Kent candidates discuss issues at Democratic Coalition forum

Alison Lucci

UPDATE: Several of the candidates missed this forum, because they had been told a potluck dinner scheduled before the meeting was canceled, so they assumed the forum was also canceled.

The low turnout of candidates and community members at last night’s Portage Democratic Coalition forum enabled contenders and residents to converse informally about local issues.

Two council-at-large candidates, a school board candidate and a judge contender presented their platforms to about a dozen community members at the Kent Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3703.

Vic Hart, a council-at-large candidate, ran unsuccessfully for council eight years ago. Hart said his business background and lifelong residency in Kent give him the insight necessary for the job.

Instead of continually focusing on the budget, Hart said he thinks council needs to focus on reorganizing the city’s infrastructure.

“In the long run, we can’t afford to pay for what we’ve built unless we consolidate,” he said. “It’s a matter of priorities. It’s not a revenue problem. It’s a spending problem.”

Hart and fellow at-large-large candidate Drew Smith agreed that the city’s zoning codes need updated to encourage new development in Kent.

Hart and Smith are just two of the five candidates running for the three council positions. Fellow candidate Erik Valenta did not speak at the forum but arrived at the end to greet residents.

Smith, 23, is the youngest council candidate. He attended Kent State but is currently working full time so he can afford to return to school.

Because he is a former student and now a permanent resident of the area, Smith said he understands the perceived tensions between the student body and Kent residents.

Smith said he wanted to “step up and try to make a difference” in the community.

He is also interested in getting community members involved in local government. As an example, he said the city could operate a Web site for citizens to post their ideas regarding growth and development in the city.

Smith isn’t the only candidate affiliated with the university. Marlene Dorsey, senior special assistant in the justice studies department, is running for a seat on the Kent Board of Education.

Dorsey, the only school board candidate in attendance, said her goal is to help students learn and achieve.

“Education is my passion,” said Dorsey, who has 40 years of experience as an educator and administrator. “It’s my life’s work.”

The role of the school board is to work with the leadership of the school in strategic areas that include planning, budget, finance and academics, Dorsey said. She is one of four candidates running for the three school board positions.

Like Dorsey, Mark Fankhauser was the only candidate in his race to attend the forum.

Fankhauser, who is running for judge in the Portage County Municipal Court, said his 11 years as a local lawyer have prepared him for judgeship. When asked his opinion about the judicial system’s biggest weakness, Fankhauser cited his clients’ complaints about the lengthy legal process.

“As a judge, my goal would be to get people through the process in a timely manner and dispense justice fairly,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Rick Hawksley and a representative from Congressman Tim Ryan’s office were slated to attend but neither was present.

Contact public affairs reporter Alison Lucci at [email protected].