As the 2017 election season continues, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce is ready to prepare a new wave of local politicians.

The chamber's biennial Election Academy brings would-be politicians -- or those interested in breaking into a treasurer, manager or even volunteer role involving politics -- together with speakers from the political realm. The goal is to educate and answer questions before the election process begins in the fall.

Chamber President and CEO Janet Tressler-Davis said the academy was created in the early 2000s after some unopposed elections involving City Council and school board seats.

The idea was to provide a service for voters and candidates.

"For the size of our community, we really felt that we wanted to educate people on what it's like to be in public service and to kind of open the doors to people who may be thinking about (politics)," Tressler-Davis said. "This is an opportunity for those who are thinking about it."

This year, the speakers include representatives from the offices of Ohio Secretary of State and the Ohio Ethics Commission, former Westerville City Council member and current Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French and District 68 state Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville).

Attorney Joe Barone, who has been treasurer for multiple local campaigns, is another speaker, said he hopes to "de-mystify the process" for new candidates.

"To me, it's a great example of the grassroots nature of Westerville politics," Barone said. "They developed the academy because there are a lot of people who want to serve and have ideas and are willing to donate their time and skills, but the process, I think, can be daunting."

High-profile alumni of the academy include Carfagna and District 19 state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville) as well as Westerville councilman Larry Jenkins.

Before she was elected to the Westerville City School District Board of Education in 2015, Gerrie Cotter went through the academy. She called it a "very positive experience" for someone who had no political connections before.

"I thought I was really helpful," she said. "It was good to hear from other candidates who had been successful in the Westerville area. I thought they did a good job of having a variety of offices represented. I was running for school board, so it was nice to hear from another candidate who was successful."

Tressler-Davis said her friends at chambers around the country have emulated the Westerville program. As a community-focused organization, she said the chamber hopes the academy can be something of a public service.

"It's a nice way to give back to the greater Westerville area," she said.

The academy will be offered from 6:45 to 9 p.m. June 8, 15 and 22. Admission for all three events is $50 for chamber members, $60 for non-members and $25 for additional members of the same campaign team.

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