2021 Local Election: Curliss, Housh, Stokes vie for Council
- Published: September 29, 2021
This is the third part of a continuing series on candidates for Village Council, Yellow Springs school board and Miami Township Trustees.
Seven villagers are looking for votes to fill three contested Council seats in the upcoming November election. Last week, the News featured profiles of two of the four nonincumbent candidates. This week will spotlight the three incumbents, Council President Brian Housh and Council members Kevin Stokes and Laura Curliss.
Brian Housh has been a Yellow Springs resident for almost 10 years. Formerly an attorney and a business owner, he is currently the policy manager for Rails to Trails’ Midwest regional office and the coach for the Yellow Springs Schools’ speech and debate team. Housh has been a member of Village Council for eight years, serving as president for the past four.
Housh said that his goals in seeking a third term on Council include seeing some projects completed, working to mentor new Council members and being a voice for the village.
Reflecting on his time in the village, Housh said that being a long-term resident of Yellow Springs was not his original plan.
“I wanted to be closer to my brother and his children,” he said. “But I thought I would stay for six months or so, and then I’d move on to the next thing. Yellow Springs drew me in, and it has become my home.”
When first considering a run for Council in 2013, Housh said that he wanted to create space for collaboration between Council and the citizens it represents.
“After about a year here, I began to think that with my experience as an attorney, business owner and educator, I could add some value to Village Council,” he said.
At the time, Housh was a member of the Arts Council and was seeking to collaborate with Council to create public policy that would allow for bronze sculpture installations throughout the village.
“I felt that at the time, the Village government was not very collaborative. I thought more collegiality would help a lot with getting projects off the ground,” he said.
Getting projects off the ground is a point of pride for Housh, who highlighted such efforts as rebuilding the skate park, bringing Cresco to Yellow Springs and “reinvesting in the community” through the lodging tax as among his achievements.
“Facilitating the new skate park was the first of many experiences where focusing on collaboration with community members — in that case, skaters and the wider community — produced a much better outcome,” he said.
Now that Housh has some experience in office, he said that if he is re-elected, along with further pursuing Village Council goals, he wants to provide institutional knowledge and mentorship to new Council members.
“I’m the youngest person on Council,” he said. “I want to continue the work of developing young people as leaders, since I had such good mentorship when I was elected to Council for the first time.”
That mentorship will include teaching how to move discourse forward on several projects that Housh considers important to the village.
“There are two themes I’d like to pursue in the future: social justice and public broadband,” he said. “We are still in recovery mode after COVID-19 changed our world. I think I am still relevant enough to provide the institutional knowledge needed to bring these projects to fruition.”
As far as social justice is concerned, Housh praised the work that Council has done to address concerns about policing and affordability, including developing a Justice System Task Force, hiring a social worker and supporting Home, Inc with in-kind and monetary donations. He wants to keep up the momentum and provide more affordable housing.
“I’d love to see pocket neighborhoods like Glen Cottages all over the village,” he said. “If re-elected, I would like to push Oberer to include some affordable housing in their plans and find ways to extend Green Met.”
All in all, Housh said that his desire to serve is key.
“If you’re not in it because you want to serve the people, you won’t find this position satisfying,” he said. “I hope that I can be useful.”
Kevin Stokes is seeking re-election after serving on Village Council for one four-year term. Stokes has lived in the village for seven years and works at Antioch College, where he is the senior director of facilities and technology and the director of information technology, media services and operations.
Stokes said he has enjoyed his first term on Council.
“I feel like it’s an exciting time to be serving,” he said.
But running for a second term was a decision that Stokes said he didn’t make unilaterally.
“If my wife, Karen, was a hard ‘no,’ I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I know that I serve at the behest of the people. That said, I’d like to end my tenure on my own terms and in my own time.”
Aside from his service to the village as a Council member, Stokes is part of several community organizations, including The 365 Project. He is also the outgoing president of the Little Art Theatre’s board of directors.
After his election to public office, Stokes soon found that being on Council requires a considerable time commitment.
“I’ve definitely learned that serving on Council goes beyond just attending meetings,” he said.
In his role as a Council member, he is the liaison for the Municipal Broadband Commission, the Yellow Springs Development Corporation and the Justice Commission. Stokes was also Council liaison for the Human Relations Commission, or HRC, which prior to its current hiatus, played a large role in the creation of the Utilities Round Up program.
“HRC was such a positive thing,” he said. “It went on hiatus because of the pandemic, but I hope that the momentum HRC had can go someplace else. It really helped some people who struggled.”
In addition to serving on commissions, Stokes has been involved in the Village Manager’s Housing Advisory Board. He has also been part of meetings with Oberer Development Company concerning the anticipated housing development on the south side of town. Stokes said he is particularly interested in seeing the construction of additional entrances and exits to the development than currently planned, going as far as reaching out to YSI about buying land to build an additional road to connect the development.
“I want it to be 100% considered,” he said.
