POMEROY — Two candidates for District Attorney, Randy Smith’s mastery of the subject matter, and a firecracker or two between clerk of courts candidates led to an interesting and informative evening for Meigs County voters.
Candidates for a variety of Meigs County government offices responded to questions posed by Tea Party president and town hall forum moderator Larry Wilcoxen last Thursday evening.
The Meigs County Council on Aging was the venue for the Town Hall Candidate Forum, hosted by the Meigs Tea Party. Wilcoxen moderated, asking a series of questions applicable to all candidates before delving into role specific queries.
Attending Thursday evening’s forum were candidates for Meigs County Commissioner incumbent Smith and opposition candidate Larry Tucker; Prosecuting Attorney’s Office incumbent Colleen Williams, who is being challenged by James Stanley; current Clerk of Courts Diane Lynch, who faces opposition from Samantha Mugrage; and Kay Hill, who currently serves as county recorder.
Huey Easton, who is opposing Hill in the upcoming election, was not present and could not be reached for comment.
All questions were allowed one to two minutes for response, and all candidates were given the opportunity to rebut their opponent if the statements called for such a reply.
Except when rebutting their opponent, all candidates generally exercised brevity, with the exception of Smith, who took some good-natured ribbing from the moderator and officials. Smith typically utilized the fully allotted time to address the entirety of the question, educate the public on specifics of the commissioner’s role and enumerated responsibilities, and include historical context of the decisions, both past and future.
The first question round asked for most common complaints about the office as it currently exists and how the candidates would address them.
Stanley and said law enforcement officers share with him a frustration over repeat offenders inhabiting the system and that he would pursue stiffer sentences when possible in order to decrease criminal’s opportunity to commit the crime again.
“My office must work within the confines of the law, which means not everyone is going to prison,” Williams countered. “Some things are only a probation offense.”
“My goal would be a closer working relationship with law enforcement, with a greater emphasis on the drug problem, both through prevention and treatment for addicts while making sure the traffickers and manufacturers get to go away,” Stanley said.
Williams answered by pointing to the history of improvements under her direction and the ones scheduled for later in the year. She touted the Drug Task Force created in Meigs after she assumed the post, a type of force she worked with closely in a previous position.
“I have just been able to add a part-time assistant prosecutor, which will allow our current full-time assistant prosecutor, Jeremy Fisher, to move full time to felony cases. That will make a big impact on prosecuting felonies.”
She also hopes to expand coercive treatment programs, and said even a partial success rate could turn dozens of individuals away from the legal system and incarceration.
Moving onto the Recorder’s office, Hill said she did not know of any serious complaints, but submitted she held an open office that is continuously staffed and welcomes people to come address any concerns.
Hill’s plans for the next term include a preservation project for the maps and books that are now on file.
“I plan to ask for funds for these improvements, but understand the need to work within my budget,” she said.
When asked if the recorders budget was adequate, Hill responded, “I have always been able to stay within it, and everyone has a need. But I’m sure the commissioners will come up with some if we need it.”
Lynch stated the largest category of complaints are those that are out of her office’s hands, mainly that defendants are unable to understand the legal process and demand service from the wrong office.
Mugrage believes the most significant complaints are accessibility issues, such as incomplete online information. She also said her priority would be to clarify expectations of her staff.
“We work for the people,” Mugrage said, “Let’s make sure that gets accomplished.”
The only true drama of the evening occurred in an exchange about the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Title Office. Mugrage’s proposals include bringing the physical spaces of the two nearer to each other, ideally in the same building, to facilitate the “user-friendly” approach she hopes to bring to the office.
Lynch acknowledged the need for the offices to be bigger and closer together, and stated plans were already in the works.
Concerning the discussions with the DMV and an application for a 75,000 grant, she said, “I promised (the DMV registrar) I wouldn’t use it as a political ploy or such.” She shared her concern that the registrar would be upset if the sensitive issue was becoming public.
Mugrage said in her conversations with the registrar, no such objections were made to the merger as a campaign issue.
Mugrage continued the push for more technology in the clerk’s office and claims even what tools already were installed in the office were not being used to the fullest extent. Her proposed modernization efforts would include an e-pay machine to allow debit card payments.
Regarding the e-pay proposal, Lynch said she was not “prepared to spend $42,000 of the county’s money like that. That’s why I am applying for the grant.”
Lynch conceded her opponent had more computer expertise but “there are lots of other things that have to be addressed besides the computer system in this job” and that adoption of technology in her office was “at or above the standard of other clerks offices” based on her experience with other clerk of courts offices in the state.
Smith answered the question of complaints to in the commissioner’s office and said the most vocal regarded the dog shelter and dog warden.
“No matter what county in the state, the main complaint is often the dog shelter and dog warden,” he responded.
Pointing to the new dog shelter project and warden hire, he said community expectations must be met.
“We, the commissioners, have since corrected and now have a stellar dog warden and put pride back into that office, far from those days when the shelter was a blight on Meigs County,” Smith said.
Tucker said he did not hear many complaints, except about insurance pertaining to county employees and occasionally of commissioners not being in their offices.
“Meigs has three very, very full-time commissioners and if we aren’t personally in the office during business hours, we are out working on something for the community,” Smith said. “There is always staff in the office who will contact us immediately if someone stops in for a word.”
Tucker’s proposed improvements, if he is elected, would be to reach out more to farmers.
“I think we ought to have a full-time county Extension agent,” he said. “I’d also reach out to veterans more, and include the youth.”
Since Tucker did not mention any specifics, Smith took the rebuttal time to clarify the commissioner’s duties and purview.
The moderator asked a submitted question to the sitting commissioner, asking if it was true the Meigs EMS services turned more than 60 employees in the last year, and also how they would fix the long transport time out of the county.
Smith said he did not have a specific number for turnover, but that 60 was probably an overestimate.
“The county isn’t that big. I don’t know if 60 people work there in total,” he said.
He said that with only two sources of revenue for the EMS in 2015, it limits what they can pay the staff. Smith said Med Flight would bring more revenue, and thus flexibility, and improved deals might also loosen budget restrictions.
As for the transport length, Smith said, “We live in southern Ohio, folks. It’s 100 miles from a trauma center. I can’t control the geography.”
For more information on Meigs County candidates, visit www.mydailysentinel.com or the Sentinel’s Facebook page, for candidate profiles.
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551