3 questions with West Chester Twp. trustee candidates

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The West Chester Twp. trustee board could have a whole new look come Nov. 7 since all three seats are open and 12 people are vying to fill them.

Incumbent trustees Mark Welch and Lee Wong are being challenged by Marianne Penska and Joan Powell, a former Lakota Board of Education member.

With former trustee George Lang appointed to replace retired State Rep. Margy Conditt in Columbus, there are eight people running for that open seat. They are: Ann Becker, Lawrence Richard Brown, David Corfman, Jillian Kelley, David Lindenschmidt, Christy Anne Miller, Lynda Caldwell O’Connor and Larry Whited.

The Journal-News asked the candidates three questions about recent issues in the township. All responded except Lindenschmidt and Whited.

Here are their answers, which have been edited for space. For complete replies go to vote.journal-news.com.

Race for two open seats on the board:

Q: The board raised quite a stir last year on the Right to Work issue. Is that something that should still be pursed if the state doesn’t move forward? Why?

Penska: I am opposed to issues that negatively impact the ability of West Chester Township families to provide for their families, to own a home in our community, or to thrive.

Proponents of Right to Work say that it will allow the option of worker’s to not join a union, but the Taft-Hartley Act already guarantees that right to workers. States that have adopted Right to Work Laws have seen wages drop, and not just in union workers. It also creates less safe work environments, drives up unemployment in some industries, and has increased the poverty rate in Right to Work states.

Right to Work is simply not good for Ohio and it is not good for West Chester Twp.

Powell: No. Right to Work is not appropriate as a local issue. It would create major administrative issues for large companies operating in West Chester and surrounding communities with multiple unions such as Kroger.

In addition the 7th Circuit Court is hearing appeals to the Wisconsin and Indiana Right-To-Work laws which would set a precedent for this entire issue. There is no reason to consider this issue until there is a ruling on this case.

Should the courts end up supporting Right-to-Work, I would lobby to change the laws that require unions to provide services (such as legal representation) to any non-member employee.

Welch: Based upon the ruling of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers districts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio, any political subdivision, in a state that doesn't have Right to Work (RTW) legislation, has the right to pursue local Right to Work legislation if it makes sense and has potential economic benefit. RTW legislation is ONLY for private unions, NOT public unions. Corporations looking to relocate/build consider many factors prior to making an investment in a new facility. Among them are quality of the work force, proximity to highways, proximity to international airports, hospitals, etc. I expect that another consideration is RTW work force. West Chester is very close to both Kentucky and Indiana, both RTW states. If West Chester is to successfully compete in the very competitive arena of 'new jobs creation', then it's important for us to meet and exceed every requirement that corporations see as beneficial to their fiscal health. I think RTW is worth a thoughtful and sincere discussion in West Chester. If it offers no economic benefit, but instead negatively impacts our economy, then I would vote "No" to RTW. If however, potential economic benefit could be demonstrated, then I would vote "Yes" to RTW.

Wong: First of all RTW is not a township matter. Township core competency is road and cemetery maintenance, Police & Fire. Second, West Chester is doing very well without RTW. West Chester unemployment rate is only 1.7% which is way below county, state and national unemployment rate. If it's not broke, don't fix it!

Q: It is West Chester’s policy to only allow residents and business owners to comment at meetings. Could that policy foreclose some good, creative ideas from non-residents and others?

Penska: Good, creative ideas should always be encouraged and welcomed. For example, West Chester has many non-residents who work very hard to make West Chester a thriving community. Why would we not want to listen to their ideas? What is there to fear?

The current policy could foreclose good, creative ideas. As both an attorney and a business person, I have never found limiting information to be an advantage. We need trustees who can readily gather and analyze more information, not less, to drive better outcomes for the benefit of our community.

Powell: In the interest of time, the policy of limiting comment to owners and residents makes sense. Sometimes people forget that these are the meetings of the Board of Trustees and (when they are following the letter of the law) the only time that trustees may speak to each other regarding township business. Trustee meetings need to include deeper discussions between trustees of issues they are considering. If current policy is to continue, however, it needs to be clarified and applied consistently. This has not been the case recently. The Trustees allowed non-residents to comment on the Rt 42 Drug Rehab Center and at one meeting entered into a discussion of whether a partner in a business should be afforded the same benefits as an owner. Is a representative of an owner given the benefits of the owner? If a business owner can cede their right to speak, what about a resident? These items should all be decided and clarified before the situation arises.

