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Apr
24
2024
Elections

Village Council candidates present at the Candidates Night on Thursday, Oct. 19, were, from left, Gavin DeVore Leonard, Trish Gustafson, Scott Osterholm and Carmen Brown. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

2023 General Election | Candidates sound off at local forum

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By Lauren “Chuck” Shows and Reilly Dixon

On Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 18 and 19, the James A. McKee Association held its traditional Candidates Night Forum events in the Mills Lawn gym in anticipation of the upcoming Nov. 7 election.

The Wednesday night event featured candidates for the local school board, facilitated by Fred Bartenstein; on Thursday night, Village Council and Township fiscal officer candidates were highlighted, with the evening facilitated by Jerry Sutton.

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On both nights, the 100-plus folding chairs in the gym were full with local residents, who watched as candidates spoke for five minutes each, introducing themselves and their platforms. Following introductions, candidates responded to questions written by those present in the audience.

The James A. McKee Association, 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.

School board

Running for two open seats on the Board of Education this election are four candidates: Amy (Cordova) Bailey, Patricia Peters, Rebecca Potter and Kim Reichelderfer.

The upcoming school facilities levy was a primary topic of discussion during the Oct. 18 event, both in the candidates’ opening remarks and in the questions that followed.

All four candidates referenced school facilities in their remarks, with Bailey, Peters and Reichelderfer citing facilities as a top priority. Peters pointed to the district’s recently adopted 2023–26 strategic plan: “Goal three [of the plan] states that we will provide a safe, comfortable and accessible learning environment to instill pride and inspire current and future educational excellence,” she said.

When asked, Bailey, Peters and Reichelderfer said they support the upcoming levy, with Peters citing her experience as a public school teacher, including at the former Morgan Middle School, in stating that the current state of the schools is “not standard for the staff, the teachers and the students.”

Potter said that, though she wants to see a levy passed and acknowledges the need for addressing school facilities, she prefers to remain neutral on the ballot issue during her campaign.

Candidates also responded to a follow-up question that asked whether they would welcome community feedback in the event that the upcoming school facilities levy does not pass.  Reichelderfer said that community feedback is important to a school board and that, if the levy does not pass, she will be “committed to listening to the community even further.” Potter agreed, adding that, if the levy is voted down, “the community people who say ‘no’ will have to start saying ‘yes.’”

“‘What will you pass?’ That’s the question I would bring to the community,” Potter said.

Bailey and Peters acknowledged the volume of community feedback that has already gone into the discussion of school facilities thus far, with Bailey noting that 97 meetings have centered on discussion of school facilities over the last five years.

“So many options were on the table during this compromise and consensus time that I think [school facilities have] been talked and talked and talked,” Peters added.

Candidates were also asked to speak to what the relationship should be between the superintendent and the school board.

“The superintendent reports to the school board,” Bailey answered, and added that the school board acts as a collective body.

“I do believe that a healthy relationship between school board members and the superintendent will produce the best outcome for our entire community,” Bailey said, spurring agreement from the other candidates.

Only one question was directed toward a specific candidate — in this case, to Potter, about her tenure with the Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice, which reopened in August after a six-month closure and the furlough of 30 staff members: “How were hundreds of thousands of dollars mismanaged under you, and can we trust you with millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money as a school board member?”

“Fair enough,” Potter said, but noted that her tenure as vice president of Agraria’s board of directors began in January this year — just before the board asked Agraria’s treasurer to resign the following month after finding that the nonprofit could no longer afford to pay its staff, saying that the experience taught her how to “hold people accountable.” She added that, in the months following Agraria’s closure, the board had raised more than $750,000 to stabilize the nonprofit.

“I had a leading role in that, and I could perhaps bring that experience to the school board,” Potter said.

The candidates also spoke on the accessibility of contraceptives in the schools when one audience member question noted that free condoms are available in the guidance counselor’s office, asking whether the candidates believed that contraceptive pills be made available as well.

“As a mother to three girls, I believe 100% they should have that choice,” Reichelderfer responded, to agreement from the other candidates onstage.

Potter added that the question highlighted the need to “stay strong as a district protecting those rights,” echoing a statement she made in her opening remarks that school board members should act as a “bulwark against some of the changes that our state Legislature is proposing.”

A second part to the same question asked whether contraceptives would be available to younger students if the upcoming school facilities levy is passed, and fifth and sixth grades are moved to the middle and high school campus on East Enon Road.

Bailey pointed out that, if the levy passes and the schools are reconfigured, fifth through eighth grades will be in a wing separate from the high school.

“My understanding is that we will do our best to make sure that the students have access to age-appropriate materials,” Bailey said.

“At the same time,” Reichelderfer added, “the reality is that people make their own choices, and if a student in fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth grades makes that choice, I wouldn’t necessarily condone that, but I would want them to be safe should they make that choice.”

Present at the Board of Education Candidate’s Night on Wednesday, Oct. 18, were, from left, Kim Reichelderfer, Rebecca Potter, Patricia Peters and Amy (Cordova) Bailey. (Photo by Lauren “Chuck” Shows)


Miami Township fiscal officer

Two candidates for the open Miami Township fiscal officer seat appeared on the Mills Lawn auditorium stage for the second Candidates Night Forum on Oct. 19.

Village residents Jeanna GunderKline and Benjamin Crandall are contending to succeed Margaret Silliman — who has held the Township fiscal officer position since 1999 — in the upcoming Nov. 7 general election.

As they told forum attendees, both GunderKline and Crandall bring years of budgetary and bookkeeping experience to their candidacies.

