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Candidates vie for public office

Energy issues took center stage at the Candidate’s Forum at the Senior Center on Sunday afternoon, as villagers asked questions regarding fracking and the use of natural gas and coal-fired plants, among other topics, to candidates for Village Council and Miami Township Trustee. About 25 people turned out for the event, which was sponsored by the YS Progressive Forum. Council candidates Rick Walkey, Dan Reyes and Gerry Simms were present, as were Township trustee candidates John Eastman and Chris Mucher. Council candidates Lori Askeland and Shane Creepingbear did not attend.

The event was the second candidate’s forum in several days, as on Thursday, Oct. 27, the James A. McKee Group sponsored a forum for candidates for Council, Township trustee, school board and mayor. About 35 people attended that event, which all the candidates, except Creepingbear, attended.

Varied on fracking

The fracking issue surfaced locally about a year ago, when representatives of a Michigan natural gas company sought drilling rights from local landowners north of town. Fracking is the practice of injecting chemical-laced water into the earth to extract natural gas.

Several municipalities, including Pittsburgh, have passed ordinances against the practice of fracking due to its negative environmental impact, according to villager Dimi Reber, who asked Council and Township candidates if they would support such an ordinance.

Fracking involves “the pursuit of short-term economic gain” without regard for long-term environmental consequences, according to Reyes, who said he considers the practice “not sustainable.” However, he said, the issue is also complex, and “not something that’s a simple resolution for Council or the Township to put together.”

Describing himself as inspired by the Pittsburgh ordinance that bans fracking, Walkey, currently serving his first term on Council, said the issue seems “moot” in the village due to the lack of appropriate drilling spots within village limits. However, Walkey said he would support a Village ordinance as a symbolic gesture against fracking in asserting a municipality’s right to home rule.

In his response, Gerry Simms stated that, “the research I’ve done so far shows more in favor [of fracking] than against.” Especially important, Simms said, is to consider the practice in the light of whether natural gas is a more attractive energy source than others currently available.

If he finds that fracking does more harm than good, he would favor an ordinance against it, Simms said, but only one that could be reversed if more sustainable practices are developed in the future.

“Decisions made today impact not only us, but those who come behind us,” he said.

In response to a question regarding whether he would have voted for a contract with an AMP coal-fired plant (which Council voted down several years ago), Simms said he had not followed the issue. Because he believes that Council members had access to information not easily available to the public, “I’ll have to go along with their decision,” he said.

According to Mucher, the Township Trustees are limited in their response to fracking, as they are not allowed by the state to write ordinances, although the local trustees have tried to alert the public to use caution regarding drilling contracts. However, Mucher said that he would testify against fracking at the state level if the trustees agreed that such an action is appropriate.

“Fracking endangers the water system in multiple ways,” said Township Trustee candidate Eastman, who also cited concerns over the environmental effects of the massive trucks that haul water to wells, and the current uncertainly over disposal of the chemicals used in fracking.

However, Eastman said, communication is critical between all stakeholders before actions are taken.

“Where can we find common ground so there’s an alignment between agricultural use and other uses of the land to benefit the entire community, rather than a battle over rights?” Eastman said, stating that, “the value of this community is our creative ability to have that conversation.”

Greatest challenges

At both forums, candidates were asked what they perceived as the most important issues facing the Village.

To Simms, there is no single answer to this question, because the most important issue “depends on where you sit,” he said, citing the different priorities of a Mills Lawn student, a high school student, and a senior citizen.

“As a Council person I have to weigh all these and come up with a decision I can live with and you can live with, and that if people in the future need to change it, they can do so,” he said.

To Reyes, the most pressing challenge is finding “creative ways” to respond to the financial pressures caused by declining revenues.

Those creative answers should involve building on the village’s strengths, he said.

“Yellow Springs has done better than some in the recession because we have diversity and variety,” Reyes said. “It comes back to identifying our distinctiveness and not following the bandwagon.”

To Walkey, budget issues remain a challenge, and a priority is updating the Village’s zoning code in a way that allows more creative development. He also cited looming personnel issues, especially the pending retirement of Police Chief John Grote.

