The following responses from each Worthington City Council candidate to four questions posed by ThisWeek are complete and unedited.
1. During the 2015 election season, many residents expressed concerns that City Council members were not listening to the public. Do you agree with that complaint, and how would you address that concern from a resident?
Sean Demaree: Yes, I agree. I have attended many council meetings. Currently, if you approach council with anything less than a petition containing 100 signatures, very little happens. I would like to see quarterly town hall meetings, with the city manager and other government officials, so people feel free to express their concerns in a forum that is relaxed and less intimidating than a city council meeting. City council members would receive the transcripts from these meetings.
Rachael Dorothy: City Council members can always do a better job at listening to community members and taking action to address their concerns. Council members should be active throughout the City, taking time to engage citizens in dialogue in less formal settings, which aids in understanding their unique perspective for each issue.
Each person brings knowledge and skills to the table, which together we can use to help solve problems and come to agreements that are beneficial to all concerned. This type of engagement can bring goodwill and show consideration to all members of the community, strengthening the planned development foundation that Worthington was built upon starting in 1803. Cities can provide something for everyone, only because and only when they are created by everyone. City Council members need to take the time to listen to community members in a respectful manner and actively consider everyone’s input in order to make decisions that will benefit the community as a whole.
Michael Farley: I believe that a new is paradigm is developing in how government interacts with citizens. The old way of “come to a meeting” will no longer suffice. City government will necessarily have to be proactive and “go to the people.” This new dynamic will include ideas like streaming city council meetings – maybe even solicit questions via social media during meetings. I pledge that I will be an active listener and proactively seek resident feedback. Worthington is blessed with many engaged residents; these residents present a vast array of skills and knowledge that can be brought to bear on most of the challenges and opportunities Worthington faces in the future. While consensus is not always obtained, residents should feel that they had a chance to be heard.
Beth Kowalczyk: It is challenging to successfully engage all members of the community on issues of importance. I support open and accessible government and have welcomed the opportunity to hear from residents about their concerns during my campaign. I would continue to be as accessible as possible as a member of City Council through whatever means will be most effective - email, phone, periodic office hours, and meetings as requested, just to name a few.
Scott Myers: We were listening, but we were not doing an effective job of communicating. Since 2015 we have implemented an email notification system where residents can sign up for information on subjects of interest. We have made changes to our web page to make it easier for residents to stay informed. We have begun an e-newsletter and most importantly we have sought out public input even in situations where it may not have been offered. Recently, I personally asked a planning commission matter to be table until I was convinced the public was aware of the application.
Sometimes we disagree, but that does not mean we are not listening. Effective leadership turns disagreement into compromise. Only in this fashion can we move forward with solutions that benefit all Worthington residents.
Ian Mykel: The passing of Issue 38 (an amendment to the City's Charter to slow down zoning changes) demonstrates a majority of voting citizens felt the process for the United Methodist’s Children’s Home development was not transparent. People express feelings that it was conducted with conflicts of interest and excluded community input. Council can do more to ensure the people of Worthington feel part of the process. We can slow down decisions where people are expressing concern, be proactive about what people do want, and more importantly we should establish systems for communication with neighborhood groups as a common practice, so that we understand expectations before serious issues arise.
David Norstrom: I do not agree with the complaint. City Council listens. When we did not agree with opinions expressed by some residents, the common refrain was we were not listening. We were listening, we just were not agreeing. To address the resident's concern, I did and will continue to make clear that I listened but disagreed.
In my 22 years of serving on Boards, Commissions, and Councils, I have heard many opinions expressed by citizens. I want to hear diverse opinions. They will increase my understanding of an issue and my approach to the issue. When there is disagreement in the opinions expressed Council has an obligation to consider all sides. After such consideration, we can work towards a solution. We can identify middle ground if some exists and try to work with all sides. Some people will be disappointed. Some will not. My obligation to the public is to explain clearly why i reached my conclusion.