Trustees do need to provide opportunities to have conversations with the community about matters of importance to residents. A conversation… not just two minutes of complaining at the mic with NO feedback from the Trustees. Whenever a matter being considered would affect those not currently empowered to speak at a meeting, a special meeting should be held at which all affected parties would be permitted to speak.

Welch: Resolution 23a-97 codified the citizen comment section of the regular Board of Trustees business meeting. In that resolution it specified that only West Chester residents, business owners and property owners have the right to speak at the Trustee meetings. Additionally, it requires all who speak to give their name and address for the record. This information is listed in the minutes of each meeting. On occasion, the trustees, by way of majority agreement (2 of 3 trustees) may make an exception and permit a non-resident or non-business owner to speak at the lectern in the meeting. This is rare. Resolution 23a-97 has worked very well over the past twenty years. I am not in favor of letting people who do not meet the aforementioned criteria speak at the trustee meetings. West Chester Twp. has a character, or personality, and I think it's ill-advised to allow people who have no stake in our community to speak at our business meetings. If an issue comes up that requires more in depth community participation, then a special meeting can be convened where presentations for and against the issue can be given by recognized experts who are not residents or business owners. There are two citizen comment sections on our regular trustee meeting agenda. The first is at the very beginning of the meeting. In this section there is opportunity for five people to speak for two minutes each. Each person who speaks in this section must use the sign-in sheet to reserve their 'spot' to speak. Later in the meeting there's a second citizen comment section where any number of West Chester residents, business owners and property owners can speak about issues that concern them. There is no time limit in this section on how long a person can speak. As long as there's no redundancy in comments, people can speak for a reasonable length of time. The logic behind two citizen comment sections is this, if you want to come to a meeting, speak your mind and leave, the first citizen comment section is perfect for you. If however, you have more to say and don't mind sitting through the entire meeting, then the second citizen comment is right for you. Additionally, if someone wants to speak in both citizen comments they are welcome to do that. Finally, Ohio law does not require that a township allow citizens to speak in the regular township business meetings. West Chester provides two opportunities because we want to hear what you have to say.

Wong: Yes, it does foreclose some good, creative ideas from non-residents and others, especially people of technical experts.

Q: What is your vision for the future of West Chester?

Penska: My vision is that the word 'thriving' immediately spring to mind when anyone thinks of West Chester. I want all residents to see that our shared values of community safety, great education for our children and economic prosperity are fully reflected in the actions of their Trustees. West Chester should be a community in which families and businesses feel welcome and know that their community is rooting for their success.

I also want West Chester to be better prepared and to more effectively handle challenges than it has in the past. To do that, we need trustees who understand the difference between being fiscally conservative and being fiscally responsible. We need trustees who are proactive not reactive. We need Trustees who respect diversity and who honor their responsibility to represent all residents and businesses of West Chester, not just those aligning to a their political affiliation. West Chester trustees must truly be a group of people who can openly discuss, collaborate and partner with diverse groups to ensure we leverage all the talent and experience West Chester offers.

My background makes me uniquely prepared for this role. I am seeking a position in public service, not politics, and I want to offer my legal and business education and experience to ensure we earn the label of a thriving community.

Powell: My vision for West Chester is a place that we are all proud to call home. A place where residents and businesses alike are supported by our local government. A place where our leaders are there for the community and not their own future political ambitions. A place where all entities (schools, government, nonprofits etc.) are pulling together for the betterment of the entire community. A place where business continues to help allay the tax burden on residents.

I want West Chester to continue to be a caring community where the least among us are provided what they need to thrive. A place where fiscal prudence is the rule, not the exception. A place where businesses are successful and support the residents that support them. A place where seniors are not priced out of their homes. A place where citizens feel safe and first responders have what they need need to do their jobs and remain safe, A place where all residents are heard and respected, regardless of their assets or political leanings. A place where there are quality outdoor common spaces for residents to play, relax and exercise.

I want West Chester to maintain a small town friendliness and feel, while providing the amenities of an urban/suburban environment.

Welch: West Chester Township is a remarkable place to live and work. My vision for West Chester is that we continue to attract businesses, create more jobs and be a place where families can live, grow and retire in place! The health, safety and well being of our residents, businesses and the thousands of people who work here everyday is paramount. I support the men and women in our police and fire department who make this possible.

