Village Council

Village Council forum— Economy, manager search topic

For the second consecutive night, on Thursday, Oct. 24, nearly 200 people gathered at Mills Lawn auditorium for a McKee Group forum focused on the local elections. Thursday’s event featured the eight candidates who are running for three seats on Village Council. Villager Bruce Heckman moderated the two-hour event.

Candidates Patty Purdin, Christine Monroe-Beard, Rick Walkey, Karen Wintrow, Dan Reyes, Brian Housh, Chrissy Cruz and Marianne MacQueen each began with 5-minute opening statements, followed by questions from audience members wanting to know how their future representatives would work to attract new businesses to town, help to increase ethnic diversity of the village, make Village operations more carbon neutral, and the process they would use to select the next Village manager. Each candidate was limited to a two-minute response to the questions.

On economic development
Almost all of the candidates spoke at length in response to a question about attracting new businesses to town.

According to MacQueen, one way the Village proper could encourage business growth is to make the current Community Resources, Yellow Springs’ community development corporation, an officially designated community improvement corporation. The Village could also reinvigorate both its revolving loan fund to support small businesses and its economic sustainability commission or even help to start a new entrepreneurial commission or business incubator. Working with Antioch College and the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce to harness the skills and human resources as well as the natural resources that exist in the village could all be wielded to increase local economic development.

For Cruz, supporting the regrowth of Antioch College is key to bringing both visitors and new residents to town, as well as bringing back the kinds of businesses that in turn support the college, like the five-and-dime and the Molladoor that formerly inhabited downtown storefronts.

Wintrow added her own perspective, which is that the village can’t expect businesses to choose Yellow Springs on a whim — businesses “come because they have something to offer, and we have something to offer, and we need something that builds on and enhances what we have.” Maintaining strong infrastructure is an important piece that Council can affect, as well as providing consistent, high quality public services, such as effective response to zoning and utility questions, she said.

Housh also answered in terms of how Village Council could affect economic development, saying the Village should remain focused on opening the CBE as a business district to complement the downtown. Village government could also collaborate with local businesses, such as supporting another business incubator at Antioch ­College.

“Ultimately, we have to look at multiple avenues” for business growth, Housh said.

Monroe-Beard went further, saying that economic development is necessary to offset local taxes and that the Center for Business and Education is a “fantastic growth space for existing businesses.” She lamented that in the past year the CBE had missed opportunities to bring new businesses to town because the infrastructure for the 10-year project of the Village and Community Resources is not yet complete.

“Without opportunities, we can’t even choose what fantastic businesses we might want to have,” she said.

Reyes framed the question in a more theoretical context, saying that maintaining an economically vibrant community should not mean that the village should be a “welcome mat for everything and anything,” but that the village should “live up to our reputation as a defender of social and economic justice and attract businesses and people who share those values.”

Similarly, Walkey maintained the need to be mindful of the environmental impact and the sustainability of any business that might evolve or move here. “We need to simply do what we do, consciously.”

For Purdin, the village already has the businesses that it needs, as well as the infrastructure to support those who want to come here.

On the next Village manager
Another question from the audience referred to the role of the Village manager and what Council should do to retain the next manager.

Most valuable, according to Walkey, is a manager who knows the community and its resources and is able to research the information Council needs to make good policy decisions. Retention is mostly about choosing the right manager in the first place, Walkey said.

Similarly, Wintrow said, Council sets policy and the manager enacts it. Council should have no input in staffing and other management issues, but Council needs to be able to receive information from the manager and weigh it with input from the community to make decisions. In terms of retention, Wintrow acknowledged that as a small town with a limited administrative pay scale, “Yellow Springs is going to be a stepping stone” for ambitious managers, and with growing demand for good leaders in the region, “it will be tough for us,” she said.

In the same vein, Housh said, “Good leaders don’t micromanage,” but good leadership also requires trust and familiarity between Council and the manager if they’re tasked to work as a team. If the relationship is good, the Village will attract strong candidates who will want to remain in their position.

But it has been a rough road, according to Reyes, who in his 10 years in the village has counted six managers (four Village managers and two interim managers). He suggested Council review whether its own expectations could be contributing to the high turnover, perhaps by instituting post-occupancy interviews with the managers. The selection process should include “meaningful public input” in order not to “short-circuit the democratic process.”

