Five candidates seek Ironton mayor post

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 29, 2007

The Nov. 6 election is around the corner. Here’s a rundown of the five candidates vying for Ironton mayor.

Leonard Battise

Battise, 55, is a lifelong Ironton resident and this year’s only write-in candidate.

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He said he is not big on making promises, but wants to see things done to make the city a better place to live.

“I’ve seen Ironton go downhill since 1974. No one particular person is at fault. But we need leadership to bring people together,” Battise said.

Battise said Ironton is a beautiful place and one of the things that makes the city so special is its people. He said when people unite and work toward the same goals, good things can happen.

He said one of the things that has hindered growth in the past is division among groups.

“People power, not corporate power,” he said. “We can do a lot more together than any one person.”

Battise expressed a sentiment that many have expressed recently: residents and leaders need to make a concerted effort to clean up the city.

Battise said if elected he will consider the needs of everyone and not just a select group of people.

“People are leaving Ironton,” he said. “We must put people before we do anything else.”

Battise said he is worried about the number of taxes city residents must pay now and how that burden affects them.

“You can only tax people so far. West Virginia is finding that out,” he said. “Their people are moving to Proctorville and Rome to escape the taxes.”

Rich Blankenship

Rich Blankenship has been on the Ironton City Council two years. He is a Children’s Services caseworker for Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Blankenship said one of the main problems facing the city now is that previous councils and mayors have not dealt with issues when they arose, but instead passed them off year after year without action.

Now, because of state and federal orders, such items as the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) plan must be enacted and with great cost and aggravation to city residents.

Job creation is another issue at the top of Blankenship’s list. If elected he wants to more aggressively market the city to new business and industry, using the Internet and trade shows. He said he has already met with a couple of potential newcomers to tout what Ironton has to offer.

A third issue is the city’s budget. Blankenship said he wants to get expenditures under control.

“We should be buying what is needed and not what is wanted,” Blankenship said. “I’d like to evaluate every department. I want to sit down with department heads and with employees — these are the people who are out there working and could probably tell us a lot — and see what we can do to make each department more cost-effective.”

Another problem Blankenship sees is overall cleanliness and the number of abandoned and blighted properties. He said he would like to see city codes better enforced and more done about blighted properties.

“I just went door to door (campaigning) and this is one of the things I heard a lot,” he said.

Blankenship said the construction of the new Ironton-Russell Bridge is imperative to the city’s future and the citizenry should rally together and lobby Columbus as a whole to get funding needed to build the bridge.

Blankenship said he wants to bring people together and unite behind the common goal of making Ironton a better place to live. He said he wants to enlist the help of volunteer groups, such as the Ironton Port Authority and other citizens.

Walt Butler

Butler, 61, is a businessman, veteran and a lifelong city resident.

He said he could bring some new ideas that perhaps the city has not tried and that may help.

He said he would like to see a greater push made to market the city to outside entities that may be looking for a new location for a business or industry.

Butler said he would like to see the city pursue the use of bio-diesel in the diesel vehicles it owns.

“I don’t know that the city has a lot of diesel vehicles but we could save some money there,” he said. He said he would also work to cut any fat from the budget, but understands some areas are already skeletal as it is.

“The police department is understaffed, I know that,” he said. “But I need to find out how things are going before I can see what needs to be done.”

He said he would also like to have a good working relationship with the city council.

“A city can’t be run by just one person,” he said.

Bob Cleary

Bob Cleary is both a former and current city councilman and former mayor. He is also a businessman.

Cleary said the budget is one of his main concerns.

“We’re constantly adding more fees to the water bill,” he said. “We have the municipal fee, the CSO fee, although I have been successful in getting that reduced. When you go adding fees on the water bill, well, right now, even if you don’t use a drop of water, your water bill is going to be about $43. This just makes it tough on the citizens.”

Cleary said if elected, he would keep a closer watch on spending in order to keep the budget in line with city revenues.

“The current administration is spending as though there was an endless supply of it,” he said. “This is what drives utility bills up.”

Cleary said he would like to see the city more aggressively pursue grants to pay for some projects such as the CSO, thus reducing the need to hike fees.

Like Blankenship, he would like to see a cleaner city. He said he would like to see better enforcement of city codes.

“I think we’ve done a fair job of removing dilapidated properties, but I would like to see more money put into this. I want to see it beefed up,” Cleary said. “When a house is burned out we don’t need to wait two years before it’s torn down.”

Cleary said city services such as water, sewer and trash collections should pay for themselves.

Cleary said he wants to require contractors that do work in the city buy a city license and then pay the city income tax, just like hometown businesses are required to do.

“If an outside contractor from, say Ashland or Huntington comes here, builds a new house, they should pay for a license to work in the city,” he said. “… I think we missed the boat on the library but my plan is to make sure we don’t miss the boat on the school projects.”

Cleary said he would like to see 30-40 or more accompany him to Columbus to demand funds for the new bridge.

Cleary said he would like to see a jetty built on the riverfront to accommodate larger boats and barges that seek a place to stop, load and unload. He said he would also like to see a water park built as recreation and as a lure to bring visitors to Ironton.

Bob Vaughn

Vaughn, 51, is a school board member and former city councilman.

He is emphatic that the most important issue facing Ironton is the lack of jobs.

That, he said, affects every other issue, such as quality of life, cleanliness and the amount of fees and taxes the city assesses to pay for necessary services.

“There are so many people who are moving out of town because they can’t afford all the fees,” he said. “But the problem is, we don’t have enough jobs (bringing in tax dollars) to run the city.”

He said if elected mayor, he promises to be a strong mayor who will work to bring new jobs to town.

“You can’t sit back and wait for them to come to you, that won’t happen,” Vaughn said. “You have to go after them. You look at Batavia, they went after Ford, and the Jackson area, what they have there. If you’re the mayor, you can’t sit on your la-la. You have to know how to talk to them, how to speak their language and how to make them want to come here.”

He said he is willing to work with the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. or any other entity that is willing to help turn the tide and improve the city’s economy.

Vaughn said the lack of jobs has caused the young people that Ironton has educated and nurtured over the years to look for employment elsewhere, something he wants to see changed.

“You know what the average age in this city is? It is 48,” he said. “They grow up here and then they leave. Right now we have 130 houses in Ironton that are for sale. We need new jobs, and by that I mean jobs that people can live on.”

He said he would like to see a greater push to clean up the city and is also concerned about illegal drug use — two other issues that stem from high unemployment.

And what will it take to build that bridge? Vaughn said it will take a caravan of screaming people going to Columbus and demand action. He said the bridge is key to the city’s future and its economic development.