Wong: The next 5 years must be about staying focused on balance. Our township is positioned with sustainable businesses providing well paying jobs. We have fostered an excellent environment for business while being mindful of the needs and concerns of our residents. In moving forward, my vision is to responsibly manage growth while providing enhanced infrastructure, such as, parks, more quality services (leaves pick up, street sweeping, and so forth), sidewalk, bike path, and other amenities to enhance the quality of life in West Chester.

Replies from candidates for Lang’s unexpired term:

The board raised quite a stir last year on the Right to Work issue. Is that something that should still be pursed if the state doesn’t move forward? Why?

Becker: I fully support right to work, but think it should be handled by the General Assembly in Columbus.

The right to assemble is one of the fundamental rights of this country. That right should never be taken away; people should be able to stand together in whatever form serves them best. On the other side of that, no one should be forced to assemble. Unionization as a condition of employment goes against the individual rights of our citizens. An employee should have the freedom to choose if joining a union is right for them and their family.

Brown: I would wait for the state to act. I am a proponent of the Right to Work Issue, but would need to know the state regulations and how that affects the township.

Corfman: I do not believe that Right To Work legislation is needed in West Chester. Our community has already distinguished itself as having one of the most business-friendly environments in the region, which has led us to attain a 1.7% unemployment rate, a recent announcement of a $30 million investment by UPS, and more businesses and jobs continuing to be attracted to the township. Forcing this issue on our township has only led to strife and division within our public meetings and alienated unions and workers, which has hurt our community more than any potential economic gains could make up for.

Kelley: Economic frustration has brought this issue to the local and state level. This was one of the largest township meetings attended by our residents. As a trustee, I would need the facts from both sides of the issue so I can make an informed decision for our community. At this time, as a resident the data is not in front of me. I will work with West Chester Township staff and legal counsel on a resolution when it is once again up for consideration.

Miller: No, I believe this is a state issue. West Chester should follow any legislation that is passed at the state and federal level.

Caldwell O'Connor: When it comes to making West Chester competitive, every option should be on the table for discussion until it is not. The primary reason why the trustees even considered Right to Work is because it is a policy that many of our nearby states have adopted to allow a person to go to work with the option of union participation as an individual choice. Because of this policy in other states, we may not be able to compete for some of the best employers. Right to work is a policy best left to the state legislature, but I will be willing to discuss it as I would any idea that could enhance West Chester's competitive edge.

Q: It is West Chester's policy to only allow residents and business owners to comment at meetings. Could that policy foreclose some good, creative ideas from non-residents and others?

Becker: The current policy of allowing only residents and business owners to make comments at trustee meetings is a good one. The people who live in the township and pay property taxes should have the right to comment on how that property tax money is spent. We have two sections of our trustee meetings that give residents, property owners and business owners a chance to address the board - the first is a timed section allowing folks on a schedule to address the board and leave, the second is an untimed and unlimited section where a resident, property owner or business owner can fully flush out issues.

If a non-resident has a question or an idea to share, the township administration and elected officials are always available via email or phone call.

Brown: I would think non residents can still voice ideas directly to a trustee outside a meeting.

Corfman: This policy of allowing only residents, property owners or business owners does exclude feedback from others who may be affected. For instance, we have a JEDD in the township where employees pay an income tax (through a neighboring city), but they are not permitted to speak as workers. To remedy this lack of representation, I would propose a policy allowing speakers excluded by the current policy to submit their request to the board ahead of time, stating their contact information and reason for addressing the board. This is fashioned after new policies of our neighboring townships of Colerain and Green, except my proposal would be for non-residents only. Residents, property owners and business owners would continue to be able to address the board per the current policy.

Kelley: Our township officials are elected by our residents to make decisions for them. Township data from applicants in public meetings are for our residents allowing our elected officials to make the best decisions for them. I feel it is important for our residents to be engaged and address many issues they may have facing the growth of West Chester Twp. I have a passion for the people and with the time constraints during our meetings, I would like our residents to have the chance to be heard.

Miller: If someone works in an area that pays income tax (VOA at Tylersville) they should be permitted to speak because West Chester's actions impact them, directly, as well. If you work for a business in West Chester, you should be able to speak. Communication is always a good thing. Issues should always be voiced. We need to follow the rules that are set in place, succinctly, we should also be open to good communication with citizens, businesses, and those that work here.

