Hopefuls attend forum

Published 11:22 am Friday, September 26, 2008

It was an opportunity for voters to meet the people they will vote for in November.

The Meet the Candidates forum, sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Burlington, was Thursday night at the Sybene Senior Center.

Most of the candidates running for countywide office and two candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives offered their qualifications for the job and fielded a few questions from the audience.

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Republican candidate Kurt Hofmann told the Sybene audience his experience as a family physician and as deputy Lawrence County Coroner for five years are among his qualifications for the coroner’s post.

Hofmann has also served on the child fatality review board, a post that has brought him into contact with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, an entity with which he would work closely if he is elected coroner.

Hofmann was recruited to the area several years ago to serve the old Lawrence County General Hospital and said moving to his adopted home was “a rich and rewarding experience.”

He is now acting as coroner after the retirement of Dr. Burton Payne.

Portia Canos, the Democratic candidate for coroner, said she is often asked why she wants such a job.

“And I reply, ‘Why not?’ The job of coroner is right down my alley.”

Canos is a family physician with a specialty in pathology — a field of medicine that includes the study of cause of death as well as determination of disease. She has performed autopsies in the past.

Canos promised to take the job seriously and serve Lawrence County with compassion and integrity.

House of Representatives, 87th District

Incumbent Republican Clyde Evans said his experience and successes in the statehouse are the main reasons people should return him to office in November.

Evans is a member of the house finance, agriculture and education committees as well as the financial institution and securities committee.

He is vice-chair for the sub-committee on higher education. Evans said education and job creation are his key concerns.

“I am passionate about developing jobs for working people,” he said. “There is nothing greater I can do than develop jobs.”

His opponent, Democrat Shane Meldick, said he is a sixth generation farmer, truck driver, father of seven and “common man.” He pledged to make the people’s interests his top priority.

“I don’t represent Columbus, I don’t represent the party, I represent you,” he said.

He described himself as a hard worker who would work closely with local officials if elected and said education was one of his main concerns.

Ohio Supreme Court

Chesapeake attorney Brenda Neville spoke on behalf of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton, who is seeking re-election. Neville said Stratton was the first woman elected judge in Franklin County and quickly earned the nickname “velvet hammer” because of her firmness in dealing with criminals. Neville described Stratton as “fair-minded” with a lot of integrity. She touted her work to promote adoption and her advocacy in the field of mental illness. Neville said Stratton believes in the judicial branch of government interpreting the law and allowing the legislative branch to create the law.

County Commission

Incumbent Republican Jason Stephens said when he was first elected eight years ago, he promised to focus on developing the economy, improving the county and strengthening the community. He said he has done that and much of the proof is in Lawrence County’s unemployment figures.

For the past several years, Lawrence County has had one of the best jobless rates in the state.

“There are 4,000 more Lawrence County residents with jobs than there were seven years ago when I took office,” Stephens said. He said as many as 3,000 are projected to materialize in the future.

He pointed to the new TTA bus system as another plus during his years in office, as well as the creation of the Lawrence County Port Authority, one of the county’s job creation entities.

He also touted efforts to make government operate more efficiently, such as the move a few years ago to combine the floodplain management, 911 dressing and soil and water conservation offices into a single entity.

Stephens said he is also active in the development of the Eastern Lawrence County Youth Soccer League.

His opponent, Democrat Wayne Pennington, said while the area has had low unemployment rates in the past several years, part of the reason for those figures could be that some people gave up looking for work or simply moved out of the area to find work elsewhere. He said while it is important to attract new business and industry, it is just as important to work with and strengthen businesses that are already here.

“We need to build on the businesses we have,” he said.

Pennington said he wanted to make government more transparent and would like to work more closely with other elected officials. He was emphatic is saying he was not in favor of raising taxes as a way of solving the county’s financial problems.

County Commission

Republican Les Boggs touted his experience as a business owner as one of his greatest strengths.

“I’m proud to be one of the people who has created jobs in Lawrence County,” he said.

He said he has a job creation program. Though he did not share it during the forum, he said he is willing to talk to people about it afterward.

As clerk of courts, Boggs said he has made several significant improvements. One of them was the replacement of an outdated computer system.

Boggs also touted his plan to save the county money by switching the health insurance carrier for county employees, a move he said would save $800,000.

Boggs is challenging incumbent Democrat Tanner Heaberlin, who pledged to continue his role as “watchdog” of county finances and practices and to have more budget meetings to keep watch on expenditures.

“We must increase communication between the offices,” he said. “Sometimes it seems the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

Though he has been in office a little more than a year, Heaberlin said he has repeatedly pushed for transparency in government. He also pushed to move commission meeting times to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, making meetings more open to the working public, pushed to have county commission job postings advertised in the local newspapers, making it easier for the job hunting public to learn about and apply for them.

Heaberlin also pledged to continue asking tough questions that need to be answered.

As for job growth, Heaberlin said the recent announcements about Chatham Steel and Merciers and the groundbreaking on the new Comfort Inn and Suites are signs things are improving.