David Robinson: Our city does a good job providing basic services (trash/recycling, snow removal, leaf pickup, etc.), and our civic institutions are top-notch (libraries, Griswold Ctr., Community Rec. Ctr., MAC, etc.). In most areas of regular operations, our city communicates well with the public. Yet when it comes to larger, high-impact issues, particularly about land-use and development, it is often difficult, if not impossible, for residents to receive timely, relevant information from the city. And without information residents become marginalized, unable to make informed judgments and participate in decision-making. For small projects—within existing zoning and without variances—this is typically a non-issue. But with large projects that impact us all (e.g., UMCH, Wilson Bridge), where re-zoning is being sought, then residents have every right to expect their city to provide timely and robust information with full transparency. Regrettably, this has not been happening adequately. (continued below)
Michael Troper: The residents of Worthington wanted more transparency and communication by the City Council on the issue of development. City Council’s responsibility is to listen and take all concerns of residents into consideration as to what is best for the entire Worthington community, not just for the next few years, but looking at Worthington for the long term. To address the concerns about listening and communication better, I would like to see City Council use social media better to communicate with our residents. Residents also can speak at any City Council meeting, or contact a city staff employee or city council member regarding any issues. I have met with many constituents who wanted to voice their concerns regarding various issues and have brought their concerns to City Council. I am available to sit down with constituents to hear their concerns.
2. How do you believe Worthington should approach development and redevelopment within the city? What do you believe should be allowed or prioritized for the rest of the United Methodist Children's Home site?
Demaree: Carefully and considerately. Residents are for re-development when it makes sense. It seems to me that city council just wants to clear out large tracts of land and re-develop them the way envisioned in the 2005 Comprehensive Plan. My idea is to have the city buy the UMCH property so the citizens can vote to determine what the overall design of the property will be. I, personally, would like to see a great green space with soccer fields and a walking and bike path for all of Worthington to enjoy. I will not be a representative for special interests.
Dorothy: Just as Worthington was founded using The Scioto Company’s 1803 development plan, future growth should rely on a well thought out framework for our community to build upon, enabling us to provide opportunities for diverse people of all ages and abilities to engage in rewarding experiences throughout their lifetime.
From investing in education, exploring the arts, discovering history, raising a family, and starting and growing a business we need to balance our environment at a human scale to enhance opportunities to grow and develop for ourselves and generations to come.
Worthington is heavily reliant on income tax from people working within the City; approximately 75% of our General Revenue is from income tax, while only 10% is from property tax. To strengthen our ability to maintain our excellent city services and the foundation that residents enjoy, Worthington must continue to balance business needs within our current commercial districts with residential and community areas. Worthington has the opportunity with the redevelopment of the UMHC site to balance these demands by allowing more housing choices for people to live in Worthington throughout their entire life, have space for community recreation, and mixed use human scaled businesses along High Street.
Farley: Worthington is “landlocked.” Development opportunities are precious. Beyond the traditional comprehensive plan, Worthington should develop shared public values for development. While campaigning and meeting Worthington residents, I have sensed consensus developing around a desire for green space, sustainable developments, projects accessible to all residents, as well as recognition that revenue is needed from commercial development. These values necessitate a balancing of these often-competing interests. Developing shared values for development – after a comprehensive listening period – will allow Worthington to look to the future without the constant lurching from project to project that often leads to division. The future of the United Methodist Children’s Home site should meet these shared values. Worthington should not be held hostage by the current developer. A partnership should develop that promotes positive development – including ample green space and commercial opportunity.
Kowalczyk: We need responsible economic development that is sustainable while preserving what makes Worthington unique. The city has to balance many factors in determining whether development is appropriate, including neighborhood and resident concerns. Because Worthington’s city services are funded primarily (75%) through municipal income taxes, the city must also consider how it can meet the goals of economic sustainability through increasing employment options within the city. We need to develop a plan to ensure that livability for all ages and age-friendly policies are part of the discussion for any development, including affordable housing options, especially for those who want to downsize and remain in the city. We must determine what is best for the city as a whole by balancing all concerns as much as possible so that we can maintain our quality standard of living and excellent city services.
