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Commission honors Stephens: Former auditor starts as state representative

Thursday marked the beginning of Jason Stephens’ tenure as state representative and the Lawrence County Commission made it clear earlier this week that they will back him strongly in the position.

At Monday’s meeting of the commission, Stephens presented his resignation as county auditor, which was accepted. The commissioners also endorsed him for re-election to the job next year.

Stephens, who is taking the seat vacated by Ryan Smith, who resigned to become head of University of Rio Grande, will serve the remainder of Smith’s term.

He will face Bobbi Montgomery and Jeff Halley in the 2020 Republican primary, the winner of whom will compete against a Democratic nominee for a full term in the fall election.

Stephens described the moment as “bittersweet” and became visibly emotional when paying tribute to the staff at the auditor’s office, where he has served for nine years.

He was especially grateful to deputy auditor Chris Kline.

“That I got to serve as auditor with someone as well respected as Chris, that says a lot,” Stephens said.

Stephens said he would miss the local aspects of his job, such as eating breakfast at Frisch’s Big Boy in Ironton every morning.

“But I’m looking forward to serving,” he said of his new position in Columbus. “It’s exciting. Thank you to all of you who have been a part of big things in Lawrence County and I think big things are to come.”

Commissioner DeAnna Holliday paid tribute to Stephens.

We’re so excited to have him as representative, she said. “I don’t know if we’ve had a more proud day in the county since I was elected.”

Stephens will be the first from Lawrence County to represent the district, which also covers Gallia, Jackson and Vinton counties, in more than two decades.

Commission President Freddie Hayes Jr. also thanked Stephens.

“I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with you,” he said. “You’ve done a lot for this county and we’ve become good friends.”

The commission then appointed and swore in former Chesapeake Mayor Dick Gilpin, who will serve as interim auditor until the Lawrence County Republican Party’s central committee votes for a replacement on Oct. 21 to fill the remainder of Stephens’ term.

Gilpin said Stephens, through upgrades to the auditor’s office and website, has helped lead it “into the technology age.”

“Ryan is very a capable individual,” Gilpin said of Stephens’ predecessor. “He has big shoes to fill and the only person I can think of who can fill them is Jason Stephens. Jason is a very capable person.”

In other business, the commission honored Olivia Fosson, who was recently named Distinguished Young Woman of Ohio for 2019.

“We’re very proud to recognize Olivia and her accomplishments,” Holliday said. “She is a perfect example of what women can achieve and a great role model.”

Due to the courthouse being closed on Monday for Columbus Day, there will be no commissioners’ meeting next week. Their next meeting will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22 at the Chamber of Commerce offices, 216 Collins Ave., South Point.