Clerk of courts

Republican Cheyrl Jenkins said her experience in both management and record keeping make her the obvious choice for clerk of courts and are the chief reasons she should be elected in November.

“We deserve people who are qualified,” she said. “No corporation would hire people to do jobs they are not qualified for.”

Jenkins is the Rome Township fiscal officer and worked 21 years in various positions at Ashland Oil, Inc., including government relations office manager, senior marketing representative and contact administrator. She has a B.A. degree in business management from Marshall University. She is active in her church and with Operation TLC.

Democrat Mike Patterson is also seeking that office. Patterson said he is a hard worker who, if elected, will devote his time to one job, that of clerk of courts.

“I will be a full-time clerk,” he said.

He scotched a rumor that it is illegal for him to run for office since he is a county employee by passing out copies of a waiver signed by both union and Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services officials. Patterson is employed at the JFS office.


Republican Jeff Lawless told the audience at Sybene he has 22 years of experience in law enforcement, both as a federal officer and a county one. For eight years, he was a member of the SWAT team at the uranium enrichment facility in Piketon. For the rest of that time, he has held “nearly every job at the sheriff’s office,” including dispatcher, corrections officer and deputy. Lawless is both Lawrence County Jail administrator and sheriff’s office chief deputy, positions he has held simultaneously for the past seven years.

“The office of sheriff is vitally important to the welfare of this county,” he said. “It should not be turned over to just anybody.”

Lawless also discussed his other job at the sheriff’s office: getting grants to keep deputies on the road and to protect and educate citizens in spite of the county’s budget woes.

Lawless pledged to serve all of Lawrence County and use the office’s resources to maximum potential to offset its manpower limitations. He also pledged to continue the office’s drug abuse education and prevention programs and work closely with the community.

Lawless recently received unanimous endorsement from both the union at the sheriff’s office and AFSCME 3319.

Independent sheriff’s candidate Russell Bennett did not attend the meeting but did send a representative, Noah Simpkins.

Simpkins said Bennett would work with the community to get rid of thieves and drug dealers and has a plan to put more officers on the streets. He said Bennett has been in law enforcement 26 years and is chief of the Chesapeake Police Department.

“He is deeply devoted to this county,” Simpkins said.

Simpkins said Bennett pledged to be proactive in fighting crime.


There are three people running for county recorder, the incumbent Republican, Sharon Gossett Hager, Democrat Susan Sheridan and Independent candidate John Ater.

Gossett Hager described herself as a “hands-on recorder” who has been diligent in trimming costs to meet spending mandates and has managed to provide good service in spite of having eliminated two positions over the past two years.

She also said she has sought to modernize the office with a new high tech computer system that has increased efficiency.

Gossett Hager said she has always considered herself a public servant who represents all of the people.

“I hope you place that trust in me again,” she said. “I would appreciate the opportunity to serve you. It’s been amazing.”

Democrat Susan Sheridan is a college instructor and former school teacher who said record-keeping is right up her alley. She said the role of recorder requires someone with an eye for details and someone once joked there is no one better prepared for such a role as “an English teacher with a red pen.”

Though this is her first time seeking elective office in her own right, she has worked behind the scenes for other campaigns in the past.

Sheridan has worked as a youth counselor, high school teacher and taught on the college level. She said she was on the committee that created the Ironton Education Association that represents the city district’s teachers today.

She said her two biggest strengths are honesty and integrity.

While Sheridan said she was impressed by Gossett Hager’s work, it was Ater, a former GOP member, who credited Democrat Commissioner Tanner Heaberlin with inspiring him to run for office. Ater said when he saw how the 20-something first-time officeseeker Heaberlin came within 600 votes of unseating veteran auditor Ray T. Dutey two years ago, Ater decided to seek elective office himself.

Ater said he decided to leave the Republican party because of “corruption.”

“Most people in Lawrence County have had enough,” he said.

He pledged, if elected, to make government more transparent.

Ater said he obtained a B.A. degree from Ohio University in 1977. A master’s degree followed that. He has worked for two Fortune 500 companies.


Republican rival Perry Brock pledged to work with Lawrence Countians if he is elected treasurer in November, especially those facing tough economic times having trouble paying their taxes.

“We need to work with people to help them pay their taxes,” he said.

Brock offered his service as a township trustee, state fair commission and county fair board as qualifications for the job.

Incumbent Democrat Stephen Dale Burcham said he views his job as county treasurer as, in essence, custodianship of county resources.

“It’s really your office,” he said.

In the past four years, Burcham said he has worked to make paying taxes more convenient by allowing people to make their payments at various local banks. Burcham said he has also worked with delinquent taxpayers by establishing a payment plan and worked to maximize county investments. He said he has also worked to collect every dollar that is due the county.

“We collected $21 million this year and that is twice the amount we collected seven years ago,” he said.

He said he has also brought on line a new computer system to increase efficiency.