Myers: When I first joined council 8 years ago 64% of our revenue came from income tax. Since then the changes to Ohio law have reduced state funding to Worthington by almost 4 million dollars and as a result, 74% of our revenue is now derived from income tax. Developing our tax base is now more critical than ever if residents want to continue to receive the unparalleled level of service we have come to expect.
Our top priority is and should be the Wilson Bridge Road Corridor. After three years of planning and public input we are beginning to implement the corridor study. We are in the initial stages of the Wilson Bridge/Huntley Road intersection, the largest capital improvement project in Worthington history.
As to the Children's Home I continue to support the goals we set out five years ago. A planned development that provides empty nest housing, has significant green space, provides a buffer to the surrounding neighborhood, and includes commercial space to help pay for city services.
Mykel: There are many advantages to having some development within the city. However, the citizens have made it known through ballot initiative that they will not permit just anything to happen, and that they want to have a greater voice in the discussion involving development. In order to move forward, I believe the city must revisit its Comprehensive Plan, so that key sections are rewritten with large groups of citizens giving input. City council has a responsibility to build trust and create avenues for discussions between citizens and potential developers, so that everyone understands what Worthington expects before resources and efforts are dedicated to potential projects. We must learn to trust and work with each other to find solutions. I personally would hope the UMCH property can offer a mixture of family homes along with ‘downsize’ options, with priority placement given to Worthington residents. I would like to see a mix of high quality and affordable (and durable) options available to aging Worthington residents, so that our citizens with a diversity of incomes can all remain part of the Worthington family. However, I also understand my voice is just one, and that we must find ways to ensure any project has wide community support.
Norstrom: Economic development is the lifeblood of a community. Approximately, 75% of our general fund revenue come from City income tax. We need to attract more jobs that allow the City to provide high levels of service in police, fire, street maintenance, garbage collection and snow removal among others. The best option is to attract new businesses and their employees to move to Worthington as well as offer opportunities for existing businesses to grow. Where development involved physical infrastructure, the City must look decades ahead and consider the impact on traffic, sewers, noise, and public services.
The City never received a formal proposal for the development of the UMCH site. The amended City Master Plan that I support identified a mix of commercial, retail, different housing options and parkland. The final mix should have a minimal or no impact on City finances, i.e. the costs associated with the residential, park and other areas need to be offset by revenues income taxes.
Robinson: Consider, for example, how the UMCH update to the Comprehensive Plan was developed. The city hired, on a non-compete basis, a consulting firm that specializes in urban planning and has many ties to the development industry. Multiple public meetings were held, hundreds of public comments were received, the yet the final report largely ignored resident input and instead advocated for a high-density, apartment-heavy, new-urbanism style development. The 571-unit Lifetstyle Communities proposal (fortunately derailed two years ago) was an unsurprising outgrowth of this process. Relatedly, WARD has asked repeatedly for impact information from the city for years—to no avail. Hence, the “you’re not listening” outcry from residents. We can do better than this through a “resident-centered development policy” where the city proactively informs and considers public feedback as determinative, and where the city understands that its primary mission is to serve the residents. This approach is actually pro-business as well, by providing clarity, less conflict, and ensuring protection of existing investments in our community. We can both prosper and preserve what we love about Worthington.
Troper: Worthington should approach development in such a way as to maximize income tax revenue for the city while still maintaining its character. I am in favor of providing incentives to business that relocate or bring additional jobs to Worthington. 75% of our general fund revenue comes from our income tax so it is essential that good paying jobs remain in Worthington. I am in favor of developing the UMCH with mostly commercial businesses along with some green space and residential housing. I would be in favor of putting a park at the site only if the funding were approved by the Worthington voters.
