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Candidates running for school board spoke at the Candidates Night on Oct. 19.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the four candidates running for Miami Township Trustees and five candidates running for the Yellow Springs Board of Education took the stage at the first Candidates Night. Pictured here are the board candidates. From left, Luisa Bieri Rios, Dorothée Bouquet, Judith Hempfling, Amy Magnus and Pam Nicodemus. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Candidates sound off at two forums

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By Carol Simmons and Cheryl Durgans

In anticipation of the Nov. 2 election, about 100 people filled the gym at Mills Lawn School Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, for the first of two candidates nights hosted by the James A. McKee Association. The local nonprofit group, named for the late Yellow Springs police chief, is dedicated to promoting participatory democracy, among other areas of interest, and has been presenting pre-election candidate forums regularly since 1992. 

Tuesday’s event featured candidates for Miami Township Trustee and Yellow Springs school board, and was also livestreamed online. Jalyn Roe, a local mediator and business management consultant, facilitated the over two-hour forum, which got a dramatic and late start after Peggy Erskine, a McKee group member, lost her footing and fell on the hard gym floor. An emergency squad was called, but she was able to take a seat at the door and continued serving as a volunteer greeter throughout the evening. 

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More drama followed later in the evening as pockets of the audience showed their feelings for and against particular school board candidates, depending on their views about the school district’s proposed levy to build a K-12 facility on the site of the current middle/high school campus on East Enon Road. Levy backers, many wearing blue T-shirts promoting the measure, clapped enthusiastically for candidates expressing support, and some made rumblings of disagreement to the opposition. The moderator intervened when one audience member vocally challenged a candidate whose platform seeks an alternative approach, asking the crowd to refrain from such outbursts.

The first half of the forum, devoted to the trustees race, was less volatile. Four candidates are vying for two seats on the three-person Miami Township Trustees board. Incumbent Don Hollister is running for re-election alongside newcomers Dino Pallotta, owner of Dino’s Cappuccino’s; Marilan Moir, a biology teacher at Belmont High School in Dayton; and Denise Swinger, the Yellow Springs planning and zoning administrator.

Candidates were given five minutes to introduce themselves, and then allowed a minute each to respond to questions written by members of the community and read aloud by Roe. 

Issues covered by questions for the trustee hopefuls included zoning, particularly in terms of agritourism; the relationship and distinction between the Village and the Township; and fire-rescue staffing, especially concerning hiring a new chief, as Colin Altman anticipates retiring next year. 

All candidates said they support keeping the township’s agricultural focus, but the three challengers all expressed interest in broadening the zoning definitions of what is allowed within an agricultural setting, particularly in terms of increasing revenue streams for farm properties trying to stay afloat.

“I hope our zoning people can think flexibly about it,” Moir said.

Relatedly, Pallotta said he wants to see the township support the Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice, if not by allowing some of its activities through the state’s agritourism allowances, then at the least by granting conditional use rulings.

Moir said her focus also includes encouraging the trustees to consider environmental health factors, particularly concerning water and soil use, in all their business practices.

Incumbent Hollister noted that Township zoning procedures give trustees limited input. Trustees appoint members of the zoning commission, which is responsible for writing the zoning code. Changes must be approved by the trustees, but they don’t write the code, Hollister said. Trustees also appoint members to the Township’s board of zoning appeals, but have no input into their rulings.

The candidates all said they recognize that Yellow Springs and Clifton village residents are also residents of the Township, but stressed that living in the Township has different needs, with Swinger noting that Township residents are responsible for their own water and septic systems as well as for arranging their own trash removal and electric connection.

Hollister noted that the Township offers services to both villages not only through the fire-rescue department, but also through the maintenance of the Township cemeteries, roads and bridges.

Swinger, who is the only trustee candidate who lives outside the Village of Yellow Springs, was asked individually whether her job as the Village’s planning and zoning administrator presented a conflict of interest. She replied no.

“Actually, I think it’s an asset,” she said. “I have a lot of contacts. I’m aware of grants and funding opportunities. And zoning in Yellow Springs is completely separate from zoning in the township.”

In considering the impending retirement of Chief Altman, Pallotta said he favors promoting from within the department to fill the vacancy. Hollister responded that “on principal” the search needs be open to outside applications.

In the school board race, five candidates are running for three open seats. All are newcomers in seeking district office, though one, Judith Hempfling, has served on Village Council. In addition to Hempfling, a nurse, the other four are Dorothee Bouquet, an online senior lecturer in history for Purdue University; Amy Magnus, a U.S. Air Force retiree and Air Force Institute faculty member; Pam Nicodemus, a veterinary nurse who teaches at a high school career tech school; and Luisa Bieri Rios, who is on the cooperative education faculty at Antioch College.

