Candidates give views at forum

Published 1:18 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

County commission, state rep races featured at Ohio University Southern


This year’s biennial candidates forum sponsored by the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce was an evening of answering the question of how, as candidates and incumbents gave their views on past and current issues facing the county

How to build a new jail for Lawrence County, how the new fair barn for the county’s 4-Hers was built and how to spend the state casino money were the main topics of the forum.

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Moderated by WSAZ-TV anchor Rob Johnson, the forum’s panelists were Dave Lucas, communications professor at Ohio University Southern, Dave Malloy, reporter for the Herald-Dispatch and Bob Smith, president of the chamber of commerce.

As it has in the past, the forum dealt only with the legislative races: county commissioners and state representatives for the 90th and 93rd District races.

Incumbent Commissioners Freddie Hayes and Bill Pratt, both Republicans, appeared on the dais with their opponents, Democrat Doug Malone and Carl Robinson. Also on the stage at Ohio University Southern was County Commission President Les Boggs, who is running unopposed this November.

All candidates favored the building of a new county jail without putting a levy on the county’s property owners.

Pratt offered the most detailed proposal putting aside the casino money into a fund for four years with the goal of renovating and adding onto the current jail. The commissioner also favored purchasing the current Ironton City Schools board of education office, which is for sale, and turning it into headquarters for emergency services.

“We could renovate the old facility …. Renovate and add onto the jail,” Pratt said.

Hayes said he would look to Columbus for possible funding avenues.

“I would get with Mr. (Ryan) Smith (current state rep for the 89th District) to try to get funding for the jail,” Hayes said. “My goal is public safety. We have to get with the sheriff to not only build it but to operate it.”

Robinson said coming up with the strategy to build a new jail could take up to six years, but that he wanted input from law enforcement.

“We have to sit down with sheriff … It might take four, five , six years, but sit down and make a plan, see what kind of interest rate we could get on a loan,” he said. “We want to be able to fund it to operate it.”

Robinson, who was once a corrections officer at the now defunct Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility, proposed that building as a possible jail site.

Malone’s major concern with a new jail was finding the money to pay for its operation.

“You have to come up with a way to pay for it,” he said. “You have to figure out what the jail will cost and what it will cost to operate it.”

Robinson criticized the commissioners and fair board for deeding the fairgrounds to the Lawrence County Port Authority. That was done to provide a funding mechanism to pay for building a new barn that was erected days before the summer 4-H fair.

Delays in the construction of the barn were cited by the fair board as reasons for terminating the contract with its original contractor and a payment error has the county seeking to recoup $200,000. That contractor sued the fair board for breach of contract in a lawsuit that is still pending.

“The fairgrounds were deeded over,” Robinson said. “I didn’t agree with that. We got an expensive lawsuit left. The fair has become so political, name driven. The kids are pushed aside.”

Hayes, who was president of the fair board at the start of the construction project, defended building the barn.

“That (old barn) was run down to nothing,” he said. “I worked hard on the fair barn. There were mistakes made. I stand by my decision.”

Hayes also refuted that there would be expense from the lawsuit since attorney Donald Capper is handling the matter for the fair board without charge.

Malone criticized the fair board and Hayes for tearing down the old structure before the new one was completed.

“They rushed to judgment,” he said.

Pratt defended the building of the barn.

“Besides schools, that is the single greatest achievement for the kids in the county,” he said. “There were some problems. The person most responsible isn’t sitting here. It is the contractor.”

Pratt and Robinson would both use the casino money to balance the budget. Then Pratt would focus the remainder of that money toward a new jail, while Robinson could direct it toward a jail, helping firefighters and senior citizens.

Hayes would use that money for public safety while Malone would direct one-third of it to the sheriff’s office, firefighters and emergency services.

Also debating the issues at the forum were Ryan Smith and Josh Bailey, candidates for the 93rd District State Representative race and Terry Johnson and John Haas, candidates for the 90th District State Representative race.

Jobs, the state budget and ridding the area of the drug problem were the focus of the debates of those races.

Democrat Bailey made a push for what he called a bipartisan jobs bill while Republican Smith countered that the state already has a jobs bill in the form of Jobs Ohio.

Democrat Haas pushed for what he called a level playing field for schools by changing the funding to education and getting funding from the state for a proposed steel plant at Haverhill.

Johnson said he has already been involved in trying to bring the steel plant to the area and wants to continue his work with cleaning up the drug problem in the area by working on treatment for addicts.