“We want to make sure we bring in a chief who understands the village and its needs,” he said.

On Thursday night, Askeland identified the decline of resources following state budget cuts as a significant challenge. Also, she cited her desire to improve community dialogue over difficult issues and her “ongoing concern that we remain cohesive as a community even when we disagree.”

“There are big issues before us,” she said. “We must remain a community in which all people feel their voices matter.”

Affordable housing, police issues

On Sunday, Council candidates responded differently to a question on the Village’s role in affordable housing.

To Walkey, it’s appropriate that the Village take a role in working to create affordable housing. He cited Council’s recent partnering with Home, Inc. in the construction of four affordable homes on Cemetery Street as a significant step in helping young families move to the village. That project was especially attractive, he said, because “it was something we could do with limited resources that didn’t cost anything out of pocket.”

To Simms, the important question regarding housing is, “Who do we want to attract to the village?”

His own preference is to attract a variety of people, he said, “Let’s not restrict it so only the elite or the super poor can get housing.”

Variety was also important to Reyes, who cited the diversity of housing in the village’s historic center as preferable to more homogenous developments in the south part of town. While “the Village should not be in the business of building housing,” he believes Council should update the zoning code in a way that encourages housing diversity.

On Thursday, Council candidates also differed in their responses to a question regarding their opinion of using local police resources in the Greene County-wide Drug Task Force. For the past several years, the task force has included one Yellow Springs police officer.

“To me, a crime is a crime,” Simms said. “If you commit a crime you have to be willing to accept the consequences. Until we make drugs legal, we need to use the means necessary to quell the problems.”

Both Askeland and Walkey emphasized that the choice to be part of the task force lies with the police chief and Village manager, not with Council, and consequently, Askeland said, “I hesitate to speak without reviewing how it’s acted.” Still, Askeland said, she has some concerns regarding “invasiveness in the current approach.”

Walkey said he also has concerns based on anecdotal evidence from the community.

“I think there are some overly aggressive responses to what are essentially local problems,” he said. “I’d like to keep our police in our community.”

Reyes also emphasized the importance of keeping policing local, stating: “In my experience, policy works best when it’s grounded in the community. A county-wide system gives some cause for concern.”

Township priorities

The most important challenge facing Miami Township is addressing the fiscal pressure from declining state funding, Mucher said.

“At meetings, I’m constantly preaching about the loss of revenue and increased expenses,” he said. “There’s not a lot of fat to cut out of the budget, and it’s a constant battle.” Due to recent cuts of the state Local Government funds, “the next two years will be even leaner,” he said.

Eastman also cited budget concerns as the Township’s greatest challenge. His background in engineering will help him “look at each thing we’re required to do and figure out how to do it with the most soundness.”

Eastman also cited the need to improve retention among the volunteers of the Miami Township Fire-Rescue squad, and the need to find a new building for the squad and fire department that also serves the community.

School concerns

Voters will fill two open seats on school board at the Nov. 8 election, and both candidates, incumbent Sean Creighton and Sylvia Ellison, spoke at the Thursday evening forum.

Fiscal pressure from declining state revenues and taxes will continue to be the school’s greatest challenge, according to Creighton, who has served as board president for two years. During that time, the board hired an entirely new administrative team, and developed the district’s 2020 Plan, which aims to meet the challenge of educating children in a small school system in creative and fiscally responsible ways.

“The 2020 Plan is my priority,” said Creighton, the executive director of SOCHE, a consortium of higher education institutions. “That plan is our pathway” to meeting local challenges.

While the school system has enough financial reserve to meet its needs for two to three years, it’s critical to come up with new revenue sources for longterm sustainability, Creighton said.

“Funding for the future can’t only be new taxes,” he said, citing the need for local fund-raising and grant-writing as additional funding options. “We can’t cut our way into the future.”

An educator at Wright State University and parent of two local students, Ellison has been a frequent presence at school board meetings due to her interest in local schools, she said.

As a school board member, “I would offer a respectful ear,” she said, as well as her skills as a researcher.

 

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