Hempfling and Magnus are running in tandem, both in opposition to the proposed levy. Bouquet, Nicodemus and Bieri Rios are running as a slate that supports the measure.

While many questions for the BOE candidates highlighted their views on the proposed levy, the office seekers also were asked to list their non-levy priorities; describe how they would “increase transparency with the community;” and share their views on COVID-19 mandates in the schools.

In regards to other issues on their platforms, Bouquet, Magnus and Nicodemus all said they would like to shore up the district’s special education services. Magnus added that promoting “student readiness” also is important to her, especially as the district works on recovering academic losses related to the pandemic. 

Nicodemus noted her involvement in supporting LGBTQ-plus youth at the career tech school where she teaches, a focus she would bring to her role as a YS school board member.

Hempfling said she wants to increase community engagement and board discussions during school board meetings.

Bouquet and Bieri Rios both spoke about providing more staff support and development, and Bieri Rios added that she is interested in curriculum development as well, but does not “support teaching to the tests.”

The candidates appeared to agree that the school board would benefit from greater transparency.

Bouquet suggested that the minutes include more detail about board discussions and community comments, and that comments be heard not only at the beginning of meetings, but also at the end. She also thinks that allowing online comments by residents logging onto the YouTube livestream would foster more engagement from people unable to attend meetings in-person.

Hempfling reiterated her desire to allow more time and opportunities for community members to comment during meetings, as is done by the Village Council; and that board members work out more of their business in a public setting as opposed to executive session.

Bieri Rios didn’t address board transparency directly, but said she is “a person who values being in dialogue with my neighbors and colleagues.”

Concerning a question about COVID-19 mandates, all the candidates agreed with the mitigation efforts taken by the district and want the schools to remain proactive in following CDC guidelines.

One levy-related question asked the candidates to share what actions they planned to take should the measure fail.

“We need to keep having a conversation,” Bouquet said, adding that “educating the community [about] what a school district can and cannot do” is also important.

Magnus, who said she anticipates that the levy will be defeated, also called for continuing a community discussion.

“We’re going to get out there and we’re going to talk to each other,” she said. But paramount to the success of those conversations, “we’re going to have to rebuild trust,” she added.

Hempfling said she would look to what other school districts have done in taking a phased renovation approach and bring in engineers and planners with creative ideas that match Yellow Springs’ values.

“We need help putting together the plan,” she said.

Contrary to Magnus’ levy expectations, Bieri Rios and Nicodemus each said they anticipate the measure to pass.

Village Council candidates present for the second Candidates Night on Wednesday, Oct. 20, were, from left, Scott Osterholm, Lindsay Burke, Issa Walker, Brian Housh, Kevin Stokes, Laura Curliss and Carmen (Lee) Brown. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)


Audience members attending the candidates night sponsored by the James A. McKee Association on Oct. 20 were introduced to a new ground rule: Refrain from applause and verbal responses. This rule was instituted after some attendees of the previous night’s candidates event clapped loudly in support of some candidates, while heckling and booing others during the school board candidates’ portion. 

Please refrain from applause and verbal response so that the YS News article can say, ‘Wednesday night was superbly polite,’ forum moderator Fred Bartenstein joked to the audience of about 75 people.

The News confirms that the audience did adhere to the new rule.   

Incumbent Mayor Pam Conine emphasized being a visible and active mayor during her tenure, including as part of the leadership team charged with responding to numerous community needs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Conine reported that during her term as mayor, she has married 104 couples, written 77 mayoral proclamations and overseen 68 mayor’s court proceedings with a built-in restorative justice framework. According to Conine, the YS mayor’s court is being recognized as a model court for other municipalities. A retired school teacher, Conine added an education component to her platform through civic engagement with the local schools that includes tutoring children — though some of those efforts are on hiatus given the ongoing COVID pandemic.

    There were no audience questions for the mayor after her presentation. 

Each of the seven candidates running for Council were given up to five minutes to introduce themselves and their platforms to the community. Audience questions written on index cards were read aloud by moderator Fred Bartenstein, and candidates were allotted one-minute response times.

Carmen Lee [on ballot as Carmen Brown]

Lee’s family has been in the YS community for 160 years. According to Lee, she’s seen a lot of changes over the years, and as a first-time candidate for Village Council, one of the reasons she decided to run is to improve civil discourse.

The thing I’ve seen the most is kind of a moving away from civil discourse, and being able to have conversations with our neighbors and other community members — including members of our Village government — without it kind of deteriorating into something that is unmanageable,” Lee said.

Lee said she also wants to expand representation on Council and offered herself as a voice “for people who live at or below federal poverty level.”

Lindsay Burke

First-time Council candidate Lindsay Burke is a co-owner of Ink Art Collective, along with artist Pierre Nagley. Burke has lived and worked in the Yellow Springs community for 12 years. 