3. What do you believe would be the most useful improvements to travel within Worthington, including pedestrian access, bicycle accommodations or roadway improvements?
Demaree: Worthington already has many wonderful bike paths and sidewalks that have been there well before "walkability" became a buzz word. If I were on council, one of my goals is that sidewalks that are not currently connected are connected, especially on busy streets. One of my other plans is for the city to buy the house at 46 W. New England and turn it into at least 36 extra parking spaces for the downtown area. I’ve talked with owner; and he is receptive to that happening. As far as roads, we need to preserve the quiet character of our neighborhoods. I pledge to work toward adopting a resolution that will plainly state that Worthington will not connect Indianola Avenue to Colonial Hills from 161, as is currently proposed in the 2005 Comprehensive Plan. (Pages 97 and 107).
Dorothy: I believe investing in multimodal transportation options throughout Worthington will enhance the opportunities available to people of all ages and abilities in Worthington and will be more cost effective than focusing exclusively on moving cars through Worthington. Accommodating people’s ability to travel safely along our public rights of way in whatever mode they would like should be our top priority.
Trying to solve our vehicular traffic problems by only widening roads for cars is like trying to solve the obesity problem by only buying larger pants. We need to be smarter about our investments in public right of way infrastructure. Roads are expensive to build and maintain, and we need to be focused on moving people by a variety of sustainable ways.
Biking and walking to places has the added benefit of physically activity for people and provides the opportunity to engage with more community members. People who bike or walk to a place spend more time and money, and come back more often. We need to encourage more people to come to Worthington as their destination, for education, history, shopping, entertainment, dining, and overall unique local experiences; a win, win for everyone!
Farley: Worthington is the virtual crossroads of central Ohio. As central Ohio grows, so does traffic. Worthington should look for ways to improve intersections to increase flows for convenience as well as safety. Worthington is prime to be a bicycle and pedestrian hotbed. City government should engage residents and develop a long-term plan that accounts for technological changes (i.e., autonomous vehicles) and the current need for safety and efficiency. Clearly, these projects will not be completed overnight. A long view of the transportation needs of our community represents multiple modes of transportation with a key awareness of costs to city budgets in the future.
Kowalczyk: Improvements that enhance livability of the community for all ages are an importance factor when determining transportation options. Such improvements could include improved pedestrian access, more bicycle accommodations and roadway improvements that promote safety and accessibility. It should also include the availability of alternative transportation options for people who do not drive. Accessible transportation options are important. All of our residents should be able to take advantage of everything our city has to offer, and yet, currently not everyone has access to transportation options that they are able to use. Looking at travel through the lens of a livable community will improve the quality of life for all residents. We have residents that are or at risk of social isolation because of a lack of transportation options.
Myers: Worthington is both our brand and our destination. We need to find ways other than cars to get people up town. Therefore council created the bike and pedestrian advisory committee. This is why council charged the committee with developing a master plan addressing pedestrian and bicycle transportation. It is why we invested significant funds to install state-of-the-art pedestrian activated signals to cross high street. Our plans for Wilson Bridge Road improvements include multi-use trails with the goal of connecting the river to the community center.
Many of the necessary improvements are already underway. If we continue to make alternative transportation a priority, and continue to have the money to fund it we will make Worthington a leader in multi-modal transportation.
Mykel: Among the more beloved things about Worthington are its parks and paths. However, currently the revenue dedicated to these services are insufficient to keep pace with wear and tear. The city’s greatest source of revenue are businesses with well paid employees (offices). I suggest we take advantage of state funds for road maintenance to add and improve bike and pedestrian access to and along business zones. Such improvements supports businesses by allowing them to offer an additional perk to attract and keep good employees, while also generating an economic boost to other businesses in Worthington. Instead of getting into their cars, employees can enjoy the experience of Worthington by biking or walking safely to other locations during lunch and breaks. Paths in business zones also provide opportunities for citizens to access businesses in new and healthy ways, which can support active lifestyles that promote good grades for school kids, and lead to greater mental health and higher productivity among adults. It would also open these zones to different types of businesses seeking to locate in a community like Worthington.
