Paula Brooks hopes voters let her continue serving the county she says she loves.

Paula Brooks hopes voters let her continue serving the county she says she loves.

Brooks, a Democrat, is vying to keep her seat as Franklin County commissioner in the Nov. 4 election, when she will run against Republican challenger Angel Rhodes.

Brooks said she wants to continue "the very positive job and economic-development building that we've begun in this first term."

When she began her role as commissioner, she said, the county had a $60-million deficit.

"I was very shocked by that. It takes about $30-million a month to operate Franklin County programs, so having a big hole in the budget like that was very significant. We worked to cut back. We had great cooperation. We never cut one deputy sheriff, we never cut one prosecutor," she said. "We got that shored up. We now have a double AAA bond rating, which is the envy of many, many communities around the country.

"We do face challenges, but we're still a bright spot," she continued. "We've added over 15,000 jobs in Franklin County since I began as commissioner in 2005," she said. "Part of that has been because we took a couple of departments, merged them and we developed a strategic focus on economic development."

Brooks acknowledged current economic conditions are difficult.

"We are going to face tough times. Ohio is not out of the woods," she said. "I still think it's necessary to watch every penny, every time, especially next year. We're going to ask our residents to help us watch those dollars because there are going to be ways in which we're probably going to have to spend our money differently when we get cuts from both the federal government and the state in which we know are coming."

Brooks said education is a big issue for her as well.

"We've doubled our youth and child spending since I've been a commissioner," she said. "That's been one of my major focal points." She said the students of today are "the future entrepreneurs, business leaders and workers of tomorrow.

"So it's a work-force issue as well," she said.

Brooks, who has a bachelor of arts in political science from Youngstown State and earned her juris doctorate from Capital University Law School, has been in private law practice since 1990. Her cases have included employment matters and health care. She was special counsel to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and a special counsel for the Ohio Attorney General.

She started her public service in 1975 as an investigator for the Ohio Attorney General. She since has been a special assistant for economic development and tax policy and directed the Women's Law Project, which assisting in establishing funding for domestic violence shelters in Ohio.

In 1985, Brooks was hired as chief legal counsel for the Ohio Department of Liquor Control.

She served on Upper Arlington City Council from 1996 to 2004, and was vice mayor from 1998 to 2002.

"When I became a council member, Upper Arlington had no economic development program. When I left Upper Arlington, I was very pleased to have left it with having built several million more dollars of good business development in place," she said.

Brooks said she also helped build youth programs during her time in city council.

"We joined with the faith community, the school and the business community. We put our heads together and developed a lot of activities for our youth. What I found is when you keep kids busy and engaged in something productive, they learn more and don't get in trouble," she said.

Brooks said she stands by her record.

"I've worked really hard. I think it's important in these times to have experience and knowledge running a $2-billion budget," she said. "I think sometimes experience counts for a lot. And this is that case."

The 55-year-old candidate has been living in Franklin County for 33 years. She lives in Upper Arlington with her husband, Greg Kontras. They have raised two children, Elise and Evan.

"I love Franklin County," she said. "I just want us to be the best we can be."

Angel Rhodes tells her students to identify a problem and be a part of the solution.

She's decided to take her own advice.

Rhodes -- a 42-year-old Republican -- is a professor and director of the School Counseling Graduate Program for the Capital University branch of the University of Dayton. She's also running for FranklinCounty commissioner against incumbent Paula Brooks.

"I need to be stepping up to the plate myself and not complain-ing about what other people are not doing," Rhodes said.

One issue Rhodes is focusing on is the county's contract standards, which were adopted in 2002 to protect against companies that don't provide workers with benefits and safe job conditions, even if violations are minor and unintentional.

Rhodes said the commissioners have used those contract standards as a "loophole" to hire only union labor.

"Their competition has been removed. Our commissioners, including my opponent, have used the loophole so that non-union companies don't feel like they have a chance for these contracts. They are no longer bidding," she said. "We can't afford that."

Rhodes said she has a very simple solution: she wants to add the words "intentional violations" to the contract standards.

"If a company has a $50 clerical error, it has the same weight as if a company cheated tens of thousands of dollars," she said. "If it's a clerical error, it's fixed and over with. ... All we have to do is look at intentional violations. A minor clerical error should not keep a company from getting a job," she said.

Rhodes also pointed to education as an important issue.

"At the county level, they don't have any educational initiatives," she said. "Just because (the commissioners) don't play a role in education, that doesn't mean they shouldn't. I have a plan that will work out with our community partners, universities who have interns in public schools such as teachers, school counselors and social workers."

Rhodes said her plan includes making dropout prevention and bringing dropouts back to school a priority. She said she will focus on "creating safer schools, improving career education that will prepare students for successful lives, regardless if they attend college and helping superintendents create better community and educational partnerships.

"The cost to taxpayers is nil," she said of her dropout prevention plan. She said she plans to use her connections with colleges and universities to utilize interns to help meet those needs. She also wants to use federal grant money.

"There is money available that rarely ever gets tapped into," she said.

Rhodes also wants to promote economic development and job growth.

"I would like to see us work with business community leaders to develop a plan with the Veterans Memorial area that will create good jobs and establish Columbus as a destination spot for business conventions and travel," she said.

Rhodes said she doesn't have any experience in public office, but denies that will have any negative effects if she's elected.

"When you work in the university system, you have to work with different groups of people that have different desires, different directions and different visions. You have to bring people together, work with budgets, working with having your goals met even when your goals are in opposition to other people in different departments," she said. "Universities are a very political system."

"It's all about what's best for the people you're serving, maintaining budgets and setting priorities," she said.

Rhodes said she's lived in Franklin County since 1985. She currently lives in Dublin with her husband of 13 years, Jeff Kaplan. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology from the Ohio State University. She earned her master's degree in community counseling at Capital University Branch of the University of Dayton. She then returned to OSU to obtain her Ph.D. from the college of education in school counseling and community counseling.