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Delaware County Board of Commissioners

Four candidates set sights on pair of seats

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Four men will vie for two seats on the Delaware County Board of Commissioners in the Nov. 6 election.

Incumbent Republican Ken O'Brien is fighting to keep his seat against Democratic write-in challenger Richard Bird for a four-year term starting Jan. 3.

Two newcomers are up for the four-year term that starts Jan. 2: Republican Gary Merrell and Democrat John Hartman. Republican Tommy Thompson, who currently holds the seat, lost to Merrell in the March primary.

O'Brien, 52, said he reined in spending during his first term by adding courtrooms to the county administrative building instead of constructing a planned $52 million courthouse.

He said if he's re-elected, he'd work to bring high-skill and high-tech jobs to the county and continue to advocate for improved roads and public infrastructure.

O'Brien said he's a fiscal conservative who would oppose any tax hikes.

"We need to live within our budget," he said. "I've been a fiscal conservative seeking to make sure that we really are wise with our dollars so that we don't have to ask for more."

Before he was elected vice president of the board in 2008, O'Brien worked as an elementary intervention specialist in the Worthington City School District.

Currently, he serves on boards for the Delaware County Regional Planning Commission and the Delaware-Knox-Marion-Morrow Solid Waste District

He lives in Berlin Township with his wife, Lisa, and their three children.

Bird, 45, works as a risk management executive for JP Morgan Chase. He said his business experience would help him reform the county government and coordinate services across multiple municipalities.

"My background is very different from most of the elected officials in Delaware County," he said. "Basically, I want to bring 21st-century financing and accounting methods to the county."

If elected, the Democratic candidate said his No. 1 goal would to develop the middle and northern portions of the county, starting with the long-planned reconstruction of Interstate 71's Sunbury-Delaware interchange.

Bird said he'd push to streamline county services such as EMS and police to make them more efficient and affordable.

He added he would work to eliminate an atmosphere of divisiveness and protectionism he said exists among current board members.

Bird lives in Westerville with his wife, Valerie. They have four children.

Hartman, 66, works as a professor of journalism at Central Michigan University.

The Democratic candidate said if he is elected, he hopes to reform the board by introducing a charter form of government, a move that would downsize the role of individual county commissioners.

Charter government would replace Delaware's three-member board of commissioners with an elected county executive who reports to a part-time board of county commissioners.

Hartman said the move would make the board less costly, more efficient and potentially more bipartisan.

"The advantage is that it costs less, and it's easy for individuals in a district to contact the commissioner that represents their district," he said. "It really gets the government closer to the people."

In Delaware County it also would free up funds for public-safety efforts such as policing and new tornado sirens, he said.

Hartman lives in Liberty Township with his wife, Kay. They have three adult daughters.

Merrell, 63, said he'd bring his personal brand of "smart" fiscal conservatism to the board if elected.

"We need to spend money, but we need to do it appropriately to avoid duplication of services," he said. "We need to make good decisions."

"I won't go into this job assuming I have all the answers, but I will work hard to find the answers."

The Republican candidate said his management background makes him a strong candidate for the position. He previously worked for five years as publisher of the Delaware Gazette, and has a background managing other Ohio publications.

He said he's never run for office before but worked this year to get a full understanding of the big issues facing the county.

He said he'd like to help the county work better with local municipalities to consolidate EMS and other services, making them cheaper and more efficient.

Merrell lives in Liberty Township with his wife, Cathy. They have two adult daughters and a 13-year-old son.

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