Making their case

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 14, 2023

From left, Amanda Cleary, Ironton Mayor Sam Cramblit II, Chris Perry, Hugh Scott and Kelly Greco-Smith, take part in a forum for the Ironton mayoral race, organized by the Ironton Rotary Club at Ohio University Southern on Tuesday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

Ironton candidates appear at forum

With the general election closing in, candidates for Ironton mayor and city council appeared at Ohio University Southern on Tuesday, as part of a forum organized by the Ironton Rotary Club.

Incumbent Mayor Sam Cramblit II is seeking re-election and is being challenged by Amanda Cleary, Hugh Scott, Chris Perry and Kelly Greco-Smith.

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On the council side, the three incumbent members on the ballot, Chris Haney, Jacob Hock and Mike Pierce were in attendance, as was challenger Robbie Brown. Douglas Davis did not appear at the event.

The format of the event was a question-and-answer session, with no debate between candidates, ensuring the evening went off with no contentious exchanges.

“I look forward to spending the next four years with you,” Cramblit said in his introduction.

When asked what issue he hears about most from residents, he said the need for affordable housing.

“There is a high demand for housing,” he said. “The numbers are astronomical what they’re going for.”

Cramblit said he would like to focus on making housing more attainable for families seeking to buy a home, as well as younger people seeking rentals.

The candidates were asked about their public service background.

Cramblit said he serves the public “Every single day as the sole decision maker” for much of the city’s business, working with multiple agencies to “make sure everything works.”

From left, Robby Brown and incumbent Ironton City Council members Chris Haney, Jacob Hock and Mike Pierce, take part a forum organized by the Ironton Rotary Club at Ohio University Southern on Tuesday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

Cramblit also pointed to his work serving on the boards of various groups and agencies, such as the county’s land bank and the port authority.

Cleary, the founder of nonprofit Third and Center, pointed to her background working in the Lawrence County courts, as well as her time as a former small business owner, which she said allows her to understand the struggles faced by entrepreneurs.

She said major issues she hears about are job creation and retention, as well as “people struggling to pay their bills,” noting that 27 percent of residents “are at or below the poverty rate.”

She said there is a need for better child care options, transportation and high speed Internet.

On service, she pointed to the work of Third and Center, which

has organized events such as the Summer Solstice Music and Arts Festival, as well as youth art programs and efforts to bring meal service back to the Ironton Senior Center.

“I love Ironton and want to create a city we can be proud of and leave to the next generation,” she said.

Perry, who has served on council for two years, agreed that housing is a major concern, adding that those in metro housing need more receptive leadership.

“They have been largely ignored,” he said, specifically citing housing near Ninth Street Park.

“The director has done a deplorable job,” he said of the city’s appointee.

On service, Perry cited his work at the county’s domestic violence center.

“Their work is invaluable to the county,” he said.

Perry also said he would like to tackle the number of vacant properties in downtown Ironton.

“It’s a quagmire,” he said. “We have commercial properties owned and controlled by outside interests — people who don’t have an interest in Ironton.”

Scott, a former council member pointed to his time serving as deacon of his church in understanding the community.

He said he is running on a platform of “Principles, Purpose and Possibilities.”

Scott said the city needs to collaborate more with the surrounding area. As an example, he pointed to Covington, Kentucky, which is home to the airport serving Cincinnati across the river in Ohio.

“We are a Tri-State area,” Scott said. “We are stronger together.”

Scott said he would like to see the city better use the area coming off the Oakley C. Collins Memorial Bridge into Ironton.

“It should be a gateway to our community,” he said, stating he would like to see a fitness center for seniors open in the area as a draw for those coming from Kentucky.

Greco-Smith stated she is a 20-year resident of the city and stressed her ties to political figures to show her knowledge of government.

Her husband, Jason, serves as a judge on Ohio’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, while she has worked for five years as the field representative for Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague.

She said this position is over 14 counties in the southern part of the state and that she acts as a “middle man” to not just Sprague, but to state and federal officials, for residents in getting help with government services.

