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Barnesville candidates hold forum

BARNESVILLE — Contenders for Village Council seats shared their visions and answered questions from the public during a meet the candidates night at the Shekinah Christian Church on Tuesday.

The debate grew heated, and one sitting councilman not on the ballot joined in as residents and candidates raise issues and concerns about village management, finances and projects.

There are six candidates for four council seats. Challengers Brian Yarnall, Steven Hill and Courtney Valine participated. Councilman Tony Johnson was unable to attend due to a work conflict, but he sent a statement to be read. Councilmen Leslie Tickhill and Jamie Betts did not attend.

Accountability and transparency regarding council business were among the topics discussed.

Hill spoke about his surveying background and work for Belmont County as the oil and gas liaison and said he would work toward greater public participation in council meetings.

Valine, who said she brings a background in management in accounting, also said greater engagement is needed, adding she found that many residents do not know council meetings are open to the public. She voiced financial concerns that money is being wasted unnecessarily while more important projects are being ignored. She also said meeting minutes, finances and other information should be scanned to the village website for easier access by the public. She said council has not been active in enforcing ordinances on dilapidated residences.

“I think we need some new people on council. Some people with some fresh ideas,” she said.

Yarnell has a background in accounting as a clerk in the coal industry. He said he would focus on infrastructure.

“I think the three main things that the village residents are concerned about is water, sewer, roads and streets. I don’t think the village should be in the business of buying real estate,” he said, speaking of the village’s purchase of the three-story Bohandy building on East Main and South Chestnut streets.

He added he would also like to reinstate the park board and work with the chamber of commerce to promote Barnesville.

He said he would also support the emergency squad, adding that first responders came to his aid after a fall and assisted him until he was transported by medical helicopter for treatment.

In his statement Johnson, a councilman of 11 years, said his phone number is 740-391-0083 and that he welcomes inquiries from the public.

Residents and candidates on hand shared perceptions of a hostile and secretive attitude among council members.

During the question-and-answer session, resident Richard Wells asked Hill why he should vote for him, saying Hill had been elected a councilman in 2020 and stepped down during the middle of his term.

Hill said he was unable to accomplish anything. He alleged that a village official strongly dissuaded him from running the day after he put his name on the ballot in 2020 and offered him employment with the village if he would take his name off the ballot.

“You can’t fight city hall, and that’s exactly what it was. I was one man,” he said. “Everyone on council only has one vote, and when you’re outnumbered five to one, nothing’s going to go your way. So why waste your time?”

Resident Nicholas Logan also said there has been a lack of transparency from council. He is concerned the village’s natural resources are not being preserved and the park is not being maintained. He also voiced concerns about the state of infrastructure.

Councilman Tim McKelvey — who is not on the ballot this year — addressed some of Valine’s points, saying her analysis was overly negative. He said Barnesville supplies water to multiple communities and the more than $5 million Slope Creek waterline improvement project would be completed almost entirely with grant funding. McKelvey also addressed the village’s purchase of the Bohandy building, saying if it had not been purchased for $150,000, the village eventually would have had to tear it down for $1 million. He said he was confident businesses would operate out of the structure.

Hill said when he was on council he was unable to get information about how much was invested in the building.

“The council doesn’t know what’s going on,” Hill said.

“I assure you, we are not going to go broke,” McKelvey said. “The village council is not going to spend us into bankruptcy, I promise you.”

McKelvey said it is often difficult to find owners of dilapidated properties.

Discussion turned to the possibility of zoning ordinances. Hill said zoning might solve the problems of putting a disturbing or noisy business near a home.

“Zoning is a fine line,” Yarnall said. “I agree a truck wash (near a home) … that’s a terrible location for that, but if you had zoning, you wouldn’t have a coffee shop there also. … You’d have to have definitions of what kind of businesses could go in there.”

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