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Candidates for city council and township trustee debate Monday

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Incumbents and challengers for offices in the city and in Richland Township introduced themselves to the public and shared their visions during a Meet the Candidates Night on Monday, hosted by the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce at the J.B. Martin Recreation Center.

Infrastructure, the ongoing project to upgrade the water distribution system and purchase water from Belmont County, and unity were among the common concerns of city council candidates, though each had their own set of priorities.

Bill Brooks and Jeff Thrash are candidates for the 2nd Ward council seat. A third candidate, Bill Jeffers, did not appear.

Brooks, who has been politically active in opposing a school levy many believed excessive and the proposal to sell the city water system to a private company, has often been vocal in exchanges with city leaders. But he said Monday there are many good people on council who he would be happy to work with. He said he would not support increases on income taxes and added he has many community projects in mind, including upgrading South Park, bringing in a dog park and turning community gardens over to the Belmont County Master Gardeners. Brooks also said he would work to remove restrictions on residents who wished to speak at council meetings.

Thrash said he became involved in politics because the 2nd Ward representative Frank Sabatino supported privatizing the city’s water.

“The best way to do it was to run and be a voice for the city,” Thrash said, adding he believes top priorities to be the waterline replacement project and ensuring the police department is well-equipped.

When asked if St. Clairsville is going in the “right direction,” Thrash said he believes it is.

He said he had researched city records and found the city funds had increased since 2019.

“The city is not going in the best direction,” Brooks said. He believes there has been excessive spending which could go to infrastructure.

“I think St. Clairsville needs to be run like a business, and I think I’m the best candidate for this reason,” Thrash said.

“I do not believe St. Clairsville should be ran like a business,” Brooks said. “I think it should be ran as a community.”

Thrash also said he would encourage council attendance.

Incumbent 4th Ward Councilwoman Terra Butler, serving her first term in a political office, is squaring off against Terry Pugh, former mayor who had championed privatizing the city water in a contentious election.

Butler referred to her record on council, including opposing water privatization, and said she was proud to represent the interests of her ward.

“It is a job that requires attention and dedication,” she said. She noted ongoing flooding concerns on Bellview Street and Overbaugh Avenue were among her top priorities. She also said working to increase the city’s population would also result in less taxes.

Pugh said he brings experience and organizational skill to the job. Prior contentions and personality conflicts surfaced briefly during his address.

“I am now running because of my true love for St. Clairsville,” Pugh said. “There has to be cooperation among council members, which has not been the case, especially in the last two years. I will strive to work with fellow council members.

“I guess the mayor thinks that’s funny,” he said, apparently addressing a reaction from Mayor Kathryn Thalman. He said he had contacts with local and state agencies and would work toward securing grants and loans for the water project “which should have been handled already.”

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot in the last three years. A lot of great things. We’ve worked really hard,” Butler said. “Many of my constituents outside of my ward inside of my ward have come to me with questions and concerns.”

Then 1st Ward candidate Donald Vincenzo, described himself as an experienced businessman and lifelong resident who intended to learn about every aspect of city operations. His opponent, John Swan, did not appear.

Richland Township Trustee candidates Jim DeNoble, Rick Ferrell, Kathy Kaluger and Jay A. Stephens, contesting over two seats, appeared. Incumbent Ferrell spoke about the importance of the roads, contracts with oil and gas companies and holding developers accountable. Incumbent Kaluger added the township had 100 miles of roadway with multiple slippage issues. She also pointed out community projects and the potential for growth. Stephens said a priority should be improving the first responders and police department, bringing in full-time police officers. DeNoble said he would bring business acumen to the job.

Incumbent Richland Township Fiscal Officer Matt Berher and candidate Mike Smith, also serving as a St. Clairsville councilman, concluded the night. Berher said he has worked well and closely with the trustees and other officials since being appointed 10 months ago, as well as ensuring township workers had sufficient funds. Smith said he brings experience in accounting and said he would pursue an audit by the state to ensure township practices were appropriate since there are often no segregation of duties.

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