Council candidates impress those at forum

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2003

Voters walked away from Thursday's "Meet the Candidates" forum saying they were optimistic about the choices for the Ironton City Council.

With three seats available in the November election, incumbents Richard Price and Jesse Roberts took the stage with newcomer Chuck O'Leary. Charles Kouns, the fourth candidate in the race, was unable to attend the public forum at Ohio University Southern because a previously scheduled commitment to be out of town.

All three candidates present outlined their personal backgrounds before answering questions submitted by the audience of nearly 200 people at the event sponsored by the Ironton Co-Operative Club.

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Many Ironton residents said they liked what they heard, but most agreed that it is still too soon to judge anyone.

John Fryling moved to Ironton three years ago and basically entered the meeting with a clean slate. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about each candidate.

"Frankly, I think they were all three very good," he said. "I think O'Leary had some good ideas. He is the new guy on the block. There is a good possibility that he could add some new blood. I thought they all came up with some good ideas."

Other voters have been around a bit longer, but still tried to be as objective as possible.

"I thought they all did a good job and had some good answers," Merril Triplett, 67, said. "I thought Jesse Roberts stood out as a leader. He has been on council for eight years and I think he will continue to look out for the city."

Price won over several audience members with his candid comments - asking them to vote for whom they believed was the best candidate, even if that wasn't him.

Each candidate opened by outlining what he hoped to accomplish if elected.

O'Leary, the 51-year-old branch manager at Briggs Lawrence County Library and a political newcomer, said that he was motivated to run because he has seen the economy continue to slip. If elected, he said he would focus on a business plan for the future and invest in business training to keep the youth of Lawrence County at home.

"The leadership must roll up their sleeves and make things happen," he said.

Price, a 46-year-old machinist for CSX and current council member with three years experience, thanked those in attendance for caring enough about the future to attend. He said he will continue to be dedicated to the community.

"I strive to prepare myself for the issues before council - to make the best decisions possible," he said.

Roberts, a 42-year-old workshop director at Tri-State Industries Inc., with eight years on council, said he believes he has represented the community well during his tenure. He said he hopes to continue to do so and is looking forward to raising his children in the city.

"Through vision, we have tried to create opportunities through the down turn in economic times.. . ." Roberts said. "In the past couple of years, we have been turning the corner."

With Bob Smith as moderator, the audience asked a variety of questions, most of which focused on how the candidates would promote job creation, economic development and maintain basic services without raising fees or taxes.

O'Leary said that his biggest asset is his creativity and motivation. He discussed the importance of revitalizing downtown and generating revenue. He said he would focus on bringing in new jobs by starting with small employers.

After years of waiting for it to happen, a more proactive approach is needed, he said.

"We need to try to cure the disease instead of Band-aid the symptoms," O'Leary said. "We need to set the goals, set up timetables and the public should hold us accountable."

O'Leary added that it is important to find the right candidates when it comes to tenants for the South Ironton Industrial Park and to create a clear economic development plan.

Price emphasized that it is one thing to talk about economic development and another to do it. The first step is to make the city appealing to businesses by providing basic infrastructure such as good streets and signs.

"It is easy to say jobs are the answer. If you look across the U.S. every community would say they need more jobs," Price said. "I believe in the last three years we have set a path towards that."

For developing the industrial park, Price said it is important to look for industry that could supply the most jobs in the available space.

Roberts agreed overall but said that the main challenge goes beyond just attracting jobs and requires providing quality services such as clean streets, good water and quality police and fire protection.

"I think we need to quit saying jobs and say economic development," he said. "Economic development will be what leads us into the future."

The development of the industrial park was also something that Roberts said is key to the economic future of the city but that it is still important to maintain smart money management and a team approach.

All the candidates agreed that the creation of a port authority can be a positive tool for the community and that the riverfront needs to be further developed.

The entire "Meet the Candidates" forum will be aired on OKTV channel 25 several times next week. The forums will broadcast at 7 p.m. Monday and at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.