Q & A: Commissioner Candidates State Their Case
Candidates Charlie Adkins and Gary Edwards are looking to fill the seat currently held by Republican Larry Payne. Present commissioner Mark Sullivan faces four challengers in the primary race for his seat from candidates Paul “Smoke” Barrett, Robert Baughman, Chris Chmiel and Mike O’Brien.
Q: What skills do you possess that would make you a good commissioner?
Baughman: “I started out as a police dispatcher and I became an EMT and worked as an EMT in this county for 13 years, and I’ve seen the hardships that these people have in this county … I’m as past councilman for the City of Nelsonville. We had a five million dollar budget up there.”
Adkins: “I bargained a number of contracts when I was [working] at Ohio University and if you look at my collective bargaining degree … we had the best health care, the best benefits … I think my bargaining skills would help a lot as county commissioner. I think I can bring that to the table and bring something good.”
Edwards: “I’m a pretty good people person. I have a real easy way of getting people involved and getting projects done. We’ve been able to do some really, really good projects in Nelsonville School District, and I did that through cooperation with other people, get them involved, turning my passion into their passion and we made things happen.”
O’Brien: “Whether serving as a Navy petty officer, as a local business owner, as a project manager in aerospace and medical technologies, the one thing that I learned and that has been the key to my success is my ability to bring people together from diverse groups … bring those people together and find innovative solutions to get things done.”
Chmiel: “I’d say my biggest asset will be community building. I feel like I’m a good listener, I understand that this job is a team job … I’m interested in hearing from all the people and all the different agencies on how to make their ideas, their experience into the best county we can. Also I feel like one of my strong points is in a creative aspect; I feel like I could find solutions that might have multiple win-win opportunities.”
Barrett: “I’ve worked hard all my life, I’m the common guy. And I think my ability to listen and learn is my biggest asset … I think if you encourage people, let them know they’re important and they’re doing a good job, I think it will go through walls for you.”
Sullivan: “I think I’m a very good listener with one-on-one and with groups of people. I think I’m good at helping find solutions whether it’s an individual with a problem or groups with a problem. I think my track record proves that, and I just think my 13 years of being commissioner andhaving experience balancing very tough budgets is a big plus.”
Q: What would you nominate as your first issue if you were elected? What would you put first?
O’Brien: “The most important issue facing the county right now is the issue of industrial extraction of oil and natural gas and fracking. Yes we do have budget constraints right now, but budget concerns come and go. We’ve had tight budgets before, but fracking is forever and this can permanently affect the county in ways that we have not fully studied yet.”
Chmiel: “I think that fracking is the biggest issue for our agenda. I would like to take our committee that’s just been formed, our advisory committee and make sure that we’re very proactive … and in general it’d be nice if we can keep that wealth in Athens county to create longterm wealth so it’s not a boom and bust cycle.”
Baughman: “My main concern is economic development … One of the things I’d like to do is try to encourage regional investors to invest in Athens County and create job-friendly atmospheres here. One of the problems that we run into is there’s not sufficient space for industry to move here … We need that kind of facilities that are available for them to move in immediately, not wait a year or two to have to build.”
Barrett: “First thing is basic. Identify your issues, identify your needs, set goals and determine strategies to get there. Next priority would be jobs … There’s people out in the county who are hurting, who are truly hurting … Whatever we have to do whether its county facilities, county money, land, whatever we have to do but we have to get some jobs in here.”
Sullivan: “My first priority will be to continue to work with the officeholders to make sure that the basic services our residents need and expect and serve are received by them. The budget is tight every year, it’s always a big issue and it’s probably always going to be a big issue at least for the foreseeable future with the state and federal budget continuing to try to balance their budgets on the backs of local municipalities and townships and counties and villages.”
Edwards: “The county needs to work on [creating a five year budget plan.] We need to be fiscally responsible … There’s a lot of opportunities in the county with economic development coming but we need to be able to be on sound financial ground in order to do that … [There are] opportunities we need to address but we need to do them by getting our house in order first.”
Adkins: “I think jobs and the safety of the people in our county is the most important to me … if we could build that end of our county up [with the Wayne National Forest], if we can bring one of the biggest tourism parts of this county up it’s going to bring jobs, it’s going to create a lot of help up on that end. So I think we’ve got to continue working and supporting small businesses and make sure they don’t leave the county, which they have been.”
Q: How do you think county buildings, facilities and property can all be best utilized and if you would change anything?
