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Forum gives candidates late chance to push message

Chamber sponsored event at OUS focused on commission, county races

With exactly two weeks until the general election, candidates for the Lawrence County Commission took their message to a forum at Ohio University Southern on Tuesday.

Four of the five candidates running for two seats on the commission answered questions at the event, sponsored by the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.

Incumbent Republican Bill Pratt spoke first and introduced himself to voters, telling them “I never ran because I wanted to, I ran because someone asked me to run.”

Pratt stressed his local ties, growing up in Chesapeake, serving on the board of education and maintaining a dairy farm on land that has been in his family for generations.

He said he is running to give younger generations a chance to thrive in Lawrence County.

“I want them to have the opportunity to stay here, like I did,” he said.

Pratt’s Democratic opponent, former commissioner Doug Malone, cited his two terms on the job from 2003-2010.

“I’m running on strong and effective leadership,” he said, adding he has the record and plans for the future.

Malone touted projects that took hold during his time on the commission.

“We signed off on the enterprise and empowerment zones to create The Point industrial park,” he said.

He also pointed to the creation of the Lawrence County Port Authority and bringing St. Mary’s Medical Center to Ironton.

Malone, said he would like to build a new jail, make a jobs a priority, establish an industrial park in the eastern end of the county and tackle delinquent properties through the county land bank.

For the seat being vacated by Republican Les Boggs, following his primary defeat, Republican nominee Christopher Collins cited his biography, graduating from Ironton High and Ohio State University and working as assistant director of Lawrence County Job and Family Services.

Collins said one strength he brings to the job is experience working as a legislative aide in Columbus.

“I worked with some of the finest and most innovative senators there,” he said.

Collins said he is running to bring a better future to Lawrence County.

“I know we can do better, if we apply innovative thinking and conservative principles,” he said.

Collins’ Democratic opponent, businesswoman DeAnna Holliday, cited her service on the Dawson-Bryant Board of Education, where she said she did not accept her salary, instead putting the money back into the school system.

Holliday said her board of education experience, as well as owning and operating a business prepares her for work on the county’s finances.

“I know how to develop a business plan and mange a large budget,” she said.

Holliday said she wants to bring “transparency and service” to the position, work on the jail crisis, take on the drug epidemic in the county and use the land bank to develop dilapidated properties.

Independent Jonathan Ater, who is running for the same seat as Collins and Holliday, did not attend the forum.

The candidates were asked for their take on the need to build a new county jail.

Pratt said the remedy is to get to a point where it is fiscally possible, citing the increased budget carryover for 2011.

“Saving is a plan, and what I propose to do is get to the level you would need to be if you were going to buy a home,” he said.

Pratt said the county would be able to put down 20 percent, begin the process of picking a location and construction could start in 2018.

“We’re almost where we need to be,” he said.

Collins said a lot of people do not realize changes in state policy have added to the crisis, with requirements on offenders being housed locally being altered.

He said a feasibility study for a new jail is needed, as well as working with officials in Columbus.

“We need to hold legislators’ feet to the fire,” he said.

Holliday said the county has already made the commitment to build the jail and needs to honor it.

She proposed a gradual approach.

“We need to build the new jail in phases and stay within our means,” she said.

Malone said the need for the jail was a top priority of his.

“If nothing is done, it will bankrupt the county,” he said.

He made a pledge for action on the issue.

“I will do something about it in the first 90 days,” he said.

The candidates were asked about the land bank, of which Holliday said she has followed progress closely.

“We have a lot of clean-up to do in the county,” she said. “This will give us a chance to clean up properties and dilapidated homes and recycle them back into the county,” she said.

She said the benefits include revenue from property taxes and the improvement in the county’s aesthetics to potential employers.

Malone agreed with Holliday on the need to use the land bank to draw companies in.

“We can’t get jobs here if the property looks horrible,” he said. “This will allow us to continue to thrive and clean the county up.”

Pratt, who serves on the land bank’s board, said he was one of the first to mention the idea.

“I’ve been involved since the beginning,” he said, stating it will increase what the county is able to do. “This is huge and we should be excited.”

Collins spoke of the feelings he had attending the announcement of the grant for the bank last week.

“That was a great day for Lawrence County,” he said. “It gave everyone a wonderful feeling.”

He said it was rooted in the work of  Senate Majority Leader Tom Patton.

“It made me prideful to see the work of my previous boss had trickled down here,” he said.

The issue of the drug crisis and prescription drug abuse was raised.

Collins, who addressed the topic in an answer about the economy, said the lack of good jobs in the region was feeding the epidemic.

“I’ve seen people with respectable degrees come in who can’t find jobs,” he said. “And as the saying goes, we all know what happens with idle hands.”

Collins said he wanted to see existing infrastructure converted into long term treatment centers and to give law enforcement the tools to attack the issue from the supply side.