During his time on council so far, Stokes said he has worked on economic development, cultural diversity and strengthening the relationship between the village and Antioch College.
“My goal has been to future-proof our planning,” he said.
For Stokes, future-proofing means acting on conversations that have been years in the making.
“I started the conversation on a transient guest lodging moratorium after doing some traveling,” he said. “We implemented the moratorium eventually, but I think we took too long.”
Looking forward, Stokes says that he wants to pursue having the YSPD wear body cameras as part of a wider conversation around policing in the village. He said that he is proud of the strides that the village has made in police reforms, implementing policies that have since been nationally recognized as best practice.
“I think about #8cantwait, the police reform agenda. We were doing seven of those before the movement became popular,” he said.
Stokes also wants to continue working on housing, by continuing relationships with Home, Inc. and looking at ways to add more rental properties for families and seniors.
“We need more two- to three-bedroom apartments, places where families can live,” he said. “I hope the momentum Home, Inc. has will continue.”
Considering his re-election campaign, Stokes said he has enjoyed working for the village and hopes to continue.
“Just being a part of a collaborative group has been good,” he said. “I think people have appreciated my level-headed, common-sense approach.”
When Village Council member Laura Curliss was growing up, she was very aware of Yellow Springs because her family used to visit. Curliss grew up about an hour away in Blanchester, Ohio, which is in Clinton County.
“We’d come up and we’d go eat at Young’s and we’d get ice cream, and we’d go hiking in the Glen,” she said.
Curliss, who lives in the village with her partner, Gyamfi Gyamerah, her dog Nio and her adult son, Michael, has been a licensed attorney since 1993. She has spent most of her career in government service; she worked for a federal judge for two years and was in prosecution for five, with those years split between felony prosecution and civil cases.
“In Ohio, prosecutors do civil work as well as criminal,” she said.
Curliss’ interest in local government was sparked through her work as a lawyer, acting as legal counsel for township trustees, county commissioners and elected officials in and around Wilmington. She worked as a public administrator to the mayor of Wilmington for 12 years, a position that is similar to a village manager. When he lost the elected seat in 2012, Curliss was hired as the village manager of Yellow Springs, a position she held for two years before resigning.
“Shortly thereafter, my husband of 23 years passed away, so it was kind of a blessing in disguise at the time,” Curliss said of the job separation.
Wanting to make her home in Yellow Springs, Curliss decided to stay in the village and started a small law practice. She runs her business out of her home, a decision she said was made for several reasons.
“[It was] partly by choice — certainly during COVID — but partly because of the lack of professional office space available to rent in Yellow Springs,” she said.
When asked by the News what she loved about Yellow Springs, Curliss mentioned the diversity and talent of the community.
“Having grown up in a place that certainly was not that way, it’s very much refreshing and a relief to live in a place that is much more accepting of people and ‘whatever their whatever,’ is,” she said.
She added: “I love how much talent there is in the village, there is just an amazing amount of talent of all kinds.”
Access to nature and the walkable and bike-friendly roads of Yellow Springs are also things Curliss holds in high esteem, along with the community’s attention to environmental responsibility.
“I also love how people have incorporated nature onto their properties,” she said. “One of the things we are struggling with mightily in the world is not only climate change, but the collapse of species. … I think people in YS are trying their best to prevent that in many different ways.”
When it came time to decide whether or not she would run for re-election to Council, Curliss said she considered the difficulty of the job.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” she said. “This week’s Council packet is one of the shortest one’s I’ve ever seen; it’s only 97 pages. They have been as much as 272 pages.”
Despite the work, Curliss said there are things that still need to be done, which is why she is running again. She pointed to the potential fate of Mills Lawn elementary school should the school district move to a K–12 facility on the west end of town.
“The Mills Lawn greenspace needs to be preserved as a public space, a public park — some open space,” she said.
Curliss said she would like to see several changes to the way Council operates if she’s re-elected.
One, she said, would be to increase the number of Council seats to seven.
“We get into doing things that [other] villages our size … wouldn’t dream of doing,” she said, citing the workload of current Council members.
She also hopes to see Council adopt a policy of having committees organized by Village departments, such as a public safety committee that would work with police, a public works committee and a finance committee, with legislation written by the committees. In addition, she believes every piece of legislation considered by Council should have dedicated support from some Council members themselves.
“[There should be] at least one, if not two, Council members who are putting their name behind promoting [the legislation], proposing it and asking for Council to support it,” Curliss said.
Curliss also believes that more tolerance is needed for diverse points of view among Council members.
“It’s almost like there’s a culture of conformity, like we all need to vote together, and if anybody dissents, that’s a bad thing,” she said. “To me, that is a strength.”
She said she also wants villagers to know that she is accessible and welcomes any input, concerns or suggestions about where Village Council should be turning its attention.
“It is challenging during COVID, because you just don’t run into people on the street anymore,” she said. “I am in the phone book — please call me up if you have any questions or concerns.”