Caldwell O'Connor: No. There are many ways that people who want to share their ideas can work with the township. We have an incredible staff in West Chester whose job it is to serve the people. Ideas can be brought to our township at any time – it does not require a trustee meeting. In fact, trustee meetings are the perfect place to have direct stakeholders have a voice with their elected officials. Those from outside the township do not need to wait for a trustee meeting to contact the township with their thoughts, ideas, and complaints. On the Lakota School Board, we always hear the thoughts of the students, parents, residents, teachers and administration first. If someone wants to provide additional input, they can contact our administrative offices or board at any time. Public meetings are merely one forum out of multiple forums in which people can and do have a voice. Often, those outside the township who wish to speak have motives that may not be in West Chester's best interest – they choose the venue of a meeting merely for the media attention. Elected officeholders have a duty to listen to the direct stakeholders. It's important to remember that township meetings, like school board meetings, are purposed to conduct the business of the township and ensure the smooth running of the organization.

Q: What is your vision for the future of West Chester?

Becker: Over the past 25 years, West Chester has been guided by our 2025 Vision. A plan that looked into the future – gathering together residents from all corners of the township to find our best path. It was led by men and women with a solid business approach – plotting the course for our strong tax base with 60% residential land and 40% business. They looked at the resources that we hand and proposed the vision of Union Centre and Voice of America.

I propose that we restart our Vision Committee and look toward 2050. We will again include people in the township that understand the vision ‘Where families grow, and businesses prosper.’ We, as a community, need to look forward like we do in our lives to determine what we want the next phase of our community’s life to look like.

At present, West Chester is in excellent shape. We are committed to public safety, spending $38 million of our proposed $43 million budget on our police, fire, and EMS. And we are committed to business growth providing a hands-off government and solid zoning that attracts new development.

My vision is to have a township that I will be proud to call home for the rest of my life – a township that my children and grandchildren will want to call home. I am invested in our community. I am dedicated to being a conservative steward of township finances.

Brown: A community well planned, financially stable, safe for families to enjoy the amenities West Chester has to offer. Affordable housing and quality education are pivotal in keeping this a great place to live.

Corfman: I believe that my vision for West Chester's future is perfectly embodied in our township's slogan, "Where families grow and businesses prosper." Over the past couple of decades we have done a great job as a township to ensure that businesses prosper; our stellar bond rating, very low unemployment rate, and general business-friendly atmosphere demonstrate that. Where we need to improve is living up to the other promise of our community: that families grow, and experience the best possible quality of life that we can help provide. I have heard from constituents that they want safe places to ride their bikes and walk to school, as well as for quality recreation. We should support and expand regional partnerships to provide high-quality park and recreational pathway systems, continue to emphasize the value of a stellar education system, encourage the growth of small businesses which are often family owned, and tolerance for all our neighbors. With these priorities, we can make sure that our township is a great place not only to start a business, but also to start a family.

Kelley: I have such a passion for the people of this community being involved in so many aspects in the past 20 years. I have been on several committees, supported many events, community functions and have been following the growth and have contributed to it. I have been a liaison between the township and the community. With such a talented and professional community, I am running for Trustee to be more engaged in our township and want to provide even more opportunities for our residents to be heard. It will be my priority to keep our township a leading edge community and stay one of "America's best places to live". My business education and corporate background allows me to have the opportunity to promote and support fiscal responsibility. It will be my commitment and job to keep our township a leading edge community. With my business education and corporate background, I will make every effort to keep our economy strong. I have many attributes to bring to this position to work on everything from the fiscal responsibility, property maintenance and livability to keeping our economy strong.

Miller: I grew up here, my kids grew up here, and now my grandsons are being raised here. Obviously, I have a lot of hope for our schools, our infrastructure, and our community values. West Chester has moved from a growing community into a mature community. We are "built-out," and now we need to concentrate on our infrastructure, including parks for our kids, bike paths, walking paths, and connecting neighborhoods to businesses. We need to create a twenty-forty committee to help map out the next twenty years of growth. The committee should be comprised of both businesses and residents of all ages.

Caldwell O'Connor: My vision for the future of West Chester includes continuing our record as one of America's best places to live. This type of recognition does not happen by accident. • We must continue pro-business practices that attract and retain top employers and employees. • We must strive for continuous improvement – finding out what the needs and wants of our residents are and how we can best meet those efficiently and in a cost effective manner. • We should always maintain a strong police and fire department as well as parks – these are core competencies outlined in Ohio Law. • Identifying aging areas where redevelopment may be required should be on our township's radar as well. When a portion of our township begins to enter the later stages of its life cycle, we should be prepared to address those areas so that we can maintain our high desirability and to maintain strong neighborhoods and growth.


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