Rocky Fork Enterprise

Longtime elected officials share views on public service

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

While such organizations as the Ohio School Boards Association and the Ohio Municipal League offer training for newly elected council and school board members, veteran elected officials say nothing really prepares a candidate for public office.

Gahanna Mayor Becky Stinchcomb first was elected to Gahanna City Council in 1991. In that election, four new council members were placed into office.

As a former civic association president in Rathburn Woods, Stinchcomb said, she had been attending council and planning commission meetings as a local leader and citizen for a few years, fighting zoning changes.

"I had some idea of the issues facing the city at the time," she said. "I also had a general knowledge of the legislative process, as I had a minor in political science in college.

"But nothing prepares you for the volume of work, the wide range of diverse issues, all the citizen input that you receive and the all the specific city operational information you need when you get dropped into a job on Gahanna City Council," Stinchcomb said.

With the possibility to have as many as five new members on council, she said, it would be a daunting task for the administration as the workflow would increase early as more in-depth informational presentations would be needed.

"The process likely will slow as we hit the steep learning curve of five new members," she said. "The incumbents will have added work as they help the newbies along. Any newcomers to office will have a lot to learn in a hurry. But that has always been true, and if we as citizens elect bright, dedicated and selfless public servants, we will be well-served as always."

Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci said school board candidates should run for office because they care about the district and want to see it move forward.

"If you have an agenda, it's probably a wrong reason to run," he said. "You need to be focused on kids and understand the role of a board member -- a policy-maker. It's not as glamorous as people think. It's a lot of hours and responsibility. It's a worthwhile position and impacts thousands of kids. It's as important as any other (role) in the district."

Twelve-year G-J board member Claire Yoder told ThisWeek most people serve in public office for altruistic reasons.

"It's in order to be good public servants, create possibilities for kids for the future and not have sidebar concerns of politics," she said. "This week, I put in 20 hours. If you don't want to devote time or don't have the time, the board of education is not for you."

Yoder isn't running for re-election for the school board, but she's set to serve on the Jefferson Township board of trustees, as only two candidates are running for two open seats.

"I'll still be involved in the district," Yoder said. "I'm a firm believer in using public participation time, and I'm confident I will do that and be involved in other things."

Like Jefferson Township, the Johnstown-Monroe Board of Education is already established because no candidates have challengers.

Board member Ruth Ann Booher, who was appointed in March to fill an unexpired term, is seeking a four-year term.

She's no stranger to public service, though, having served almost 15 years previously on the board.

Booher said the lack of candidates could point to voters being pleased with the prospects of the leadership that could be provided by those who stepped forward to accept the challenge.

"Perhaps they did not feel compelled to muddy the waters," she said. "For whatever reasons, it is a relief not to have to worry about a campaign.

"It takes so much time and actually detracts from the variety of issues that need to be addressed in school leadership," she said. "Addressing the enormous avenues that need to be resolved to keep the district engaged in new learning concepts, teacher evaluations, technology opportunities, budget constraints, the implementation of state and federal mandates, the prospect of building new facilities and the list goes on."

Whether being on a public board or being a voter from afar, Booher said, she's grateful for all who dedicate their service.

Likewise, Stinchcomb said, she has great respect for everyone who successfully has held a seat on Gahanna's council.

"This is truly a job where you learn on the job -- often trial by fire -- as you go along," she said. "Personally, I'm not sure we all would have made it in 1992 without the three incumbent councilpersons helping us along, as well as an experienced and patient city attorney and experienced and patient city council clerk."

Stinchcomb said OML training is available for new council members, but the one-day seminar doesn't begin to prepare candidates for what they would need to do.

The OSBA is offering board candidate workshops to lead candidates through a program to help them better understand the everyday roles and responsibilities of school board members and the legal aspects of being a board member.

Workshops will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown, and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 7, at the OSBA offices in Columbus.

To register, call 614-540-4000 or send an email to Lmiller@ohioschoolboards.org.

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