Five candidates are running this fall to fill three seats on Pickerington City Council.
Incumbent Councilwoman Crystal Hicks will face challengers Nicholas Derksen, Kevin Kemper, William Reed and Brian Wisniewski.
Incumbent councilmen Mike Sabatino and Jerry Dailey, both chose not to seek reelection.
In an uncontested race, Jaclyn Rohaly is running to fulfill the unexpired term of former councilman Jeff Fix.
Fix left council in January after being elected a Fairfield County commissioner. Mayor Lee Gray appointed Rohaly to the vacant seat in February. Rohaly will serve the remaining two years of Fix's term, which runs through Dec. 31, 2021.
The candidates running for the contested council seats were asked to submit responses to questions posed by the ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun.
Here are their responses:
What is the top issue facing the city of Pickerington and how would you propose addressing it?
Derksen: The issue of safety is one of biggest that sticks out to me. Safety, however, encompasses many items: police and fire, drug prevention, infrastructure and development -- among others.
I plan on working with police and fire to ensure our response times are up to par.
I am interested in working with the mayor and council members to create a new Drug Prevention Committee of Council made up of experts from local and county professionals to pave a path forward for reducing issues with opiates in our city.
I plan on working with council to survey our older neighborhoods that have issues with drainage and roads that are long overdue to be paved.
I plan on working with the (Fairfield) County Land Bank to find blighted homes and put a path forward to tear them down, allowing residents the opportunity to refinance their homes.
Lastly, I plan to work with my fellow council members to make our roads safer to travel by foot and vehicle, including targeted areas for sidewalks.
Hicks: There are many issues facing the city of Pickerington today, such as economic growth and spending tax dollars wisely.
However, one that is on my priority list is safety.
I believe safety is on everyone's mind and we all want to live in safe neighborhoods. I'm currently on the Safety Committee.
Some of the things we have done include hiring new officers, upgrading our dispatching systems, approving the purchase of new equipment and updating equipment in the cruisers.
Kemper: There are many issues that need to be addressed, from the lack of sidewalks and bike paths to the sleepy downtown and a tax base that relies too heavily on homeowners and retail.
But the biggest problem, in my view, is a lack of long-term planning and vision.
Here are some examples: Our current economic development plan is nearly 20 years old.
City leadership has never bothered to develop a business park that could attract potential light manufacturing, logistics or data warehousing operations.
The city currently has little in the way of a marketing budget.
The city has never adopted a plan for downtown.
For years, the city has been taking a reactive approach to development, waiting for progress to happen instead of proactively planning for it and making it happen.
We can no longer afford to pretend we're the small farming community we were just 30 years ago.
The way to address this issue is for citizens to elect new city leadership that believes in long-term planning and economic development.
Reed: Development is the top issue.
Whether growth is good or bad for Pickerington will depend on the type of development approved by city council.
High-density residential development may overburden city services and schools and produce little tax revenue.
Similarly, not all commercial development will produce employment or increase tax revenue. Some businesses produce few jobs and are a nuisance on the surrounding community -- e.g., noise pollution, visual blight, increased traffic, etc.
I will work with other members of City Council and government officials to improve Pickerington's land use plan and carefully assess every development proposal. We will make Pickerington a business-friendly environment for investors who value the community that supports them as much as they value their return on investment.
Wisniewski: City Council works for the citizens of Pickerington and every locally elected official needs to remember that and represent the citizens they were elected to serve. Since we represent an entire city there isn't a singular top issue we face.
A top issue for one person is the desire to work locally in a business park and for another it may be they're sick of being stuck in traffic congestion on (state Route) 256 and for another it is providing sidewalks for their kids to get to school safely or to the Olde Downtown.
Commercial development is widely recognized as crucial, which it is, but the city is running out of land available for building commercially.
Neighborhood crime, vandalism, car break-ins, speeding, etc., have unfortunately risen to the top of concerns for many people because we all want to feel safe where we, our children and grandchildren live.
I have been working hard researching new technologies for fighting crime and address speeding. I have likewise been working to address issues impacting current businesses or impediments to new businesses coming it.
I promise to work hard and bring new, innovative ideas along with an open mind to address these.
What, if anything, do you think Pickerington City Council should do to further the plan and meet some or all of its goals for downtown Pickerington?
Derksen: The Downtown Pickerington Plan, released in December 2017, was a fairly ambitious plan commissioned by the city to OHM Advisors. The plan examined the city's existing conditions, market trends, and best practices.
I attended the community engagement held at Combustion Brewery where the window was lined with post-it notes on suggestions from our residents.
One possible idea would be for the city to work with our state representative and state senator to draw down a possible capital budget appropriation since this would be considered a community project. Here is a quote from the plan that sums it up, "Of the vacant land available, a significant portion is already owned by the city of Pickerington, thus increasing the redevelopment options and potentially expediting any necessary changes." (page 11)
I support more business coming into downtown Pickerington, figuring out a parking restructure, making the surrounding area more walkable and as the report suggests, creating a "streetscape-like" design to draw residents and visitors downtown.
However, the reality is any change to the landscape will need to result in a consensus of council, the mayor, and our Pickerington residents through public input.
Hicks: Being one of the newest council members, I am still in the process of learning about the plan that was created.
I love Olde Town Pickerington and the character it brings to the city. I believe we can do more to increase the interest in this beautiful area.
I will work with our economic developer and see what ideas and visions we have for that area.