Holliday said she would work to help law enforcement and judges take on the issue and called for more treatment options.

“We do need to have a rehabilitation program and we need a drug court,” she said.

She also pledged adequate funding for sheriffs and law enforcement on the matter.

Malone also made the pledge.

“I will support the sheriff in any way needed, and I will also support judges,” he said.

He also called for changes in the way addicts and users are dealt with.

“I’d like to find alternative punishment for drug offenses,” he said, citing the need for rehab and said offenders, rather than be sent to jail, should be given the opportunity to work their time off.

He also raised the issue when discussing the economy.

“If we don’t have jobs, we have a problem with drugs and everything else,” he said.

Pratt said one of the main roles of the commission is to allocate funds and said he would provide law enforcement with resources.

“I’ll listen to what the sheriff needs,” he said.

He also cited the role treatment centers, such as Spectrum Outreach and Riverside Recovery Services can play.

“I’m not an expert on drug use and addiction, but I’ll listen to professionals,” Pratt said.

The candidates were asked about what can be done to help small businesses.

Malone, who said his top priority would be to create jobs, said he would like to build on existing successes, such as The Point.

“I’d like to add on to things like that,” he said.

Pratt said he would like to see an expansion of tax abatements.

“I want people to get the incentives others got,” he said.

He also called for cutting regulation and decreasing property taxes on small business owners.

Collins also called for tax abatements and tax breaks.

“We should also seek grants at the state level,” he said, stating they would secure incentives for developing businesses.

Holliday said she wanted to take away the burden of people to have to start businesses from scratch, including the cost of a building.

“I’d like to see a small business industrial park,” she said. “It could alleviate the cost of building from the ground up, and cut other costs.”

The recent school report cards were raised, along with the low marks received by schools in the region. Both Pratt and Malone took issue with what they said were constant changes in the testing format, and did not feel the grades were an accurate reflection of the schools.

“If you change the test every few years, it’s going to be difficult for the schools,” Pratt said.
Malone said Lawrence County has great educators and the testing format and frequent changes needed to be addressed.

“We need to get with the state to get consistency,” he said.

Holliday also took issue with the format.

“The testing implemented has resulted in stress in the school district,” she said. “It’s put them into a situation where they have to teach to the test. We need to allow students to learn and teachers to not be stressed out on material geared toward a test.”

Collins said he was unaware of the school reports, but said education is critical for youth and that vocational education was a focus of his grandfather, Sen. O.C Collins.

“We need innovative measures in schooling and give kids the resources they need,” he said, citing improvements to classrooms such as interactive white boards.

Following the forum on the commission race, candidates for other countywide races came to the table, where they each made a statement for their candidacy, but were not asked questions.

Mike Patterson, who is running unopposed for Clerk of Courts, said he has been a good steward of the county’s money and that his office has not engaged in waste.

“We run a tight budget,” he said.

He also pledged to continue to “reach across party lines” in his work.

Democrat Stephen Burcham, seeking a fourth term as county treasurer, cited his work reducing delinquent taxes.

“When I took office, delinquent taxes were at $14 million, now it’s at $4 million,” he said.

He also took pride in programs he said had been put in place to serve the taxpayer, as well as his office’s work in providing research for the application for the land bank grant.

He said the land bank would boost the county’s economy.

“We’re going to create jobs knocking down these properties and rebuilding them,’ he said.

Burcham’s opponent, independent Katrina Hunt, was not present.

Both candidates for Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas judge made their case to voters and the contentiousness of their race was evident.

Andrew Ballard, the village solicitor for Proctorville, said he has not sought political office before and was not part of the political establishment.

“I’m not a yes man,” he said. “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and I will not use the office for political gain.”

He said his experience includes practicing in front of the common pleas court and that he hopes “to continue the legacy of the honorable Scott Bowling.”

Ballard said he seeks to give back the community and said a top priority of his work would be to establish a drug court for the county.

Ironton Municipal Judge O. Clark Collins cited his 30 years of experience on the bench as qualification for the job.

He addressed posts on Facebook and social media, which he said called him “a liar” and stated he didn’t have “a drug court.”

Collins held up a stack of papers which he said provided proof of a drug treatment program in his court.

“Anyone is welcome to see this,” he said, adding that the state has said there is not funding available for a drug court and that it would leave a burden on the county.

He said the position of judge entails more than a drug court, and would also cover areas such as divorces and child custody land issues.

Collins said that Ballard has no criminal law experience and criticized the location of his practice.

“Despite what he tells you, his law practice is in West Virginia,” he said.

Ballard’s firm is located in Huntington, but he is also licensed to practice law in Ohio. Court records from Lawrence County Municipal Court confirm Ballard has practiced criminal cases in Lawrence County.

Collins said that he was following the example of his father and “will not take part in negative campaigning,” and said his experience in the courtroom was his strongest asset.