Mayor race shows strengths, weaknesses

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 6, 2011

What a difference four years can make when it comes to the City of Ironton’s mayoral race.

In the 2007 election, seasoned politician Bob Cleary pitted his track record and six years experience as mayor and many more as a councilman against relative newcomer Rich Blankenship, who built his campaign on the need for change. Bob Vaughn, Walt Butler and Leonard Battise were three dark horse candidates.

Fast forward to 2011 and you will see a sort of reverse symmetry. Blankenship has built his campaign on his past four years as mayor and the progress he believes the city has made. Cleary is the candidate pushing hard that now is time for a change. Former councilman and city employee Karl Wentz is the wild card this time around.

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All three men have legitimate ideas that could help the city move forward. If all could be combined into one leader, the city of Ironton would have the best mayor in the State of Ohio.

Unfortunately, that simply isn’t possible.

Although the difference between the two primary candidates has narrowed from two years ago, The Tribune Editorial Board believes Rich Blankenship has earned the right to serve the citizens of Ironton for another four years.

He has shown a willingness to work hard for the city and its residents, approaching every issue with genuine passion and positive attitude.

His efforts to keep the Ironton-Russell Bridge replacement on track should not be overlooked. Although critics will say that Blankenship simply did what any mayor would do, we disagree.

He went above and beyond the call of duty, did his homework and approached the issue professionally and with facts. Because of his efforts, the bridge is still relatively on track and southern Ohio avoided being an experiment on a new funding approach.

Blankenship has done a tremendous job seeking grant funding and investing in improving the city’s assets. This is evident in the infrastructure improvements perhaps more than anywhere else.

Although less tangible, one of the things Blankenship has in his favor is the sense of positive momentum and the fact that the city is no longer stagnant, as it had been for years. This is reflected across the city by many people who have seen the sense of pride and optimism wane over the past decade or two.

Overall, the city has moved forward in the past four years under Blankenship’s guidance. Many of the issues he has addressed had been neglected for years.

However, this progress hasn’t come without a significant price tag. The city’s debt and operating expenses have grown at a concerning rate, especially its salaries. This is an area the mayor — and the council — must make a priority immediately.

The city has had the luxury of a sizeable carryover to help mask this problem of spending more than it generates, but that is about to go away. Blankenship needs to look at every facet of how the city operates to keep spending down. One area will almost certainly be salaries and benefits as these have continued to skyrocket.

It is also time to be creative with revenue and look at who pays what and where the money goes. Most important may be the need to find ways to ensure all citizens are pulling their weight.

Bob Cleary, who still has two years on council, needs to be a partner in moving the city forward. The man may have a better handle on the financial challenges facing the city than any of his opponents. He has some legitimate ideas that he should work with the mayor on for the betterment of the city.

His proposals to invest in economic development by constructing a spec building at the industrial park and looking at every fee on the city’s utility bills are valid.

These men need to put their politics and idealogical differences aside.

Cleary would be the most experienced council member and should help lead that body to work with the mayor to achieve his vision. That will help the city and also be the best campaign material for Cleary four years from now.

Karl Wentz has some valid ideas and a firm understanding of many of the city’s individual departments. He has worked in just about all of them.

His emphasis on creating a long-term plan for the city’s growth is something that has to happen, regardless of who wins.

Both Wentz and Cleary believe that re-establishing an engineering department would save the city money and give it better oversight and control of projects, rather than contracting everything out.

This is something Blankenship should look at immediately by having an independent consultant look over the projects in recent years to determine if this makes financial sense.

All three men have strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect.

Rich Blankenship has done his part to lead the city toward a bright future. He deserves the chance to keep guiding the way for four more years.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at