Norstrom: Soon the work will be completed on US 270. We have a project underway to improve traffic in the Northeast gateway of the City involving Worthington-Galena, Huntley, and East Wilson Bridge roads among others. The project is being designed. Another study is underway on Route 161 west of Route 315. Council created a Bike and Pedestrian advisory committee to help identify transportation improvements. We will be recommending items to Council in the future. We have also received funding from MORPC to examine "complete streets" where auto, bike, and pedestrian traffic are all accommodated. These projects when completed will be the most useful improvements to travel in Worthington.
Robinson: The ability to leave one’s car at home at the end of the day, or for the weekend, and to then walk or bike for leisure or errand, is a vital aspect of life in Worthington. So let’s make safe pedestrian and bicycle access to our historic city core, as well as within neighborhoods, a central city transportation goal. Practical physical and financial constraints exist, however, so let’s develop a comprehensive review of options—including a detailed cost-benefit analysis—and then make smart choices to achieve the greatest benefit in a timely manner. Another significant aspect of travel within Worthington is the increasing numbers of cars and trucks, particularly at peak hours. Traffic impact studies ought to accompany, upfront, all significant development proposals, so that residents can envision impacts on their daily lives and be part of decision-making. Relatedly, city policy ought to discourage cut-through traffic. Let’s update the Comprehensive Plan accordingly.
Troper: I think Worthington should have a bike sharing system with locations at the Shops at Worthington Place and Old Worthington so that people could bike between the two locations. Eventually, this could grow to bike sharing programs between Worthington and Clintonville and other locations. The city should permit golf carts in Worthington. They are a fun, economical and environmentally safe way to get around Worthington. The city should provide at least one, if not more, electric charging stations to promote electric vehicle usage. By having a bike sharing program, golf carts and an electric charging station, Worthington would be at the forefront of a sustainable community.
4. What else would you like to say to voters?
Demaree: Don’t be fooled by bumper sticker politicians. I’m not a politician. I’m a concerned citizen who wants to serve our city. Worthington is where my wife and I attended school (K-12), met, and were married. It’s the city we love, and it’s where we are now raising our beautiful, adopted daughter, Abigail. We are very proud of her.
I pledge to represent all of Worthington, not just part of it. Worthington is a community of accomplished and intelligent people. As your city council member, I will listen to your concerns whether you’re one person or a group. Help me eliminate the current us vs. them mentality of city council. I value your ideas and I want to hear them before decisions are made. I look forward to the election and appreciate your vote.
Dorothy: Worthington is a great place to live because of the combined inputs and passions of everyone living and working in the community. Good government should provide a solid framework for our community members to build upon and provide for opportunities for inspirational experiences from the arts, history, education and starting and growing businesses.
Cities are capable of providing something for everyone, only because and only when they are created by everyone. Key to ensuring everyone has a seat at the table is listening to all sides before taking action. I go out and try to meet community members on their terms, to better understand each point of view.
I am passionate about maintaining Worthington’s distinguished character, growing our local economy, and ensuring that our tax dollars are wisely invested to provide a sustainable future for us all.
I believe that together we can do more to improve our community.
With your vote, I will be able to continue my efforts to serve you by maintaining Worthington’s exceptional quality of life and promoting Worthington’s identity as a premier community to visit, work, live in and be inspired by the local opportunities that abound in our City.
Farley: I am so honored to have this opportunity to campaign for Worthington City Council. I am proud to be the only candidate for Worthington City Council endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. I am running because I believe in the virtue of public service.
Folks that run for office often make a lot of promises. I make only these promises:
I will maintain an positive and hopeful approach to our Worthington;
I will be honest and straightforward – even when it is not popular;
I will be an active listener in our community!