Edwards: “I think we need to take a really good look at all our facilities; 911 is crammed in a space they shouldn’t be, the sheriff’s office needs more room, almost every office at the courthouse needs more room … I think we need to keep looking at that and seeing what the opportunities are but right now I think we better worry about our finances before we address the long-term building program.”
Adkins: “I think that right now with the layoffs and cutbacks in job and family services there’s plenty of room to move people around … The 911 fund has money in it just for the 911 system, and so I believe that [there is] money in the system to put the 911 system down in the plains along with a couple other county offices. The county commissioners are looking at rebuilding the current spot, to me that’s a waste of money.”
Chmiel: It’s pretty complex. There’s a lot of buildings and there’s a lot of needs with all the departments … In general I would say, you know, because of the right budget that we’re expecting next year we’re going to have to try to be resourceful and see about making do with what we have … If there are ways to improve energy efficiency, that’s something I’m interested in … it’ll reduce our long-term costs.”
O’Brien: “The sheriff’s office and the 911 center have long ago used up their space. Those agencies need to be moved. Yet times are tight right now, but those two agencies are a priority to the county. As commissioner I would look for ways … to find every available source of funding to move those facilities as soon as possible.”
Baughman: “One of my biggest concerns … is the communications that we have. One of the things I would like to see is to build a public safety facility which would house the sheriff’s department, the EMA, the 911 center, EMS and also the MS station. But the facility would have to be big enough for expansion so everybody’s not on top of each other.”
Barrett: “I think we’ve been dragging our feet on the sheriff’s office and 911. They’re two different funds … I think it needs to be separate … The only thing keeping that thing afloat right now is the good help that they have right now so I definitely would like to see some changes in it. We can’t just keep throwing money in an inefficient operation.”
Sullivan: “The sheriff does need to be out of downtown Athens. It would improve the response time by three or four minutes and that could be the difference between a life and a death in a lot of instances … I think if we look to selling the sheriff’s current location in downtown, I would think a law firm or some entity would be very interested in having a prime piece of real estate right next to the courthouse. With the sale of that building, we may be able to finance construction of a new sheriff’s office.”
Q: What are your feelings on the possibility of switching to lethal injection at the Athens County Dog Shelter and disassembling the gas chamber?
Sullivan: “I would like to see us move toward a no-kill policy … in regards to switching from gas to euthanasia, right now cost is always a concern … so to switch may be more costly and may not be financially feasible to do for the county general fund interest. And the other concern of our employees is who is going to hold the DEA license for the drugs that are going to be kept on site … Their concern is if the drugs come up missing the DEA is going to be all over them.”
Baughman: “I would like to see us get away from using that chamber altogether but leave it there because someday we may not be able to afford to do chemical euthanasia and we will have to have that chamber back. What I’d like to see us do is increase the holding space that they have out there so they can house more dogs … the longer it stays around the more likelihood it has a chance of being adopted or relocated somewhere else.”
Barrett: “I would love to see if we could afford [euthanasia]. I don’t know the particulars on it … You know, we love our pets a lot … I think lethal injection, there ought to be some way to work that out, it’s a decent way to put a nice pet to sleep.”
Adkins: “I’m totally against the gas chamber; I think we need to do away with it … I think we ought to work with different groups to try to bring the funding in to support taking care of these animals. I think it can happen, I just think we need to work together … I’m sure that there’s support out there to bring monies in to pay for that.”
Edwards: “As far as tearing the gas chamber down, if the county goes to lethal injection which we should try to pursue, we need to lock the gas chamber up. It’s county property, we don’t tear it down you never know what’s going to happen 10 years down the road … Once we figure out a way to use lethal injection we should go with that when and if we can do it affordably.”
Chmiel: “I think that there’s a consensus growing that lethal injection’s the way to go. The gas chamber doesn’t need to go … Obviously we’re going to have to find a way to maybe provide more funding for this … It seems like disassembling the gas chamber would be a symbolic gesture not necessarily one that would make the most [sense], that’s a $10,000 investment.”
O’Brien: “The answer is of course a no-kill facility … Doing away with the inhumane gassing of dogs has always been money. The cost is not the issue … There’s been a lack of leadership on this issue … Once we make the switch to injection euthanasia we will never go back, ever, because after we make the switch we’re going to start working on making this a no-kill facility. We’re going to make sure we have an aggressive campaign of spay and neuter, and make it affordable for people who want to adopt.”
Throughout the forum, each candidate assured residents that they would make County Commissioner their full-time job and would make themselves as available to the public as possible.
The primary election for Athens County Commissioner seats will be March 6.