Who will help lead Ironton?

Published 10:35 pm Saturday, October 24, 2009

IRONTON — They usually meet in general session only twice a month and sporadically in special sessions or committee meetings. The job pays peanuts and it comes with no benefits like health insurance.

Most of their work happens at all hours of the day and, at times, in the middle of the night. Phone calls, e-mails and even personal visits inundate them from residents asking for help or assistance with a problem that affects them personally or the city as a whole.

It is a thankless job that may carry just as many frustrations as it does accomplishments. They are in essence, elected sounding boards.

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However the importance of those who serve as an Ironton City Councilperson cannot be overshadowed. They serve as the legislative body to Lawrence County’s largest city and county seat. They approve, shape and mold the foundation of the city both short- and long-term.

In 2009, the six candidates for Ironton City Council, all with a variety of ideas, visions and criticisms, are vying for only four open seats. Each seat carries a four-year term.

Those wanting the privilege to serve the city of Ironton the next four years include a trio of incumbents — Bob Cleary, Leo Johnson and Mike Lutz — and three eager challengers: Dave Frazer, Beth Rist and Hugh Scott.

All say they share the common trait that they love their city, want to see it succeed and want Ironton to be a better place to live.

Earlier this week, The Tribune collected the thoughts and goals of those seeking seats on Ironton’s legislative body.

Candidates are listed alphabetically.

Bob Cleary

Age: 59

Occupation: Business Owner, BC Tool Rental

Education: Rock Hill High School, Ohio University

Family: Married, Cheryl Cleary; four children, four grandchildren

Previous Elected Experience: Former Mayor, Vice-Mayor, Council Member, City of Ironton; Central Committeeman.

Of the six candidates seeking election to Ironton City Council in 2009, current Ironton Councilman Bob Cleary has the most experience. An active participant in Ironton city politics for the past 20 years, Cleary also serves as chairman of council’s powerful finance committee.

A staunch advocate in meeting the needs and safety of all city residents, Cleary says he believes he is the best candidate for the job based on several factors.

“I have the current knowledge of the city’s needs, strengths and weaknesses,” Cleary said. “I have the knowledge and skills to be an effective council member serving the citizens of Ironton for the next four years.”

While being a supporter of both citizen safety and fiscal responsibility, Cleary’s single most noted passion is for the reconstruction of the Ironton-Russell Bridge. Work hard toward getting the state and the Ohio Department of Transportation to take seriously the immediate needs of replacing the nearly century-old structure, Cleary said his drive in getting a new bridge is stronger than ever.

“I don’t think anyone has more passion than I do for the Ironton-Russell Bridge,” Cleary said.

As for the next four years, Cleary feels a lot still needs to be accomplished.

“My top priority if re-elected to office is to continue to push the state to start construction of the Ironton-Russell Bridge, maintain a sound budget, hotel recruitment, continued economic growth and be a voice for every citizen in Ironton.”

Dave Frazer

Age: 58

Occupation: Retired Educator, Coach and Athletic Director

Education: Ironton High School, Ohio University, Morehead State University

Previously Elected Experience: None

Dave Frazer is seeking election to public office for the first time. However, he says he has a solid plan and, if elected, hopes to implement it with the help of the city’s administration.

“Being retired, I have a great amount of time,” Frazer said. “I am interested in hearing what people want. I am new with new ideas.”

Frazer is also a big supporter of community involvement, something he feels a majority of Ironton residents lack.

A volunteer himself, Frazer can be seen assisting events such as the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, Rally on the River and Oktoberfest. He is also a little-league basketball and men’s softball official.

“Ironton has been in a stagnant stage for several years. It is time for a change,” Frazer said. “More people need to become involved, not for personal gain, but for the betterment of Ironton.”

A strong supporter of a solid community education, Frazer said a partnership between the county and the city is something he can bring to table if elected.

“Getting Ironton back to where we once were will help the whole county. Cooperation between county and city government has to help each other,” Frazer said.

Frazer said the biggest issues facing the city are its current water and sewer networks along with the inability to bring businesses and jobs to Ironton.

Leo Johnson

Age: 42

Occupation: Occupational therapist

Education: Dawson-Bryant High School, Shawnee State University, Eastern Kentucky University.

Family: Married, Kim; two sons

Previous Elected Experience: Ironton City Council

Leo Johnson says the reason he is seeking re-election to a second term on Ironton City Council comes down to two words: “unfinished business.”

Elected in 2005 and currently serving as chairman of council’s Public Utilities Committee, Johnson has been a key force in the city, after years of neglect, starting on a 17-year project to replace its combined sewer overflow network along with its sanitary sewer rehabilitation project.

It is something Johnson believes is vital to the city.