Kowalczyk: I am a mother, a 12 year resident of Worthington, a lawyer and an advocate. I care about our community. Now more than ever we need advocates for our local communities. We need someone who has a vision of the future and our place in it. I am prepared to do the hard work to bring people together to make that vision a reality. That vision includes Worthington becoming a livable community for all ages, and in particular as our community ages, and a welcoming community for all. Everyone should be able to take advantage of all that Worthington has to offer. Whether a person is young or old, starting a family or a business, livable communities provide advantages that enhance the quality of life of residents, the economic prospects of businesses and the bottom lines of local governments. Worthington should also proactively pursue and encourage environmental sustainability throughout the community. It is at the local level we can truly make a difference.
Myers: Experience matters.
I have almost 30 years of service to the citizens of Ohio through my work as an Assistant Attorney General protecting Ohio's families and consumers. I have served the citizens of Worthington for 16 years. I am not a politician and I aspire to no other office. I do this because I have a passion for democracy and realize democracy is not a spectator sport. I have always put my money where my mouth is. I have personally funded all three of my campaigns and have never taken a contribution.
In the next four years Worthington will be faced with several significant challenges. Experienced leadership will be critical to overcoming these challenges. Challenges will bring disagreements. I have a proven record of bringing people together in the spirit of compromise. Now more than ever we need experienced leaders who can unite not divide.
Mykel: Worthington has a unique history involving civic participation and home ownership. It is in our interest to protect and promote the historical aspects of Worthington, while also celebrating our present day innovators and artists. The trick to finding balance is to generate forums for public input and focus our attention on promoting local entrepreneurs, who understand what it means to take risks while respecting the Worthington community. We should focus on transparency, and support ethical oversight as we brace ourselves for a continued expansion of the Greater Columbus Area and its impact upon us. Our community is full of people who care deeply about what happens here and this should be a unifying point for all of us. With proper and trustful leadership I believe we can find common ground and be ready for the future.
Norstrom: As a 30-year resident with 22 years of being involved with City government I have seen many changes in Worthington. Such changes will continue in the future. We are landlocked and must depend on redevelopment to attract new jobs and income to the community. We have redeveloped the Old High School to an Arts Center and converted buildings next to the Green to retail and commercial properties. City leadership needs to continue to honor our heritage while changing to be a better community.
Along with the long term issues we also have some immediate issues that need more attention. The City has taken some actions to deal with the Opioid Crisis. We need to do more. As we discuss the 2018 budget I will be focusing on what more we can do with this issue in working with the school district and other agencies/institutions.
Robinson: Worthington’s position is strong moving forward: we have a unique historic core and distinctive neighborhoods that are walkable & authentic; excellent schools; a skilled and accomplished population; a strategic location within outerbelt; robust city finances (revenue up 25%+ in five years; large surplus); positive demographics (growing % of millennials and <10); rising home values. So our challenge is to encourage development that protects, reflects, builds on and celebrates our distinctive character, and does not degrade it. Our greatest asset and income-generator is the distinctive character of our community. Let’s steward that; 2) Worthington residents, esp. those on fixed incomes, already feel heavily taxed, especially with recent higher home revaluations. Further, it is expected that a funding package for our school facilities will be presented to the voters in 2018. And, as mentioned earlier, city revenue is currently robust. Therefore, new revenues should be gained only through smart development (commercial/office), and not new taxes; and 3) the city should focus on attracting emerging businesses and their entrepreneurial owners that want to both live and work in an authentic, diverse, and intellectually dynamic city. Our tax base would be broader & more secure if based on owner-residents committed to our community.
Troper: I would like to thank the voters for giving me the privilege for serving the last four years on Worthington City Council. I have and will continue to work for Worthington to maintain and grow our vibrant community that makes Worthington one of the best cities in Ohio to live, work and visit. I sincerely appreciate your vote on November 7.