Looking ahead to local races
- Published: April 7, 2021
Later this year, candidates will vie for elected offices on Village Council and the local school board, and the positions of mayor and Miami Township Trustee.
This story looks at the election for Village Council and mayor; future stories will cover school board and township elected positions.
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, local voters will decide who will serve as Council members and mayor starting four-year terms on Jan. 1, 2022.
Out of the five current Council members, three seats held by Laura Curliss, Kevin Stokes and Council President Brian Housh are in play.
Only one incumbent has said they would run again. The Yellow Springs News is not aware of any challengers who have publicly declared their intention to run yet.
“Gosh, ask me in May,” responded Curliss via email when asked whether she would run for re-election. Curliss was elected to her first two-year term in 2019.
Kevin Stokes, after conferring with family, told this reporter, “Yes, I am planning to run again in the fall.”
Stokes was elected to his first term in 2017.
Council President Brian Housh remains undecided.
“Currently, I am gauging whether villagers feel that I continue to add value as a Council Member,” Housh said. “If there is clear support, I will run for another term.”
Housh added that while believes he is making a difference, he wants to make sure his contributions “continue to be meaningful.”
“I feel that a lot of good work has been done over the last seven years, and I want to see that positive progress continue,” he said.
Housh has been on Council since 2014 and is finishing his second four-year term.
Previously, mayors in Yellow Springs served a two-year term. However, this year will be the first time villagers will elect a mayor to serve for four years; villagers voted to change the municipal charter in November 2020. Current mayor Pam Conine is all in.
“Absolutely, yes, I’m running again,” she said. “My first two terms were so rewarding.”
Conine has been mayor for two two-year terms and says now that the length has been changed to four years, she would “like the honor of serving the village for one of those terms.”
Complex community challenges await whoever is elected — issues that will likely impact Yellow Springs for generations to come. In November, voters will collectively decide who they think the best people are to navigate these challenges.
Residents privately considering a run for Council may be wondering: What does it take to become an elected member of Village Council? What is the election process that has to be followed in order to get on the ballot? And what critical issues face them once elected?
To be eligible to serve on Village Council or to become mayor, candidates must have lived in the village for one year prior to running. Residents must also be 18 years old as of the date of the general election. Once elected, candidates must live in the village for the entirety of the term.
The current stipend for both council members and the mayor is $8,218.32 annually, an amount that increases with cost of living adjustments.
Once a resident has decided to run for Council or mayor, they must be nominated by petition, according to the 2021 Ohio Candidate Requirement Guide. These requirements are specific to Yellow Springs’ designation as a municipal corporation, with a population of more than 2,000, but less than 5,000.
To get on the Nov. 2 ballot, candidates must turn in 50 signatures and a $30 filing fee on Form 3-O: Nominating Petition — Nonpartisan Office — Municipalities by Aug. 4, 2021, 90 days before the general election. The form is available at the Greene County Board of Elections website at http://www.boe.ohio.gov/greene.
Getting on the ballot is a precise process. In the past, there have been villagers who declared an intention to run for office and gathered the necessary signatures — only to be declared ineligible because the required signatures were on the wrong form. Another common problem is that not all of the signatures gathered were from registered voters. As a result, candidates are encouraged to get many more signatures than they may need. To avoid any errors, it may be helpful to review the Candidate Requirement Guide, along with a wealth of other election information, on the county board of elections site.
Council perspectives on the role
So, a person has declared their intention to run as a candidate for office and double-checked their eligibility. The candidate completed all the necessary paperwork to get on the Nov. 2 ballot. The candidate also ran an election campaign on a platform of issues that resonated with the community and was elected to Council. How should a newly elected council person prepare for all that the job encompasses?
Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen, who is not up for re-election, said the job entails more than just attending bi-monthly Council meetings and commission meetings. She attends meetings that are not technically part of Council duties, but cover important issues that are facing the village. For instance, she recently attended a Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission webinar with the Miami Water Conservancy District on the topic of climate change and the impact of water runoff on the great Miami River.
As a Council liaison to the Environmental Commission, MacQueen sees that it is important she stay abreast of such issues.