“My top priority will be to continue to focus our city budgets towards infrastructure improvements,” Johnson said

An advocate of the city’s current fee structure, Johnson says he will push for three financial improvements if re-elected.

Those include increased examination of the city’s budget with meetings held on a monthly and even bi-monthly basis, attempting to work with the county to make sure the allocations earmarked for 9-1-1 dispatchers are controlled under one roof and the watching costs, both overtime and general.

Johnson has also been one of the most outspoken supporters of the rehabilitation of the historic Ro-Na Theatre and prides himself the most on council’s decision to have local law enforcement patrol the city’s public metropolitan housing while revising the fees that were charged for storm water costs.

Johnson says if re-elected he can continue to do things that impact the future of Ironton.

“I will continue to support the improvements of our infrastructure and city services,” Johnson said. “Ironton and Lawrence County are made more attractive to business owners wanting to relocate or expand to our area.”

Mike Lutz

Age: 44

Occupation: Senior Manager of AT&T Mobility

Education: Ironton St. Joseph; University of Dayton

Family: Married, Donna; one daughter and one son.

Previous Elected Experience: Ironton City Council (appointed)

Mike Lutz insists he cares about his hometown and the future of its residents. Call it pride or support, but Lutz says he wants nothing more than to make the city of Ironton a better place to live and work.

Appointed to council in 2007 when he was selected to replace the council seat of current Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship, Lutz has spent his two-year tenure on council as one of its most active participants.

Considered by some as one of the most prepared council member’s currently serving, Lutz is not afraid to ask the tough questions — even on issues he supports.

“I am a strong believer in looking at all aspects of an issue,” Lutz explained. “The more interaction and involvement we can have with the community on the issues brought before us, the better the city of Ironton can be.”

Lutz also has focused on the fiscal responsibility of the city during the past 24 months. He thinks the city needs to find a new way to financially plan for the future and feels it needs to plan two to three years ahead instead of basing budgets on previous year results.

“I want to continue making improvements to the city while finding a way we can start relieving the citizens of the city’s monthly municipal fee,” Lutz said.

Employing more than 800 area Tri-State residents as a senior manager of AT&T Mobility, Lutz said the city needs better communication and public relations with the community, the region and the state.

“I will work hard to improve cooperation and communication between the city and county leadership as well as the Chamber of Commerce and both Port Authorities,” Lutz said.

Beth Rist

Age: 47

Occupation: Police Officer

Education: Ironton High School; University of Charleston

Previous Elected Experience: None

Calling herself a newcomer to the Ironton political process, Beth Rist says she has two advantages over her five other challengers.

“I have been in more homes discussing the issues with residents than any other candidate,” Rist said. “I am a newcomer willing to learn and will vote with my own convictions. I have been present at most civic events in the last decade and have always (been) eager to aid in the humane society.”

Rist says another advantage of why the voters of Ironton need to elect her is that she knows the inner workings of the city of Ironton.

“I am the only candidate that has been an employee of the city for more than a decade. I know first-hand how the city operates,” Rist added.

An All-American athlete, Rist made history as the first female police officer in the city’s 160 year history along with being its first police sergeant. As far as her impact if elected, Rist said she has a plan.

“I will do whatever it takes to clean up the city. We cannot attract businesses with run down depleted stores and homes. I would hold those responsible for their actions when ordinances are put on the back burner.”

Other priorities Rist lists as things she will accomplish if elected would be never voting for any additional fees, devoting equal attention to both the north and south ends of the city, representing those in the city who feel they have no voice and researching personal contracts and bid jobs.

Hugh Scott

Age: 62

Occupation: Semi-retired

Education: Ironton High School; Ohio University Southern

Family: Married, Annette; three children

Previous Elected Experience: Ironton City Council

Hugh Scott has identified what he believes is the largest problem facing the city the next four years. It is a problem he feels that has been kept on the backburner way too long.

“We have a major drug problem within the area, so much so that they are filtering into our schools,” Scott said, when suggesting the city needs to add some kind of outreach and rehabilitation center.

Scott said, if elected to a third non-consecutive term on council, he would vigorously fight to have the city’s drug problem tackled head on.

“We need to start knowing our neighborhoods and need to be an extended arm of our local law enforcement,” Scott said. “It is so bad that we are so behind in controlling it, that it will take a lot of time to catch up.”

Theft is another issue Scott plans to address. He feels the city’s unemployment and underemployment rate is one of the largest contributing factors to the growing crime statistic.

“If you don’t work, you steal and that is a big problem we have in Ironton,” Scott said.

Scott is also passionate about bringing in growing faith-based and community initiatives to the city. He is involved in a one such program sponsored by Gov. Ted Strickland’s office that will be take place on Nov. 9 at the Metropolitan Community Center.

“Ironton has been good to me and my family and I want to be good to Ironton,” Scott said when asked about his passion for the city.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.