Greco-Smith said one priority she would like to tackle is “cleaning up the city,” removing blight to make it more attractive to incoming businesses.

She said she would also like to see the formation of a “small business hub,” which she said could provide assistance to those starting a business in things such as applying for loans.

On the council side of the ballot, Haney, Hock and Pierce pointed to accomplishments made in recent years, while Brown stated his aims for a seat.

On service, Haney, who works as an intervention specialist in Ironton City Schools, cited his foundation of a kindergarten-through-second grade youth sports league.

“It is very gratifying to see the smile on kids’ faces when they come into the gym,” he said.

Haney said a major complaint he hears from residents is a lack of things to do.

He cited his work in getting $300,000 to develop the city’s riverfront, which he said needs better utilized, as well that he “budgeted, lobbied and laid out” $50,000 for Eighth Street Park.

Hock, who works as an outpatient therapist for Shawnee Family Health Care, said infrastructure is key, pointing to the Batham Lane storm project, which is currently underway, something he said is needed, as well as the council’s work on paving projects in the city.

Ironton Rotary Club president Marty Conley introduces the Ironton candidates forum at Ohio University Southern on Tuesday.(The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

On addressing the city’s issues, Hock said he wanted to keep the focus on the proper role of council, which he said is to “legislate and appropriate funds” and finding sustainable solutions.”

“What we draft is no good if it can’t be carried through,” he said.

When asked of the biggest issue facing Ironton, Pierce said he hears two things.

“It’s flooding on the northern end of town,” he said, while stating that, until now, with new paving projects, the condition of streets on the southern end have been a major problem.

He said that all of the concerns he hears about, especially jobs, infrastructure and concerns on the number of rehab centers opening in the city, run together.

He cited progress by council on several matters, including demolishing blighted structures.

“Old homes have come down and new buildings have gone up,” he said. “All of these things add pride to our community and make home values go up.”

Brown spoke of his experience as a business owner, taking over and co-owning The Shakery with his wife, Maddie, as well as his work as pastor of Be Hope church.

He cited a number of civic projects his church has done as part of Hope Week, in which they worked on floodwall murals, sanded and repainted equipment at the city’s parks and even offered free haircuts to children.

Brown said a major priority of his would be making the city more attractive to young families.

A full audience watched the Ironton candidates forum in the Bowman Auditorium at Ohio University Southern on Tuesday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

“We need to make a plan to better market the city,” he said, stating that drawing in a working age population would increase revenues for services.

Brown said he would also like to see stricter enforcement on vacant business properties and a plan to develop downtown.

On the issue of the number of addiction recovery center opening in the area, all candidates said it was an issue they hear about often from residents and stated their concerns about out-of-area clients brought to the area.

All called for stronger regulation of facilities, with Scott suggesting all clients be “put under one roof” to gain the community’s trust on the issue.

Cleary noted that addiction is a major problem for the region, pointing out that the county has the third highest overdose rate in the state.

“It is a problem that has affected us all,” she said, but said there should be more “stringent monitoring” and that centers needed to ensure that those in recovery are “seen as people, not profits.”

Hock and Haney said the council has taken steps to address the issue, with Haney pointing to changes in zooming laws and a limit of unrelated people per dwelling in residences.

Hock said there was a bill, proposed by State Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-90, pending at the statehouse, which would bar taxpayer funds for unlicensed facilities and expressed hop in its passage. (Baldridge has since resigned from his seat to become the state’s agriculture director).

“There has not been a lot of oversight from the state,” he said.

Cramblit also expressed hope for legislation from the General Assembly on the issue.

“The state has failed us all on the issue and opened the floodgates,” he said of lack of regulations on recovery center. “It’s easier to start a recovery center than a franchised Dairy Queen in the City of Ironton.”

— The entire two-hour forum can be viewed on Armstrong’s YouTube channel and will run on rotation on their community channel through the election.