Help guide change — Get involved in community

It’s time for change in Eastern Ohio.

In many communities across our region, transitions of leadership are taking place. With the first of the year, new mayors, council members and other local officials are taking office.

In some cases, these changes are happening because sitting officials decided to step aside. In others, heated contests led to the removal of an incumbent and their replacement with someone new.

The village of Belmont celebrated its transition on Saturday, as explained in an article on the front page of today’s edition. Residents, officials and people from nearby communities turned out to thank outgoing mayor Stan Sobel for his service – and they congratulated new Mayor Ron Woods and wished him well in his term.

Sobel, as he had pledged when elected, served just one term. But during that time he accomplished a great deal.

The mayor of nearby Bethesda was on hand at the party Saturday to extend her best wishes to Sobel and Woods. Samantha Burkhead, like Woods, is new to her office. She replaces another mayor who decided it was time for him to step aside, Martin Lucas. He served his community for several years as a councilman and mayor.

The situation is similar in Yorkville, where incumbent mayor Karen Vargo decided it was time for her to retire. Fire Chief Dana Brown defeated council President Sandy Reasbeck in the November race to replace her.

Both of the cities in Belmont County now have new mayors as well.

In Martins Ferry, incumbent Robert Krajnyak lost a bid for re-election to challenger John Davies. Both men have served the city in the past in various capacities. I, personally, have covered Martins Ferry City Council when each of them was a member, and I believe both have the best interest of the city at heart.

St. Clairsville swore in its first female mayor last week when Kathryn Thalman took office. She prevailed in a heated contest that started out as a four-way race. Incumbent Terry Pugh sought to hold onto his seat, but he faced challenges from Thalman along with resident Bill Brooks and then-council president Tim Porter. Porter dropped out of the race and then resigned his council seat after a recording of him using a racial slur and profanity was released to the media.

Plenty of other changes are taking place across the region as political bodies reorganize for 2020. With the start of a new year and a new decade, community leaders are reevaluating priorities, setting goals and making plans to move ahead.

Although it may seem that these people have a great deal of power and authority over their neighbors, that generally is not the reason that they choose to serve. In my experience, most people who step up to the plate and take on the challenge of serving in public office do so because they want to make a difference.

In St. Clairsville, for example, the question of privatizing the water and wastewater systems drove the politics of the past few months. Brooks opposed privatization while Pugh advocated for it. Thalman took the approach that more information is needed before the right decision can be made.

Several years ago, I served as a council member in Belmont. I did not run for election; instead, I was appointed to fill a vacant seat. During my term, I weighed in on hiring decisions, policy changes, donations, budgetary matters and much more. I did so because I felt that my community needed me. After all, someone has to give their time and energy to making these decisions.

If you have never served in public office, I urge you to consider doing so – even if only for a single term. Public service and participation at the ballot box are the things that make our system work.

Now is the time to start thinking about whether you can and have the desire to become a public official. This year, Ohio will hold its primary on March 17. While the presidential contest will be the big draw, plenty of other contests will be decided as well. In order to be on that ballot, even as a write-in candidate, you must file paperwork with your county board of elections by 4 pm. Monday.

To participate in March voting, you must register to vote by Feb. 18. Visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s website — sos.state.oh.us – if you need to check your registration status.

If you have no desire to hold office, or if you simply can’t do so right now, there are still plenty of ways you can help and support your new community leaders and your community as a whole. You can start by attending a council meeting.

After you’ve been to one such session, I urge you to keep going back. Councils and administrations can benefit from the input of the people they serve. They also need to recruit volunteers, committee members and others to help ensure projects get completed. They also can use help in getting the word out to your neighbors who do not attend.

The decisions made in your villages, cities, townships and counties each month likely have much more direct impact on you and your family than do many at the state and federal levels. For that reason, I encourage you to become informed and to get involved in whatever capacity works for you right now.