“My passions are the environment and housing. And given the increasing understanding of the impact of climate change, I have to say that [how we deal with that] is where most of my focus is,” MacQueen said.
She has also attended a legislative round table organized by the Ohio Municipal League in which people from state government meet with local elected officials, and national meetings concerning promoting entrepreneurship. As Council’s Vice President, she meets with Council President Brian Housh and Village Manager Josué Salmerón on a regular basis to create the agenda for Council meetings. She also is involved with the Village Mediation Program and serves as one of two Council members on the Yellow Springs Development Corporation.
When adding in the “extras”, MacQueen calculates that she spends about 17 hours a week working on behalf of the Village. When performing regular duties, she works about 12 hours a week on Council responsibilities.
Village Council Member Lisa Kreeger, who is also not up for reelection, estimates she spends between 25 and 30 hours per month. That includes Council meetings, commission meetings and preparation.
“You have to be willing to put in the preparation time and not think you can come on and float,” she said.
Kreeger cites the workload as a key concern of hers when recruiting potential Council members, which she has taken on as a goal. Specifically, there are barriers for younger people and those with families.
“It needs to not just be a bunch of old, white people, but there are a lot of systemic things that I can’t figure out how to get around that make it very difficult for [others] to serve,” she said.
Kreeger also mentioned personal characteristics that are helpful to her as a Council member.
“My responsibility is to demonstrate emotional intelligence, keep an open mind and listen to what that person might be trying to say or express, even though the way they express it may be less than ideal — and you gotta have thick skin and you can’t take things personally,” she said.
Kreeger advised potential candidates to expect to serve a robust and ambitious community whose concerns expand beyond the village.
“We tend to take on problems in the village as if we were very large,” she said. “So that ambition creates a heavy lift for the Council.”
She also mentioned that someone coming onto Council should be concerned with addressing what she called the “intersection of economic development and affordability and diversity, equity and inclusion — a complicated Venn diagram to take on.”
MacQueen stated similar concerns.
“I think the slide towards becoming an upper middle class retirement community is a tough nut to crack,” she said. “It’s harder for younger people to live here, families and single people. It’s easier for older people who have more money.
Kreeger said potential candidates should also expect to participate in ongoing policy reviews and adjustments around the issue of community policing.
That issue came to the fore after the village New Year’s Eve ball drop celebration in 2017. The event, known for being safe and family-friendly, drew thousands of residents and visitors from nearby communities. However, Village police officers clashed with residents moments after the ball dropped, and their attempt to clear the streets by aggressively using sirens, tasers and cruisers were met with protests.
One villager, an African American man, was arrested in what many who witnessed the arrest believe was a racially motivated incident, and an unnecessary and overzealous use of force by the Village police department. Outrage over the incident forced the resignation of then-Police Chief David Hale, and a demand from village residents for a thorough review and revamping of police procedures concerning use of force.
Kreeger connected that event to national conflicts, suggesting that “the importance of antiracism and the national climate of racism and the polarization of the political parties, even though the village is a nonpartisan body,” has an effect here.
She added: “Even though the village isn’t Cleveland, isn’t Chicago, it’s still the national environment that reflects onto us, the village.”
Both Council members emphasized that anyone coming onto Council should expect to have to deal with the Village’s aging infrastructure — including its water, sewer, stormwater and electric systems, and, potentially, a municipal broadband utility.
“I think it’s important for Council to help the community understand how important [infrastructure] is because you can’t see the sewer system or the water system,” MacQueen said.
When asked about managing conflict, MacQueen was contemplative, saying that for the most part she was comfortable with it, though she did cite areas in which it became uncomfortable.
“The fact is that things become polarized easily, and once they become polarized, it’s hard for people to move off those positions,” she said. It’s one of the reasons MacQueen has long been involved in the Village Mediation Program and conflict resolution techniques.
“It’s only when we are able to listen to different viewpoints, and as much as possible try to take in those concerns and ideas, that we can come up with ways of moving forward that are the best.”
MacQueen continued: “Otherwise, we’re always having to choose A or B, when we could have the whole alphabet.”