No successor yet for Armbruster’s 1st Ward seat

Second round of interviews on June 1 for the candidates vying to fill Armbruster’s seat.

MIDDLETOWN — Following more than two hours of interviews and deliberation, City Council was unable to name a successor for Jim Armbruster’s 1st Ward seat.

Council members adjourned to executive session for nearly an hour Tuesday, May 18, then emerged to announce they would be holding a second round of interviews at their June 1 meeting.

Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. said there was “no clear winner or loser at this point,” because council members could not come to a clear consensus.

“It takes four votes to make an appointment,” Mulligan said. “We never really voted, just sort of went through and polled amongst ourselves. But you could split six votes a couple of different ways.”

Mulligan said City Council “wanted to just probe a little bit more” next month, which likely means more questions for each of the three candidates.

“We’re taking the time to be diligent about this,” he said. “Jim Armbruster’s legacy is important to the city and we want to make sure the 1st Ward is well represented.”

The 1st Ward seat has been empty since late March, when Armbruster died as a result of heart-related complications.

The evening’s interviews featured everything from life stories to Blues Brothers allusions, though the main talking points never strayed far from jobs and the economy. Tom Allen, Jason Jones and Rob Hoffman were all given two minutes to deliver opening remarks, then asked as series of questions by current council members.

Hoffman said the council needs to find a way to inspire people in Middletown and get them motivated to return the city to its former greatness.

“All of these people are out there just waiting to be led, but they don’t want to bother with conflicts and personality differences,” Hoffman said. “You can’t legislate promise to people, but I believe you can inspire them.”

Jones stressed economic development as key for Middletown’s future, reminding the council they are responsible for spending taxpayer money and reporting directly to their constituents.

“I’m here because I want to be here,” Jones said. “I’ve not been asked to be here and have given no reason other than this is what I want to do for the citizens of Middletown. It’s important this council makes the statement we’re ready for the future; we’re not going to run from it.”

Should he be appointed to fill the vacancy, Allen said he would like to return Middletown to “the All-American city status we were recognized for nationally not that long ago.”

“If we all work together, we can come to an answer,” Allen said. “It may involve cutting areas of the budget or increasing revenue. We need to get the city back on track to be the city it once was.”

Gary Barge, who also had submitted his name for the open 1st Ward seat, withdrew his name prior to the interview process as he said his attorney advised him of a conflict of interest related to a potential class-action lawsuit against the city.

Barge said he fully intends to run for the 1st Ward seat in November 2011, when voters will choose who fill the last two years of the position’s four-year term.

“I’d rather be directly elected anyway,” Barge said. “If you’re appointed you may feel the need to favor council’s decisions because they voted for you.”