Belmont County candidates get their say at OUE forum

T-L Photo/JANELL HUNTER Richland Township candidates get ready to take the podium to tell voters why they want to be elected as trustee during a Meet The Candidates forum at Ohio University Eastern on Tuesday. OUE faculty member Michael McTeague, standing, moderated the debate between Roger Devore, from left, Rick Ferrell, Kathy Kaluger, Charlie DeClemente and Jay Stephens.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — In an effort to keep voters informed about all the issues and races on the ballot in Belmont County Nov. 7, Ohio University Eastern and the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a “meet the candidates” forum on Tuesday.

The forum, moderated by OUE faculty member Michael McTeague, was open to all Belmont County candidates to speak a few minutes about their platforms, and for representatives of levies and issues to explain why voters should support them.

Doug Walsh, director of the St. Clairsville Public Library, spoke about the library’s five-year, 0.5-mill operating levy that will be on the ballot in St. Clairsville and Richland Township. He said the library has never asked for local taxpayers to help fund the library, but that it needs the additional funding at this point or services will need to be cut.

“Our library is one of the last public libraries in the state of Ohio trying to operate without any local taxes,” Walsh said. “We are seeking a first-time levy for current operating expenses. The levy … equals about $1.46 per month per house assessed at $100,000.”

Walsh noted the state has been cutting back on library funding since 2001, which translates to a 24 percent reduction in state funding and in turn has caused the library to cut expenditures for new books by 50 percent.

If passed, the funding will help the library continue to offer up-to-date technology, new books, DVDs and other resources, educational programs and services, and will help fund maintenance of the building itself.

There are several contested races across the county, including Bellaire mayor, Martins Ferry council-at-large, Bethesda Village Council, Morristown Village Council, Shadyside mayor, St. Clairsville council and Shadyside council.

Several townships have contested trustee races, including Flushing, Goshen, Kirkwood, Mead, Pease, Union and Richland. Contested school board seats are on the ballot in the Bellaire Local, Buckeye Local, Martins Ferry, Switzerland of Ohio and Shadyside Local school districts.

Candidates that spoke at the forum included: Tim Porter, who is running for St. Clairsville City Council against James Weisgerber, who was not present; 4th Ward St. Clairsville City Council candidates John Tomlan and Jim Velas; and five of the six candidates vying for two seats as Richland Township Trustee — Roger Devore, Charlie DeClemente, Rick Ferrell, Kathy Kaluger and Jay Stephens. Gregory Clark has also filed for Richland Township trustee but was not present at the forum.

All of the candidates spoke about their love and loyalty to the St. Clairsville area, and the privilege of living in a clean, safe, community-oriented place. All agreed that getting more public participation in local government is important.

Tomlan, an incumbent member of St. Clairsville council who was appointed in January after David Trouten resigned to take the Belmont County Clerk of Courts seat in November, said he believes in improving transparency and public participation in local government, as well as finding ways to cut costs and save local taxpayer dollars. Tomlan mentioned the need for council to observe the “three reading rule,” which provides more time for residents to become aware of issues on which council is voting.

Velas, a retired 33-year veteran of the St. Clairsville Police Department, agreed that transparency and more public participation and awareness are needed to make good decisions. He also noted that local government must be smart about not “expanding too fast,” and must take time to think about improving infrastructure.

Porter, running for St. Clairsville City Council president, said he has been involved with the city for years, and has served for 16 years on council beginning in 1994. He is a retired carpenter of 40 years, and believes he has much to give to the city in the areas of infrastructure and construction expertise.

“I am very devoted to this city,” Porter said.

Richland Township trustee candidates focused mostly on the need to maintain township roads effectively, and to be to try new methods to save money.

“The most important thing is to keep up with the gas and oil industry and not letting anything slip through,” said Devore, who has been with the township for four years and is currently serving as assistant road supervisor. “We have 103 miles of road to take care of, and we do a pretty good job.”

DeClemente said he has lived in the township for 32 years, and believes the most important aspect to the job of township trustee is the ability to cooperate with others.

“I love this area, and I know what is going on here,” said DeClemente. “The most important thing I can do is work with the other trustees. That is all I can say. I’ll work hard.”

“Out of the six candidates I can comfortably say with my 30 years of running our family business and over three and a half years as trustee, I am the most qualified to be elected,” said incumbent Rick Ferrell. He noted his work with the township on road improvements through oil and gas money, sharing of services with the city of St. Clairsville and helping to re-establish the Richland Township Police Department.

Jay Stephens said he would bring “honesty” to the job, as well as transparency. He said that if elected, he would not take health insurance through the township, which would save taxpayer money. He also stressed the importance of residents in getting involved with township meetings.

“I am just an average taxpayer looking out for the local taxpayer,” Stephens said.

Kaluger has worked for the St. Clairsville mayor’s office for 26 years, and said her specific skill set of knowing how to “answer calls” and help people solve their problems would be valuable as a trustee.

“I really, really would like to be township trustee,” Kaluger said. “I think I could bring a good perspective to how things have to be run. I’ve worked at the city very closely with two different mayors and three different finance directors. I think I probably have a better idea of how things are run than most people.”

McTeague concluded the forum with remarks on the local democratic process, stressing the importance of candidates getting to know the needs of their constituents, and the importance of voters knowing the candidates and the issues on which they are voting.

“If you don’t vote, you are just offering up a small handful of people to sway positions,” McTeague said. “You first of all want to try to be informed, and then vote.”