For the last decade, GunderKline has worked as a bookkeeper for a number of local organizations such as the Yellow Springs News, the Glen Helen Association, Senior Center, Little Art Theatre, YS Home, Inc. and others. In the past, Crandall has been an accountant for a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group he founded, was board treasurer for the CommonGoods Network nonprofit and, most recently, was the lead software developer for Kindista, a gift-economy social network.

Owing to both candidates’ extensive backgrounds in financial oversight for organizations both big and small, Crandall plainly admitted on Thursday that both he and GunderKline are well suited for the fiscal officer position.

“There aren’t any political decisions that this position makes,” he said. “It’s just about showing up and making sure the bills get paid; I think either of us would be qualified to do that.”

From her time working with several Yellow Springs groups, as well as talking with the outgoing Silliman, GunderKline said she believes she has developed a “good sense” of how to best “execute the fiduciary responsibilities” of the position.

“I have a wealth of experience in assisting external audits and operating payroll systems,” GunderKline said.

In the brief question-and-answer segment of their time on stage, both candidates said they were committed to improving the township’s financial transparency.

Crandall emphasized his tech background and said it would be “easy” to create a new website that would allow the public to keep track of the township’s finances; GunderKline said that upon her election, she would spend the first several months familiarizing herself with the budget and later improving online access to that information.

Another township candidate on the Nov. 7 ballot is incumbent Chris Mucher, who is running uncontested to renew his seat on the Miami Township Board of Trustees. Mucher was not present at Thursday’s forum; as moderator Jerry Sutton said, Mucher “graciously relinquished his time” to allow the Council candidates more opportunities to speak. 

Village Council

With three seats opening up on the Yellow Springs Village Council, four candidates were present on Thursday to make their case for why they are best suited to serve with the group.

Incumbents Carmen Brown and Gavin DeVore Leonard and challengers Scott Osterholm and Trish Gustafson all spent much of their time on stage talking through such issues as local housing scarcity, affordability, budgetary constraints and the impending village manager search.

Brown — who was first elected to Council in 2021, and is aiming to renew her term — invoked the need for more “work-force housing” in her opening statements.

“Apartments, apartments, apartments,” she said. “Let’s take care of that, and in doing so, we’ll be taking care of a lot of [workers] who devote their time and heart to the village.”

Osterholm — who presently serves on the Village Planning Commission and has previously been a part of past village manager and police chief search committees — also stressed the need to build additional affordable housing units in Yellow Springs. Echoing Brown, he said, “The people who work here really ought to have a chance to live here. I’m a big proponent of apartments.”

In his opening remarks, DeVore Leonard — who was appointed to fill former Council member Lisa Kreeger’s seat that she vacated in the middle of her term in 2022 — expounded on the reasons why more housing options in the village are necessary.

“We need to consciously address and think about racial diversity and how we make this a community where young people and families are interested in staying,” he said.

Newcomer to Yellow Springs politics, but a 15-year village resident, Trish Gustafson said she is most interested in fortifying the municipal budget. From her past 21 years as a human resource manager for Beavercreek Township, Gustafson said she feels equipped to bring the Village to a place of greater financial solvency.

“We need to have our annual expenditures more in line with the income,” she said.

Of the topics introduced during the Council candidate segment of the forum, the budget was the only matter of some disagreement.

While Gustafson noted that, in the last several fiscal years, Village government has weathered a number of budget deficits, Brown contended that the Village spending has leveled out, overcoming its projected $3 million deficit for 2023.

“The Village has about $11 million on-hand as of Sept. 30, 2023,” Brown said. “We’re not in a deficit anymore. There were many projects that stalled or weren’t prioritized [this year].”

Later in the forum, Council candidates addressed an audience question pertaining to how they intend to participate in the upcoming village manager search — a process that is set to begin in 2024, after Council convenes with its new members. Presently, former Public Works Director Johnnie Burns is serving as interim village manager.

“The process doesn’t have to be as big as it was the last time we did it,” Osterholm said. “It was very time consuming and cost a lot of money. But I did like how we had a group of citizens involved.”

Gustafson also stated the need for a community-based approach to appointing a permanent manager.

“In-house interviews, stakeholder interviews and interviews with the community,” she said. “It’s always interesting to see how an individual presents in front of those groups; it gives us the best picture of who they are, especially for someone from out of town.”

Bringing in more municipal revenue was another salient topic the four candidates addressed at length.

“First we need to decide what we need revenue for,” DeVore Leonard cautioned. “The premise that we need revenue is more about the big-picture affordability question. But I’d like to figure out how to get more revenue from the large number of people who visit here — [paid] parking is one of those options, but it’s not simple.”

Brown and Osterholm insisted the answer to the Village’s revenue woes may come from bringing more businesses to Yellow Springs.

“It’d be nice if we could get another industry to come in on the CBE land,” Osterholm said, referring to the 35 acres of land on the western edge of Yellow Springs, formerly known as the Center for Business and Education. “Thirty years ago, we still had the Antioch [Publishing Company], Vernay [Labs] and YSI [or Yellow Springs Instruments]. People lived here, worked here and raised their kids here. When Cresco opened its doors in 2019, it was the first industry to come here in years.”

Brown turned her attention to her initial point.

“But how do we make ourselves attractive to small businesses and tech,” Brown asked. “Sure, it’d be great if we had more businesses come to town, but we don’t have houses for anybody. We have housing for CEOs, but not for a workforce.”

Both Candidates Nights events are available to view online at http://www.youtube.com/@YellowSpringsCommunityAccess.

The YS News’ 2023 Election Guide includes biographical and platform information for each candidate, and is available for free in the News office or online at ysnews.com.

The 2023 general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7; polls will be open 6:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m.

Contact: chuck@ysnews.com, rdixon@ysnews.com

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