ST. MARYS — Two of the three mayoral candidates for the city of St. Marys appeared at a public forum and told voters why they should be the next mayor.
Incumbent Democrat Greg Freewalt and Republican challenger Patrick McGowan appeared at the informational session hosted by the St. Marys Rotary Club. Nonpartisan candidate Pam Hobler was invited to appear at the forum but declined the invitation because of time conflicts with her job. Hobler supplied written responses that will be included among the other candidates’ answers.
Freewalt and McGowan were asked approximately a dozen questions during the hourlong forum. Each also was given time for an opening and closing statement. A sample of the questions asked during the forum follows.
Question: What role do you see the city playing in the water quality issues that plague Grand Lake St. Marys?
GF: “I think the city has already stepped forward on that with the (Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission) ... I think they did an outstanding job in getting the alum treatment done. One issue that is tough for St. Marys is we are not in the watershed of the lake and we do not use the lake water. So that’s a tough situation for us to be involved. It touches us and we are a part of it and I want to see that lake cleaned up as much as anyone.”
PM: “It’s an issue the city of St. Marys cannot ignore. After being to some of the meetings and talking to some of the organizations that are associated with the lake clean-up, there’s a perception as expressed by them that the city of St. Marys is not really paying enough attention to this issue. What I would like to do is act in concert with various cities in the watershed to take a more active role, a more visible role and bring a lot of pressure against the politicians that are involved.”
PH: “The city has a role working with the state government to insure that the clean up is complete and the citizens and users are safe. We need the lake to help us create the jobs that come with the boating and other recreational activities that have been suspended.”
Question: What should the city do about the old, empty buildings in downtown St. Marys?
PM: “What I would like to see them do is see more open communication with the merchants downtown. I’d like to see us openly embrace these folks and start having more of a dialogue instead being in a controversial battle ... Instead of tearing down buildings, we need to preserve those buildings whenever we can. The city itself cannot get funding for those people but we need to assist those people in getting funding.”
GF: “I think the city has done an outstanding job with the revitalization of the uptown. As you can see along the canal, we had an old, burned out building and if the city had done nothing, we’d still have that burned out building in the middle of town ... We went into a partnership with our CIC and we took Fort Barbee and we remodeled the inside of it but we had the control of the contract with the lease to the school ... The uptown is a tough story because you have the malls at each end and everyone wants to move out there where there is plenty of parking and other people around.”
PH: “Encourage economic growth, there are grants available — revolving loan fund monies. Everyone needs to work together for the betterment of our city. (We) need zoning and (the) economic development director to explore grants.”
Question: What can the city do to help attract new industries to St. Marys?
GF: “Trying to attract new industries is a tough job because you are competing with everybody. I know (Development Manager) Todd (Fleagle) is on JobsOhio and leads ... We can work with them on their infrastructure, we have a revolving loan fund and a CRA, which is now 100 percent for 10 years for tax abatement and that’s one of the great things that has happened. We have had issues with the schools back several years where they didn’t want to abate to that degree. I think the last couple superintendents have seen you have to plant the seed first before the tree grows and you harvest it.”
PM: “This is a sales and marketing issue and I think this really comes into my wheelhouse. I think the city has waited more for the businesses to seek St. Marys rather than be proactive and going out after the companies.
I think you need to put together a well-based marketing plan that focuses on networking with the companies that are already here ... I think we also need to secure additional land and have it shovel ready so if a company is ready to move here that it could move in here with just a short cycle.”
PH: “Work with state representative and senator to coordinate with the Ohio Department of Development to create opportunities. Be aggressive with our marketing. We cannot wait until someone chooses us, we need to sell ourselves.”
Question: If Senate Bill 5 survives this election, how would you look to implement its provisions with the St. Marys municipal workforce?
GF: “I don’t look to implement it an any way, shape or form. When I first saw it come about, I saw problems from the beginning ... I think that the employees should be able to negotiate with their employers.”
PM: “If Senate Bill 5 carries through and is enacted into legislation, I’ll do as the law requires me to do ... I don’t see any issues that we have. Locally I think it is a non-issue.”
PH: “Regardless of how the vote goes, we need to work together with the union and the employees to negotiate a balance insuring that benefits and staffing levels are adequate for our hard-working city employees and at the same time, we are good stewards of our citizens’ money.”
Question: Should the city of St. Marys be financially responsible for building a walkway over U.S. 33 to the new school or should that be a school expense?
GF: “I do not believe that this should be the city’s cost. We told him (Ken Baker) and Mary Riepenhoff that if the school would make a walkway up to the bridge, that we would keep that open and clean and we would furnish the electricity for the bridge. But as far as the bridge itself, that’s a school responsibility.”
PM: “I don’t think the city should absorb the cost for the bridge across the highway. We need to always keep in mind the students’ safety is our No. 1 job but there are other ways of those kids to school.”
PH: “I think a walking bridge would be great. There are other issues to consider, who will pay for it, should it be a shared venture between the school and the city, since it would span over state property, does the state have any responsibility? It is certainly worth looking into.”
Question: What capital projects would you like to see the city administration do?
GF: “One of them is the dredging of the canal and that’s very involved because we have to have ODNR involved and the EPA ... Another one is we are going to start taking down the smoke stack and getting it down level with the building (at the power plant). Another one possibly is we are looking at a new water well.”
PM: “If elected mayor the very first thing I would do is something I learned a long time ago in college is a SWOT analysis. What’s our strengths, what’s our weaknesses, what’s our opportunities and what’s our threats. From that I would make decisions are to where we’d go ... I agree with Greg from the standpoint that the canal needs to be dredged ... Something else that is important to me because of my background is power generation.
I’d like to propose a study, I know we have had studies before but technology changes every day, for wind, solar and fuel cells.”
PH: “I think we need to slow down on the capital improvements and focus on commercial and industrial development.
One of the reasons behind forming a strategic planning committee is to gather input from all sources. The board of education, community leaders, city officials and business leaders, we all have a vested interest in the city and creating long-term planning is important. It resolves issues for today by planning for the future.”