Voters to choose three councilmen

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

It is guaranteed that the Ironton City Council will have at least one new face after Tuesday's election. The real question is exactly how many n ewcomers?

Three council seats are up for grabs. Current council members Jesse Roberts and Richard Price are seeking reelection to another four-year term, but will have to face challengers Charlie Kouns, the retired city health commissioner and Chuck O'Leary, the branch manager of the Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library.

Jesse Roberts, 42, is finishing his eighth year on council and said he would like to continue to work for the residents to make Ironton a "place of choice."

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"I think the big thing is people are wanting that four letter word that I can't stand - jobs," he said. "What we need is economic development. Economic development is not just about getting jobs in here. It is about making things happen so that people want to come here."

Roberts cited ongoing projects like the South Ironton Industrial Park and service improvements such as the water tank replacement as sign of progress. He emphasized that the challenge ahead is to continue to develop infrastructure, services and community spirit, while still working under a tight budget.

By properly utilizing the workforce and educational institutions such as Collins Career Center and Ohio University Southern, the city can continue to develop its property in partnership with the community and entities such as the port authority.

"I think the port authority is the tool of the future for Ironton," Roberts said. "It is what makes things happen."

A big challenge for the city is to restore the community spirit and get the people who care to come out and show it, he said.

If he could talk to the voters, Roberts said he would say that his goal is to try and make Ironton better, and would make two points.

"One, I am committed. Obviously, spending eight years (on council) takes a lot of time away from my family, but I am committed because of my family," he said.

"Second, I am not afraid to make the tough decisions. I have proven that over eight years. It may not always be popular, but I have no agenda and have tried to make honest decisions that benefit all the residents."

Richard Price, 46, was appointed in 2000 to serve part of former Councilman Joe Black's term. In 2001, he was elected by the voters to serve the final two years of Black's term.

Accomplishments Price said he is proud of include fighting for the community's rights to have the same cable television choices as Portsmouth, drafting legislation that imposed fines for businesses and home owners whose alarm systems go off needlessly and waste valuable time and money by tying up emergency workers and also adding a regulator clause to a wastewater rate increase that would keep the increase from going into effect if the fund was self-sufficient, which it was in 2002.

"Look at my record. Look at what I have done," he said. "If you don't think I can help the city then vote for the (candidate) that you do. That is the important part."

Price said he is also excited about ongoing projects such as the water tank replacement and the addition of the industrial park.

To continue to add to Ironton's appeal and small-town charm, he said he would continue to promote the quality workforce, he would like to see an outdoor amphitheatre built and see more money put into the quality of life services such as the police, fire and street departments.

Some voters may not be as familiar with Price's name as they are with some of the other candidates because he does not put up political signs or go over the top with advertising, he said.

"I think the voters need to listen to what the candidates say. I have never put a political sign in my yard," he said. "I think they are ugly and I wouldn't ask someone else to put one in theirs. I think it will be a shame if a person wins the race because they have the most signs."

If reelected, Price said he would continue to work as hard as he can for the city's best interests.

"I think we are headed in the right direction," he said. "Whether I am on council or not, I hope we can continue to work together even more than we have in the past."

Though he is a newcomer to politics, 51-year-old Chuck O'Leary has a master's degree in public administration and has worked in management positions at Kroger, Matlack, River Valley Health Systems and the Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library.

O'Leary said the continued decline of the city and the lack of accountability by elected officials is what made him want to throw his hat in the ring.

"I have worked many places in Ironton as I grew up. Three of them have left," he said. "That really bored into me. We elect people, but we don't hold them accountable. We need to hammer away on them every day."

After years of hearing that the city is ready "to turn the corner," O'Leary said he grew tired of the rhetoric and often wondered how big that corner must be. He emphasized that changes start with the leadership.

"You can't just go down there for two hours a month and get anything done," he said. "You have to put in the time and I am willing to do that."

Citing Wheelersburg as an example, O'Leary said that attracting several small employers and increasing access to the downtown is the key to developing the community.

"Small business right now is the key to building business in Ironton," he said. "If you have 15 employers that will hire 20 people, that creates 300 jobs not tied to one company."

Much like raising a child, it is important to build a solid foundation, he said. He also said that if he can't make a difference in the next four years, he will not run again.

"I think the creativity and vision is gone from Ironton," he said. "Vision is something I am strong in. I can see an old car as it would be when restored."

Charlie Kouns retired earlier this year after nearly 41 years as registered sanitarian and health commissioner for the City Health Department. He said his experience working with city government would be a tremendous tool that he can use for the community.

"Number one, I am not obligated to anyone. The experience I have had working for the city for 40 years and seven months helps me to know the city from one end to the other," he said. "I know all its problems."

Kouns said he would promote a team effort and try to show business and industry that Ironton has a quality workforce. He added that economic development is moving forward, but it takes

community support.

"I think (hiring Matt Ward as the city's economic development director) is a step in the right direction," he said. "But every councilman, every citizen, needs to be a recruiter. If someone hears about something that could be good for the town, they should bring it to the attention of the powers that be."

The 65-year-old outlined several things that he would like to see the city focus on, including a drainage problem in the north end of town, surface water problems in Green Valley, moving the building department under the board of health and restoring the marina on Storms Creek.

While Ironton needs to use its access by rail and river as incentives to attract business, the city also needs to "look at the big picture" and utilize the entire Tri-State and consider manufacturing a product such as tractor-trailers since the resources are available from nearby companies, he said.

"We have to see what you have at hand and see what you can do with that," he said.

After his 40 years at the health department, Kouns said he learned a lesson that may benefit him in politics.

"When you work for the public, you must realize that you are not going to satisfy everybody," he said. "When you try to, you are not going to satisfy anybody."