MARION — Crime, drug addiction and a sewer system in need of improvement have the attention of the four candidates for three at-large seats on Marion City Council.
Incumbents Rebbeca Gustin and Josh Daniels and challengers Scott Crider and Sulu Kelley III are running for three spots on the city’s legislative body in the Nov. 5 election.
Gustin is seeking her third term as an at-large councilwoman. Daniels, a former Marion County commissioner, is seeking his second term in the at-large seat. Crider is making his second attempt at an at-large berth. Kelley, representing the Libertarian Party, is running for the first time for an at-large position. Gustin, Daniels and Crider are Democrats.
Crider, a sales specialist at Lowe’s and field services director for Preservation Ohio, a nonprofit organization, said his experience in working in business and the nonprofit sectors provide him with skills that would serve the public well.
Crider, who is in his third term, said his tenure on the Marion Downtown Design Review board of trustees since 1999 provides him with insight in working with the Marion County Regional Planning Commission and the processes of applying for and implementing Community Development Block Grants.
He said the city’s biggest need is to improve its image.
“That image is always challenged by all the negative publicity we get for drug and crime issues, but we certainly need to be an advocate of things in Marion. We’re selling Marion to potential employers. I see this transition we’re in. We’re a bedroom community for Columbus. Why not have everything here?”
Addressing the city’s ongoing challenge of operating with a shrinking general fund, Crider said zero-budgeting and having the various city departments work together to manage through crisis situations is a must.
“We have to do a better job of contemplating our needs and a better job of prioritizing,” he said, adding he liked recent moves to hire a civilian to oversee police property maintenance to free up an officer to work on the street.
He suggested providing the public with reminders about services such as leaf pickup and recycling via monthly billing statements.
Crider said if elected he would provide the community with a “fresh voice” backed by experience in the professional and community service areas.
“I’m a self-motivated person and optimistic,” he said.
Daniels, an excavation, plumbing and construction contractor and real estate developer, has a bachelor’s degree in economics from The Ohio State University. He said his OSU studies and experience as a successful business owner will serve the public well, as will his contracting work in excavation and as a licensed plumber, which he said provide him with knowledge in addressing the issue of flooded basements and related sewer problems in the city.
Daniels said his primary objective as a council member would be to increase the size of the police department.
“Truthfully, right at this moment, I would say crime, drug addiction, the crimes that go along with that are at proportions I’ve never seen as long as I’ve lived in the city, and we’re at a staffing level that’s two-thirds of what it was three years ago.”
Daniels said he has made cost-saving suggestions to the city that have not been implemented or were implemented only in part that would enable the city to appropriate more money than it does for increasing the size of its police force.
“I don’t expect everyone to spend every single dime with 100 percent efficiency, but I expect it to be better than it is now,” he said. “That’s how in these times you repair a police force. That’s how you rebuild a police force. You have to find the money for it.”
Daniels said his experience as a county commissioner in addition to his experience on council is a valuable asset for council.
“It’s my belief no one gives as much to this job,” he said. “… I don’t know of anyone who cares about doing this job as much as I do and gives as much to it.”
Gustin, a retired schoolteacher, said the knowledge she has gained in her first two terms on council and the communication and social skills she gained in 35 years with Marion City Schools would serve the public well.
She said one of her objectives as a council member would be to improve infrastructure.
“We know we need new sewers, streets repaired, curbs and resurfaced,” she said. “Not only to work better, but so we’re aesthetically better. It’s important to help people with the sewers. It’s a costly, very costly, job to get done.”
Gustin said the community, not solely council, has to work together to address the drug problem and improve economic development.
“The elephant in the room is the drug problem, absolutely,” she said. “The thing I can do is participate in groups that are working toward the elimination of that … ”
She said she would encourage continued grant writing to address infrastructure needs.
“It’s a big-picture situation,” she said. “Everything has to be in place to encourage companies to come into our community. It takes good schools. It takes good housing. It takes the good reputation that your city is going down the right road.”
Gustin said to improve the general fund, employees must communicate with department heads “watching every penny that they spend to make sure they stay within boundaries.” She said the benefit of a healthy general fund is it would allow the city to more easily “continue to provide all those services people have gotten used to.”
Gustin said her experience on council is a benefit to the community, adding, “When people have a problem I try instantly to solve it or get someone to help them. I don’t dilly-dally around. I try to get it solved.”
Kelley, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in construction systems management at The Ohio State University, said serving 8 1/2 years in the Navy working in its nuclear power program means he would devote “massive attention to detail. Procedural compliances is a big part of what I did immediately after high school.”
He said his university studies provide him with an “academic background in scheduling, estimating, and this is your large commercial projects, so I should be able to sit down with the service director and city engineer and talk to them about what they do need to make the city work.”
Kelley said as a council member he would focus on improving the efficiency of city operations.
“There is some openness and transparency with the efficiency that results from that,” he said. “As far as city sewers goes, I think a lot of this is going to turn into a time and money problem.”
Kelley said the needs of Marion start with the residents of the community: “I think I would use that office as a bully pulpit to turn around and say, ‘look people need to be responsible for themselves and their kids.’”
Referring to church volunteer work he does with troubled youths, he said, “I’ll point out that being responsible for yourself and your family, those aren’t really things that government at any level can do. At the same time, things the government can do is spend your money.”
Kelley calls for city government to improve its efficiency. Council “needs to establish oversight over how money is spent” and demand more communication with council from the city treasurer and auditor.
Kelley said voters should elect him “because I want to leave them alone. If it’s not a question of force, fraud, theft, I really don’t see why government is involved in somebody’s personal life. If what you are doing is not hurting someone else, why is government involved?”