Cruz agreed, saying that a good manager should present information to Council in a clear, concise and unbiased manner, something, she said, that the former manager didn’t do, which “dragged out the process” of decision making. The manager also should live in Yellow Springs and be part of the community. Council also needs to communicate more clearly what the manager’s role and duties are, Cruz said.

In accord with other’s answers, MacQueen said the manager should get information to Council, who needs to have the last say on decisions that affect the Village. “The search process is critical,” she added, suggesting that the Village should look outside the government field and search for candidates with administrative experience in the business and nonprofit fields.

According to Purdin, most important is for Council and the Village manager to maintain mutual respect and courtesy and keep lines of communication open. According to Monroe-Beard, in navigating their relations, Council and the manager need to follow the Village’s charter, which outlines the responsibilities of each party and how the two can work as a team and prevent polarization.

“It can’t be personal,” she said.

On prioritizing funding
Candidates also responded to a question about prioritizing funding to the CBE in the context of budget demands for Village infrastructure and other needs.

Reyes has concerns about the “hurry up” attitude around the CBE. The details of the proposed project have changed, he said, and the Village should allow for public discussion about the current parameters of the CBE. As a rule, Reyes favors infill as a first development tool, and he finds there are “significant properties in the village that are under used or unused” and could be put to more effective use.

The CBE is a community priority that has been long in coming, Housh said. However, the community needs to prioritize all of its needs, and the Village should consider CBE funding in the context of funding for sidewalks, water sourcing and other public services. Walkey agreed, saying that progress on the CBE had been slow because Council was balancing it with other needs, such as the library renovation, street paving, and trying to be fiscally conservative.

Cruz stated she couldn’t say whether she was for or against the CBE. “It’s a big gamble, and there are no guarantees,” she said. She would like to use it as an incentive for existing business growth and jobs, but she has concerns about sprawl and seeing the CBE as extending a “handshake to Fairborn, saying ‘come on in.’”

But the Village built the CBE because of concern about a lack of commercial business space in town for smaller businesses to expand into, MacQueen said. And putting new businesses on CBE land, which was owned by Vernay, was a direct way of replacing the industry lost when Vernay moved its manufacturing plant to Georgia. The CBE can be one answer to the village’s “need for good paying jobs for younger people,” MacQueen said.
Wintrow agreed, saying that the property tax revenue alone from the CBE will be “huge” and that any funds the Village invests, it is likely to get back in excess.

“The CBE is important — it’s a risk but there’s enough evidence that business is growing here and businesses have already been lost without it, that I’m not averse to taking the risk,” Wintrow said.

Monroe-Beard is also a “big supporter of the CBE, which promises returns.” She said, “It’s about how to manage the risks,” and “we need to move fast.” Purdin also agreed the CBE is “a good idea. I’m sure it will work.”

On energy use reduction
One villager also asked a question in the vein of “think global, act local,” on how Council could help Village government move toward carbon neutrality.

The village is an ideal community to promote walkability, according to Housh, who said Council, with the help of Antioch College, could help to promote solar power, less driving, and more car pooling, walking and biking. Cruz agreed that Yellow Springs has encouraged walking through Safe Routes to School and the Greene County bus. MacQueen also said the village had done well to promote the passive haus, empower an energy commission that gave out compact fluorescent bulbs, and support the college’s goal of being carbon neutral in 10 to 20 years. Monroe-Beard suggested that educating the community about energy audits, energy efficient appliances, the benefits of community gardens and composting could be useful.

Village government itself will soon be powered by 85 percent sustainable energy sources, Wintrow said. Council also passed the net metering ordinance, offering financial incentives for private solar and wind energy production, and the Efficiency Smart AMP contract, offering rebates for efficient industrial lights.

“The best thing we can do is have local jobs so that people don’t have to leave the village to drive to work,” Wintrow said.

On the mayor
Current Mayor David Foubert, who is running unopposed for his 12th term, opened the forum with a brief statement about his role in helping to maintain the unique character and values of Yellow Springs. In his 22 years as mayor, his main goal as steward of the local court has been not to raise money but to take care of the people, advice he got from former long-time Police Chief Jim McKee and former Village Manager Kent Bristol (now serving as interim manager).

*Visit ysnews.com for a summary of the personal introduction each candidate gave during the Council candidate forum.

Contact: lheaton {at} ysnews(.)com

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