Kemper: The city spent $35,000 in taxpayer funds on the downtown plan, a significant investment that has gone to waste because current city leadership neither adopted or adapted it since its unveiling.
Current city leadership even turned off or let lapse the website, pickeringtondowntown plan.com, where residents could learn about and review the proposal (a link to an early version of the plan can still be found on my website, KemperForPickerington.com).
Small businesses in Olde Pickerington Village are doing their best to create an engaging downtown, but they need support. Citizens also deserve a walkable, bike-able, downtown destination.
If elected, I will work with fellow council members to bring the downtown plan back up for review, seek input from residents and adapt the plan where necessary so that it can be adopted and the city can begin long-overdue planning for downtown redevelopment.
Reed: One option is for the city to seek investors and negotiate deals that expedite the development of downtown. That will undoubtedly require investment from the city.
Sometimes, cities acquire and clear the land for new businesses, other times cities provide tax abatement and other incentives to lure business developers.
There are many possibilities to consider, even some that haven't yet been explored.
Another option is for the city to begin improving the infrastructure and support existing businesses, like Combustion, Subway and Porters.
Adding sidewalks and multi-use paths to connect the surrounding communities would be a great start.
I've lived in downtown Pickerington for 16 years. I walk my dog through town and go for runs in the early mornings. I watch for real estate listings and envision a place where neighbors walk downtown to meet friends, have dinner in the evening, or coffee and donuts in the morning.
We have creative entrepreneurs in Pickerington. The potential is endless.
Wisniewski: Olde Pickerington has tremendous potential for being a vibrant destination location.
Combustion Brewery & Taproom, Porter's Coffee House and the Farmers Market are prime examples of what Olde Pickerington could be transformed into.
The city needs to assist in making the downtown very walkable but likewise have parking available to support businesses locating into the area.
If the open lot by the railroad tracks were to be developed it would take away parking for Combustion, ruin the Farmers Market and remove downtown event parking therefore any new development needs to be carefully considered to not impact current businesses.
I would support a downtown revitalization grant supported by the city to help destination-type businesses locate into Olde Pickerington.
Likewise, additional downtown events such as car shows, food truck frenzies, music festivals, etc. can all help draw attention to the downtown and should be supported by the city.
However, many residents still live in the area and their concerns need to be considered and they should have a seat at the table when discussing downtown development and revitalization.
How, if at all, do you think the city should work with nearby governments, such as the Violet Township trustees and the Pickerington School Board, to build upon relationships and to ensure future development doesn't negatively impact those entities?
Derksen: It all starts with one conversation with each entity. I believe government works at its full capacity when stakeholders are at the table aiming towards a solution through civility.
I would find it absolutely refreshing for city council to contact Violet Township officials to figure out plans towards infrastructure, development and safety.
I would find it absolutely remarkable for City Council to reach out to the superintendent, treasurer, teachers, parents and other school administrators to discuss how civic education can play a greater role in elementary and secondary education.
I believe we should consider creating a standing Business Advisory Council comprised of teachers, our local business leaders and locally elected officials to help advance our graduating students in the ever-changing workforce.
I believe Pickerington can learn and integrate ideas from nearby and similar characteristic cities. Again, it all starts with a conversation, and as a member of city council, I will work hard to ensure these discussions happen.
Hicks: The city council, Violet Township and the Pickerington School Board need to work together and be transparent.
I believe we need to develop common goals and pursue those goals together. One example we can work on together is the (state Route) 33 (to) (Interstate) 70 connector to improve traffic flow going in and out of the city.
I believe it is important to understand the overall needs of the community and clearly explain them to the voters.
As for building upon relationships, we need to set personal agendas aside and establish trust. Trust is a key factor to any relationship.
Sometimes, we will not agree on things and that's OK. What should happen is constructive and respectful discussion on the issue.
In the end, we are all on the same team and want what is best for Pickerington.
Kemper: Columbus has become the 14th-largest city in the nation, surpassing in population the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and even San Francisco.
This growth shows few signs of slowing and it is coming our way. Our corner of central Ohio is in a prime position to take advantage of this growth, but only if we work together with our neighbors.
However, our city too often takes a go-it-alone approach that is counterproductive for us as residents, and for our region of central Ohio.
City leadership should be meeting regularly with School Board members, Chamber of Commerce members, church groups and leadership from Violet Township, Canal Winchester, Reynoldsburg, Fairfield County, Franklin County and Columbus.
We won't always agree on everything, but we will at least hear each other's perspectives. If elected, I will work to form such a group that would meet on a regular, semi-monthly or quarterly basis.
Reed: Building strong relationships and supporting our neighbors should be thought of as more than an aspiration. It should be thought of as a commission.
As a resident and representative of Pickerington, I will always advocate for this city and do all I can to protect our interests. But the strength of our relationship with neighbors will either weaken our own community or embolden it.
Wisniewski: No local governmental entity should work in a vacuum given how tightly coupled we are as a community and how much inter-dependence we have with one another. If decisions were to be made by city council or the township trustees which negatively impacted the school district it would ultimately hurt both the city and township, as well.
To get another freeway entrance to I-70 it is going to take all three entities working together -- along with other local governments -- to pressure (the Ohio Department of Transportation) to move forward with planned projects for the east side.
Commercial development rarely moves into areas where there is inter-governmental bickering and fighting therefore, we all need to work together to draw new commercial development to the area. The schools rely heavily upon the police department for the safety of our children, the township provides the fire department for all of us, the city provides many parks and recreational activities and the schools educate our kids and provide many extracurricular activities we all enjoy.