A student on city council?

Jenna Staul

Students could be a formidable presence in Kent if mobilized

It’s been nearly two decades since a Kent State student served on Kent City Council. If you ask Ward 4 councilman John Kuhar, there’s good reason for that.

City Council Qualifications:

&bull The deadline to file for an at-large position on council is

4 p.m. May 4 at the Portage County Board of Elections in Ravenna.

&bull Candidates can only file as an independent at this time. The deadline to file as a Democrat or Republican has passed.

&bull Candidates must gather a minimum of 68 signatures from Kent residents on a petition submitted by the deadline.

&bull Candidates are required to be registered to vote in Kent and must have an address in the community. There is no established length of time that a candidate must live in the city.

“I think students are so wrapped up in day-to-day things and what they came here for – to get their diploma – that they don’t really have time for something like city council,” Kuhar said. “And I don’t know that it should be a priority for them. Council and local government can be pretty demanding.”

In a city of nearly 28,000 residents, Kent State’s 22,000 students could become a formidable presence in city government, said at-large councilman Rick Hawksley, if only they were mobilized.

“Students could own the council if they really wanted to,” said Hawksley, who is currently the Democratic candidate for mayor. “But the key would be to register students. You would have to start (campaigning) early and register students.”

The last Kent State student to serve as a councilman was John Thomas in 1991, Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson said. Last year, Kent State graduate student Doron Kutash unsuccessfully sought a vacated seat on the council after at-large councilman William Schultz died.

“If they were serving for the right reasons, then I think it would be great,” Wilson said. “But we’d want them to serve all of the residents and citizens, not just the student population.”

Three at-large positions on council will be contested in the Nov. 3 election later this year. Students are eligible to run for a position if they can provide a Kent address and are registered to vote in the city.

“My only hesitation is generally, students aren’t permanent, and that could be a detriment to the city,” Kuhar said. “I really don’t think it’s a good idea, but I wouldn’t discourage it. I think if a student ran for council, they would be met with politeness but not sincerity.”

Kuhar said student involvement with the council is minimal, and he wishes that would change. He said students most frequently approach him with complaints about city police.

“That’s what my phone is here for, to have people call,” Kuhar said. “And I do follow up on concerns.”

The ever-changing student population can present challenges to the council as it attempts to gauge the needs of the city, Hawksley said.

“There’s a turnover every four years in the student population,” Hawksley said. “I think we have a pretty good sense of what some of those issues are that affect students, but naturally, a student councilman might be more focused on those things.”

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected]