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Nuanced differences — Mayoral candidates speak

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At last Wednesday’s Candidates Night forum, the four candidates for Yellow Springs mayor — Pam Conine, Laura Curliss, Cathy Price and Gerry Simms — offered nuanced differences on issues, but obvious distinctions in terms of personal style and expertise.

The event, sponsored by the James A. McKee Association, took place at Mills Lawn gym, with about 130 people in attendance. Fred Bartenstein acted as facilitator.

A retired longtime McKinney School teacher, Conine is bringing a clear educational vision to her campaign. While she appreciates the mayor’s legislative and ceremonial responsibilities, she also hopes to add a third dimension, that of education, to the job.

“I want to work with local students to increase their agency,” Conine said of her vision, which includes working with younger children through a “Read with the Mayor” program. 

“I want to make the mayor a more visible presence” in the community, she said.

An attorney, Laura Curliss would bring to the job her expertise in the legal profession. It’s critical, she believes, for the mayor to have the sort of legal training that she had in law school, where she studied traffic violations and misdemeanors, the sort of offenses that come to the local Mayor’s Court.

It’s also critical that the mayor understand “how the game is played, and sometimes it is a game,” she said, of the legal system.

Having been a prosecutor and a defense attorney, as well as a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, “I have a wealth of experience in the legal realm,” said Curliss, a former Village of Yellow Springs manager.

Cathy Price, a 23-year resident of the village, would bring a contemplative approach to the job, she said, stating the value of helping offenders see the effects of their transgressions on the community. Doing so, she believes, helps heal both the individual and the community.

“It restores the person to themselves and restores them to the community, and helps to restore the community as a whole,” she said.

Price, a retired pharmacist, also believes she embodies qualities that fit well with dispensing justice in Yellow Springs.

“I’m creative, I’m innovative and I feel like I’m compassionate,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been there.”

And Gerry Simms, a retired WPAFB cost analyst, would bring to the job a lifetime of community service in the village, having served two terms on Village Council and before that, two terms on school board. He has also been active in a wide range of community efforts.

“The community elected me several times,” he said. “I believe the community respects me.”

If elected, Simms said he would also bring to the position the words of his father, who told Simms, “Just listen, just listen, just listen,” Simms said. “He taught me to listen, to be patient and fair.”

Value of Mayor’s Court

All of the candidates support using the local Mayor’s Court, the venue for the mayor to hear cases involving minor offenses committed in the village. However, they differed in how hard they would push to bring cases back to Yellow Springs, following a decline in the use of the local court the past few years.

“We’re not getting Yellow Springs justice, we’re getting Xenia justice,” said Curliss, who expressed a strong desire for bringing the cases back to town. In 2016, 509 cases went to Xenia, far more than came to Mayor’s Court, she said, citing a public records request she made to obtain the numbers.

While new Police Chief Brian Carlson has reversed that trend somewhat, Curliss believes more could be done.

“Let’s use it,” she said of the court. “It can be so much better.”

Expanded use of Mayor’s Court is also important to Conine, who said she will, if elected, follow the recommendations of the Justice System Task Force, which is advocating increased use of Mayor’s Court. She also favors increased uses of restorative justice techniques in the court.

“I will be committed to continuing local justice for local issues,” she said.

Price also advocates increased use of Mayor’s Court, stating that the dispensing of justice in the village should reflect village values.

“Because this is Yellow Springs, we need to use the court in a Yellow Springs way, a trend-setting way,” she said.

Restorative justice, ia process in which the offender, victim and community members all engage in addressing the harm of a crime, is a way forward for the local court, Price believes.

“How can we use the court in a way that honors the offender, the victim and the community?” she asked. 

While Simms believes the local court is valuable, he differed from other candidates in his belief that the current level of use of Mayor’s Court is not a problem that needs to be solved. Rather, he believes the relatively low level of use indicates that local police are practicing community policing, and therefore making fewer arrests.

“The use of the court is good, and good is fine for me,” he said.

After studying the recent statistics on who uses the local court, Simms found that out-of-towners commit by far more traffic and parking offenses than do villagers.

“Folks in Yellow Springs obey the laws,” he said.

Need for prosecutor

Curliss and Simms agreed that the Mayor’s Court should, for optimum functioning, include a prosecutor. Currently, unlike most other Mayor’s Courts in Ohio, the local court does not have a prosecutor. Consequently, the mayor is put in a difficult situation, the two said.

“Now the mayor is the prosecutor, the defense counsel and the judge,” Curliss said.

The prosecutor plays an important role in making sure that the cases moving forward are legitimate, and thus making sure that specious cases, such as the charge against Council member Marianne MacQueen following this year’s New Year’s Eve ball drop, are not heard, according to Curliss. MacQueen was charged with obstructing justice when she attempted to tone down the behavior of local officers at the event, a charge later dropped by the prosecutor in Xenia.

“The prosecutor is a check on police and keeping bad cases from coming to the court,” she said.

However, Conine disagreed, stating that she does not see the need for a prosecutor in the local court. Having observed current Mayor David Foubert performing his duties, she’s been impressed by his effectiveness.

“I’m very impressed with how Mayor Foubert practices,” she said.

Cathy Price also said she doesn’t have strong feelings regarding the need for a prosecutor, and believes the current model is working.

“I like the way Mayor Foubert runs the court and how he looks out for people’s needs,” she said.

In response to an audience question regarding the cost of hiring a prosecutor, Curliss said that Council would determine the appropriate expense.

Candidates offered varied responses in response to an audience question regarding how qualified they are right now to take on the mayor’s job, especially regarding restorative justice.

“I’ve been teaching 7th and 8th graders for 36 years,” Conine said. “Call it by any name, I’m well-equipped to use restorative justice in the courtroom.”

Curliss said she is qualified to start now.

“I’m ready to go,” she said, citing her experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney and assistant to the mayor of Wilmington. 

According to Cathy Price, her work as an educator in the health system has prepared her to take on the job.

“I found that people were more compliant when they found out how their body works,” she said of her work as a health educator and pharmacist. “I want to help people understand the impact on them [of having broken the law.} I’m excited about that.”

While Simms said he is not qualified to jump into the job right now, he will be soon. First, he plans to attend the upcoming Restorative Justice Symposium this weekend to learn more about that process, plus the annual two-day training for mayors that takes place in January. He also plans to talk more with current Mayor Foubert to learn from him. And he comes to the job with all he’s learned from decades of community service.

“I plan to bring to the job what I’ve learned serving on Council and school board,” he said. “I’ve dedicated my life to serving the community.”

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