Six candidates seek Portage County Commissioner seat

With current Portage County Commissioner Chris Smeiles opting not to seek re-election, six candidates are vying for party nominations this Tuesday: Four on the Democratic side and two on the Republican side. The term will commence January 3, 2013.

While there are a multitude of issues facing residents of Portage County, each candidate has their own concerns and plans for how they want to tackle the issues they’d face should they be elected to office.

Democrat Jon Barber is currently the director of Portage County Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said one of his concerns for the county is trying to encourage business development and economic growth while still being fiscally responsible.

“We‘re not moving forward trying to create jobs, trying to give people who are graduating from college a reason to stay here,” Barber said.

A major part of Barber’s plan to accomplish his goals in office, should he be elected, is to work on greater collaboration throughout county government.

“We need to open our minds to all kinds of ideas and sit down with people and come up with a way to move forward,” Barber said.

Through his current work he said he’s learned a lot of skills in collaboration and teamwork that he thinks would make this possible.

Kathleen Chandler, also seeking the Democratic nomination, echoed Barber’s concern for the state of the economy in Portage County.

Her experience includes serving eight years as state representative for the district, six years as Portage County Commissioner and seven years as mayor of Kent. She believes the most important issue facing Portage County is the high unemployment rate and under-employment.

Chandler has bachelor and master’s degrees in education from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Kent State.

“I am a great supporter of higher education and have a long history of support for students and the university,” Chandler said.

If elected, Chandler plans to call on different groups within the community to work toward improving Portage County’s employment rate.

“I would work with the economic development people, other elected officials and educators, the Portage County development coordinator and NEOTECH [Northeast Ohio Trade and Economic Consortium] to do all we can to encourage job growth and job retention,” Chandler said.

Working with other communities is something Chandler hopes to do if elected.

“I think it’s important if we encourage regional cooperation and collaboration among governments,” Chandler said.

Chris Mallin, also seeking the democratic nomination, expressed concern over transparency in government at the League of Women Voters’ community forum Wednesday night. One of the top issues he feels that is currently facing the county is gas and oil drilling.

“That is the biggest challenge that faces the county at this time because the industrialization of this county by gas drilling operations is going to change the whole character of the county and it needs to be managed as best as possible,” Mallin said, “at least until the state of Ohio gets some effective regulation and some effective enforcement in place.”

Mallin currently works as an attorney and said he would put the negotiating skills he’s developed to work in the county.

He said another challenge he wants to deal with is the limited budget currently available to the county, and says he would like to explore new sources of funding in order to raise the quality and number of services available to residents to levels they had reaching previously in 2008.

Democrat Bill Davis, a local business owner, echoes Mallin’s concern, feeling that he understands Portage County’s budget needs to be reevaluated, carefully, because of a limited budget.

“I am willing to trim all areas of the budget after a careful review of its current operating budget, except the sheriff department and services to senior citizens,” Davis said, according to the voter’s guide presented by the League of Women Voters. “These two items need more funding, not less.”

Davis’ main goal is putting more deputies on the road in Portage County.

“I would increase the number of road deputies available for work,” said Davis. “The funds would come from using a low cost of operation philosophy and reduced costs in all other departments.”

On the Republican side of the primary, W. Roak Zeller is seeking nomination. At the forum Wednesday, he expressed enthusiasm to see industrial growth in the county, particularly in the energy sector.

“It’s been pretty grim economically in Portage County for a long time, but fortunately there’s hope for growth in the energy sector,” Zeller said. “There’s a lot of economic development going on with the new drilling.”

Zeller is currently a full-time employee at Rubbermaid and also has served as an officer on various community organizations.

Competing with Zeller for votes on the Republican side is Larry Solak, whose main concern for the county is “the situation of the economy in the county.”

He feels he has gained “pretty good financial footing” while on other commissions and that his experience, knowledge and ability will help to provide a “better economic outlook for the county.”

“We need to get government spending under control,” Solak said.

Solak has owned and operated Solak’s Automotive since 1970. He has served two terms as Shalersville Township Trustee, two terms as president of the Portage County Township Association and eight years on the Portage County Regional Planning Commission.

Also up for election is the county commissioner seat with a term commencing January 2, 2013. Seeking the Democratic nomination is Maureen T. Frederick, who currently holds the position, and opposing her is Angelo A. Battaglia. Running unopposed on the Republican ticket is Edith Bridget Pavlick.

Contact Alison Adams at [email protected] and Amber Wade at [email protected].