Mark Schmiedebusch listen at Ottoville Area Chamber of Commerce member Jerry Hohlbein outlines the rules of the chamber’s Meet the Candidates Night.
The questions from the packed-house audience concerned upcoming legal ramifications of the project. Some residents along the county thoroughfare have filed suit on the commissioner’s decision concerning eminent domain on property taken for the new road modifications. The suit also accuses the commissioners of violating Sunshine Laws. The suit failed in Putnam County courts and the Ohio Supreme Court.
Schmiedebusch immediately turned to his opponent Jerwers and questioned his vote on the project at the beginning and why it changed later.
“I did vote for the Road 5 project and was for it until I learned more about it,” Jerwers said.
Schmiedebusch slipped in a few more questions for his opponent before emcee Jerry Hohlbein called a stop to direction of the conversation.
“Shouldn’t you have investigated it a little better the first time around? Why didn’t you talk to the all the residents then?” He asked. “You didn’t have a problem with it until the people from Pandora had a problem. If I’m elected commissioner, I will make a decision and stick to it. I’ll make sure I’m informed the first time around.”
Hohlbein brought the direction of the event back to the question for the remaining candidates for Jerwers’ seat: Mike Lammers and Dan Honigford.
Lammers said he felt the concerns raised by the people who live on Road 5 was lack of communication.
“I feel the residents on Road 5 weren’t informed and with better IT in the commissioner’s office, we could get information out more quickly and to more people,” he said.
Honigford agreed, adding that the decision should have been made to follow the majority of those involved, not the minority.
The rest of the political meet-and-greet was tamer with candidates fielding more questions from the audience.
Commissioner candidates answered more questions including one that had been submitted by several audience members: “Will all towns and village be given fair representation if you are elected?”
Barry Woodyard, who is vying for Vince Schroeder’s Jan. 3 term, was the first to answer.
“I am not running to better Kalida; I am running for the whole county,” he said. “I want to support existing and new businesses. I have no allegiance to anyone.”
Schmiedebusch has a plan to make sure all in the county are included.
“I want to reach out to every town and village and go to each and ask what they would like to see done in the next four years,” he said.
Lammers has already been reaching out.
“Since April, I have visited every township trustee and village council meeting at least three times. I know all the township trustees on a first-name basis. I think it’s critical to know the people you are going to be working for and with,” he said.
Another concern coming from the audience for the incumbent commissioner candidates was the .25 percent sales tax set to expire at the end of 2013. Schroeder answered first.
“The sales tax has served the county well. We have taken care of a lot our debt and the rest is planned for. We have $1.7 million put back in a “rainy-day” fund,” he said. “We will look at it when it expires and see if we need to keep it on or if we can drop it.”
Jerwers would like the measure to come of the books.
“It has accomplished what we needed it to and I am for letting it lapse,” he said. “Dropping it will lead to people in the county spending more making our vendors more profitable help the small businesses in the county. It will also stop nearby counties from taking our business away because they do not have the added sales tax.”
County sheriff candidate Michael Chandler and incumbent Sheriff Jim Beutler also faced questions from the group.
Sheriff Beutler answered a question on his office’s retire-rehire practices.
“We currently have three retire-rehires among our personnel,” Beutler said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.”
Chandler also had something to say about it.
“They retire and if you hire them back, they come back at a new hire’s pay and the county doesn’t have to continue to pay into their benefits,” Chandler said. “I think you should go by who is the most qualified.”
Beutler and Chandler also answered a questions about what they will change if they take office in January.
Beutler said he will continue his prevention education, citing many improvements in the county as far as fatal and injury accidents.
Chandler said he unsure of changes he would make.
Honigford, also a fire fighter, spoke on the county-wide levy for a ladder truck and two heavy-rescue units.
“The levy is to replace a 1979 ladder truck and two heavy rescue vehicles,” he began. “There is no funding available to fire departments for these kinds of purchases so they came up with the 5-year levy to purchase the trucks. They decided to bring it to the people and let them decide.”
The ladder truck would be available for use throughout the county.
The event ended with a little lighter question to candidates: Did you follow the Democtratic National Convention?
Lammers took the floor first.
“We have enough to fix right here in our county,” he said. “I didn’t even watch it.”
Woodyard said he had no interest in the national convention or its platforms. Honingford said he had no opinion.
Schmiedebusch gave the final answer.
“That is a different animal,” he said. “We need to start at the grassroots right here in this county.”