Van Wert mayoral candidates (from the left) Joe Jared, Ken Markward, and Don Farmer got a chance to share their visions for the city during a forum held Monday evening at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio. Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent
A standing-room-only crowd was on hand to listen to Van Wert’s three mayoral candidates talk about their qualifications and priorities, as well as answer questions about their stances on charter government and a number of other issues.
The forum, hosted by Van Wert High School government students and held in the First Federal Lecture Hall of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio, was a bit late getting started because additional chairs had to be brought into the lecture hall for the SRO crowd.
The format of the forum provided each candidate with brief opening and closing statements, as well as questions about their backgrounds and qualifications for mayor and questions submitted by community members seeking the candidates’ priorities if elected, their stances on charter government, and whether they support a tax increase.
Republican candidate Kenneth Markward, who retired after 33 years as a teacher and administrator, also spent 20 years on the Van Wert City Board of Education, five as president, and seven years on the Vantage Board of Education. Markward is currently serving his second term as Third Ward representative on Van Wert City Council.
Markward noted that his personality, combined with his training as a mathematician, result in a tendency for him to “approach things from an analytical viewpoint.” That, coupled with his years in education, where he had plenty of opportunity to work with students and adults with varying opinions, have provided him with a “skillset well-suited to the position of mayor.”
Independent candidate Joe Jared, a self-employed entrepreneur for nearly 20 years who received his education at a trade school for computer and maintenance training, stressed that he had a background of knowledge that was also well-suited for someone wanting to be mayor, including computer skills that helped him design and build his own machine language and cost-effective 3D scanning system. He added that he works with a variety of clients and others in his business and community dealings.
Former mayor Don Farmer, also running as an independent, noted his accomplishments during two prior terms as mayor. Those included city reservoir expansion and megasite industrial development projects. Farmer noted that the reservoir expansion project came in approximately $1.5 million under budget.
The former mayor also talked about his business experience as an insurance agent, a sales manager and consultant for The Bell System, and as a former owner-operator of three local businesses: Macs Delicatessen, The Paint Bucket, and PAVE Advertising.
The forum format was non-adversarial, with candidates not allowed to rebut other candidates’ statements during the time — 1 minute, 90 seconds, or 2 minutes — allotted them to address each question. There were obvious differences between candidates, though, on how they feel about several of the issues.
While all three candidates felt infrastructure issues were a priority, how they approached the issue differed.
In talking about his top priorities, Markward said he saw the city’s aging infrastructure, including streets and sidewalks, as well as water and sewer lines, as a priority, as well as the impact of the opioid epidemic on city police and other first-responders.
Jared’s priority was street paving and reconstruction, but said he feels all city streets could be repaved within the next two years with the money now available, and that generated over the next two years, in the Street Construction Fund.
Farmer said he feels residential street resurfacing is a priority, but disagreed with Jared on how much could be done in a year, noting that, if elected, he and Safety-Service Director Jay Fleming would work on developing a five-year plan to prioritize street projects. Farmer also supports switching manual-read water meters to automatic systems that would eliminate estimated readings. The project is currently pending.
Two of the candidates gave at least qualified support to the idea of forming a charter government in Van Wert, while the third, Jared, was adamantly opposed, noting he feels it is a “power grab,” although by whom he did not say.
Markward said he sees a number of benefits from a charter form of government, including more flexibility and control by local residents over their own government. A charter government would also allow the city to set qualifications for some elected positions, and could also allow it to hire and fire certain city positions that are now elected, such as the auditor and law director.
Farmer said he was open to the idea, but wanted to find out more information about the issue before forming an opinion.
The three candidates also had varying opinions on whether Van Wert should have a full- or part-time mayor.
Farmer, a former mayor, said he feels the position, the way he did it, was a full-time job. Farmer also noted that the position has many duties and aspects that he feels can only be accomplished by a full-time mayor.
Markward said he feels the position could go either way, depending on what city residents would like to see, while Jared said he felt the position should definitely be a part-time job, considering the size of the community.
All three candidates also support local economic development, but had varying ideas of what that means to them.
Farmer feels the city’s priority should be on creating new jobs, and felt the megasite should be a priority of the city-county economic development organization.
“That site has to be promoted very well,” he noted, but noted that government can only “set the stage” when it comes to promoting the site.
“Build it, and they will come,” the former mayor said, adding that he feels the city is a prime area of a large industrial project.
Markward also agreed that economic development was an important priority, and felt the city should get behind efforts such as the Business Development Corporation (BDC)’s current Accelerate Van Wert capital fundraising campaign that centers on “quality of life” issues, such as improved housing and other amenities, to attract people who want to both work and live in the city.
Jared also supported development issues, but was less enthusiastic about the megasite, noting his opinion that the large industrial development site would be better put to use on smaller development projects.
“I’d like to see a not-so-mega-company come in and buy some of that land and use it to create jobs,” Jared said, and added he supports letting the options expire on the project.
VWHS government teacher Jeff Kallas, who is running unopposed for a City Council seat in November, commended the students who helped set up the forum, noting that none of the students received class credit for the project, but did it on their own time.
Following the forum, each of the candidates moved to the NPAC’s Grand Lobby to talk one-on-one with potential voters. Markward noted that, while approximately 300 local residents have already voted early, the early voting option is still currently available. For those who don’t vote early, Election Day this year is Tuesday, November 5. All city voters will cast their ballots at the new Van Wert County Board of Elections offices, 1362 E. Ervin Road.
Original article courtesy of The VW Indpendent