Hilliard Northwest News

Chamber forum

City Council candidates state their cases for local voters

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Republican candidates for Hilliard City Council convened April 18 before fewer than a dozen residents at a forum sponsored by the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has sponsored the event since 1999 to provide residents the opportunity to meet candidates for public office and submit questions that chamber staff members screen for appropriateness and redundancy.

All five candidates for City Council on the May 7 primary ballot attended:

* Tom Baker, 56, co-owner of Baker & Associates Insurance Co.. He was appointed to council in February to finish out Stephanie Kunze's unexpired term. Kunze was elected last November to the Ohio House of Representatives.

* Marc Barraco, 41, a communications system specialist for the Columbus Department of Public Safety and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

* Les Carrier, 43, a structured settlement consultant for EPS Settlement Group.

* Kelly McGivern, 46, senior director of government affairs at Aetna and vice president of City Council. McGivern, who was appointed to City Council 2008 and elected in 2009, is the only incumbent running for re-election.

* Bill Uttley, 57, owner of Columbus Appraisal and Consulting Co. and the current chairman of the planning and zoning commission.

No Democrats met the filing deadline but independent candidates have until 4 p.m. May 6, the day before the primary election, to file a petition to appear on the general ballot in November.

Each of the Republican candidates provided 60-second opening and closing statements and in between fielded a battery of questions with 90 seconds to respond to each question.

The candidates mostly provided similar answers to all questions with one exception: how the city and the school district should work together to ensure the district maintains an "Excellent with Distinction" state report grade from the Ohio Department of Education.

Four of the five concurred the city has a vested interest in helping maintain the district's success, but Barraco, who was the first to answer the question, differed.

"It's not our job," Barraco said.

He said that while the city can and should show its support of the school district via a resolution or other means, it is "not the responsibility" of the city to utilize its resources to help the school district maintain academic excellence.

"I couldn't disagree more," Carrier said. "Our destinies are tied together. We have a responsibility to collaborate."

"It's a partnership," McGivern said, adding that she was excited about the new schools superintendent, John Marschhausen.

"Our jobs are separate, but there are opportunities to work together," Uttley said.

Baker said the city and school district had a responsibility to collaborate for mutual benefit.

The candidates said they supported the future of the Franklin County Fair in Hilliard, but opined that the fairgrounds need a facelift and that alternative uses for the fairgrounds need to be considered.

"We're lucky to have the facility," McGivern said. "Is there an opportunity to improve it? Absolutely. Are there other uses for it? Yes. There just needs to be a little vision."

"The fair brings outside dollars to our community and that is a good thing," Baker said. "We should explore other uses for the fairgrounds."

"Having the fair in Hilliard is a great opportunity (but) there needs to be other activities there and improved facilities," Barraco said.

Uttley said he hopes the fair board can be encouraged to invest in the facility.

Carrier said some areas of the fairgrounds are an "eyesore."

"I want to help make it viable for the board to improve the facilities," Carrier said.

When asked about the value of Hilliard's recently adopted branding campaign -- "Real People. Real Possibilities" -- all of the candidates but Barraco firmly endorsed it.

"Hopefully it will do what is intended," Barraco said. "I haven't seen the proof. I'm impartial to the branding."

"It's a way for us to identify who we are and put our stamp out there," McGivern said.

Creating a community identity is "critically important," Uttley said, and the new tagline achieves that goal.

Baker said the branding effort aligns government with the private sector and "puts a face on government like a private business."

Carrier said the city's diversity is its strength and the tagline was "a perfect description" of Hilliard.

All candidates voiced support, if economically feasible to do so, to operate a drop-off recycling center in tandem with curbside recycling.

Candidates appeared surprised when asked if they would support the construction of a traffic roundabout at Davidson and Leap roads.

Each said they were not acquainted with any suggestion to convert the intersection into a roundabout. Candidates cited the cost and proximity to multiple school buildings as possible deterrents to a roundabout.

The closing comments for each candidate amounted to thanking those who attended, thanking family members for their support and an appeal to the electorate to vote May 7.

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