A single parent of a Mills Lawn student, Burke told the audience that, if elected, she would bring a different perspective to Council. 

If I were elected today, I’d be the youngest member of Council by 20 years, I’d be the only person with a child in the Yellow Springs schools, I’d be the only local business owner,” Burke said.   

Burke said she wants to prioritize resolving affordability issues in Yellow Springs, the expansion of decent rental accommodations and multi-family housing.

Laura Curliss

Incumbent Laura Curliss is completing her first term as a member of Village Council and is a 10-year resident of the village. A former Village manager, Curliss is an attorney who worked for many years as a mayor’s assistant in another Ohio community and as a prosecutor.

If reelected, Curliss will focus on justice system reform in Yellow Springs and is a citizen review board, or CRB, advocate. 

One important change, if we can right-size it for this community, is citizen review or overview of law enforcement, having a citizen review board,” Curliss said.

Curliss would also like to improve basic infrastructure like sewer and stormwater systems, and is the only candidate to publicly support the grassroots organization Citizens for Mills Lawn Greenspace, whose members want to see greenspace on the school’s campus permanently preserved. Curliss said she would also continue work to improve affordability in Yellow Springs. 

Brian Housh

Incumbent Brian Housh is currently serving as Village Council president in a second term as a member of Council. He has an environmental law degree, and also has a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on finance and entrepreneurship. Housh helped establish speech and debate teams for both the middle and high schools, and continues to serve as a debate coach.

During his presentation, Housh said he’d continue to prioritize smart economic development in the community, and continue his efforts to add more jobs in the Village. He pointed to  Cresco, the medical marijuana company that built a facility in the community in 2018, and who recently announced they were bringing 85 additional jobs to the town.

“[Cresco] is a great example of bringing great jobs to the village and as a company, this is a good fit,” Housh said.

He said he also wants to continue his Council work to improve social, economic and racial justice in the community, and address affordability issues for village residents, acknowledging that for many people, Yellow Springs is not affordable.

Scott Osterholm

Scott Osterholm, who once ran for Council in the early 1990s, moved to Yellow Springs from Bentonville, Ark., in 1987 when he was a teenager. 

“Yellow Springs woke me up,” Osterholm said, referencing his awareness of racism when he moved to a more diverse community than the one he’d lived in before.

Osterholm returned to the village in 2014 to live closer to his son, having lived for 15 years in South Carolina working as a stained glass restorer. Now a truck driver, Osterholm resolved to reacquaint himself with the village when he moved back, concerned about the changes in the community. Osterholm has served on various Village committees and commissions, becoming an HRC alternate, participating on the Village Manager search committee in 2019 and as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals. Currently, he is a member of the Village search committee to find a new police chief.

During his presentation, Osterholm said increasing Section 8 housing options, and adding new pocket neighborhoods with affordable housing options would be his priorities if elected to Council. He offered a personal anecdote on the difficulty of securing housing in Yellow Springs as an example of the need. 

“I had a friend who had a Section 8 housing [voucher] — the whole kit and caboodle — and no one would take her,” Osterholm said.

Kevin Stokes

Nearing the end of his first term as a member of Council, incumbent Kevin Stokes is director of facilities and technology for Antioch College. 

Stokes told the audience that he is a community liaison or serving member on a number of commissions and community organizations including the HRC, Housing Advisory Board, Residential Solar Taskforce, Municipal Broadband Advisory Committee, The Little Art Theatre board of trustees, the Greene County Public Library board of trustees, and the YSDC.  Stokes also represented the Village in organizing one of the Juneteenth celebrations in the village last June.

I am all in. I enjoy living, working, serving and playing in Yellow Springs,” Stokes said. 

During his presentation, Stokes placed emphasis on improving Village infrastructure and furthering economic development options to alleviate affordability burdens on village residents.  He also spotlighted his involvement with Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs under the auspices of YS Home, Inc., and his efforts to curtail the effects of transient guest lodging in the village in an effort to increase affordable housing.

Issa Walker

Issa Walker has lived in Yellow Springs all his life. This is his first run for Council. He attended and graduated from Yellow Springs schools. Walker then attended Central State University and has a master’s degree in public health from Wright State University. Walker is also a hip-hop artist who has performed locally and on the national stage.

 Walker said he wants to bring more cultural currency to Yellow Springs through diversity, and sees better and more affordable housing as one of the solutions.

 “We need better housing for younger families,” he said. “We also need to improve the condition of housing that is already in existence in the village. We need apartment complexes for lower income people as a better option than the Oberer Development, which will only further gentrify our community.”

Walker also supports the Village establishing a citizen review board and wants the Village to hire a police chief that would commit to living in the community. He also supports community broadband efforts that aid local businesses in the downtown area.

The News will offer more detailed comparison and analysis of responses to questions asked by the community in its upcoming issue on Oct. 28. 

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