The five candidates in the running for Westerville Cty Council are working to share their messages with voters as early absentee voting began this week.
Mayor Craig Treneff is the only incumbent for the race, with challengers Diana Conley, Doug Rankin, Aileen Wagner and Kenneth Wright adding their names to the Nov. 5 ballot.
Conley, 66, of Westgreen Lane retired as chief academic officer for the Westerville City School District.
Rankin, a 75-year-old Woodview Road resident, is a former intelligence official.
Wagner, 42, of Tree Bend Drive is the owner and editor of Walnut Creative.
Wright, 53, a Weatherwood Court resident, is the director of research and planning for IMPACT Community Action.
ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion posed three questions related to city issues to each candidate, requesting responses be limited to 200 words. No responses from Rankin were received.
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing the city and how would you address it?
Conley: The biggest challenge is to keep our city the vibrant city that it is today. To do this we need to encourage our young generation to stay, which we can through our amenities, job opportunities and housing they can afford. We also need to keep our aging population. This can be done through increased "senior programming," recognizing their value as mentors, and providing options to ease the burden of their expenses.
Treneff: The principal issue is maintaining outstanding services to our residents in the form of creative available parks and recreation opportunities, police and fire responses, maintenance of streets and bridges, snow removal and leaf collection, and fiscal excellence and sound financial management.
Wright: One of the biggest issues facing Westerville is public safety, which includes ensuring our first responder agencies remain well-funded to ensure that they continue to attract and hire the best people, who are well-trained, and well-equipped to 1) maintain public safety, 2) mitigate acts of violence, and 3) handle mental and emotional health situations in our schools, homes and other public places. While Westerville is a safe community, it is not immune to acts of violence and unrest. The recent domestic violence incidents in our city that ended with homicides, including the one that claimed the lives of our two police officers, left broken homes and shattered many nerves within our community. These incidents are causes for concern, and require a detailed course of action. Yet, through it all, Westerville remains resilient. I believe it's time to build bridges between people and come together to work for a better future. This includes understanding the critical roles our first responders play in our city; and broadening the relationships between our first responders and our residents, which I learned first-hand during my participation in Westerville's Citizen Academies for Police and Fire.
Wagner: The Westerville community has built a wonderful, thriving city. As we continue to grow and change, we need to make sure we are looking forward to the future we want to see in the city. That means making sure our growth is managed sustainably and inclusively. I think that council and city staff have made great strides towards both goals, but I want to hold them accountable to those goals. Because we are always working to attract more quality jobs to Westerville, we offer businesses initiatives that our residents do not always have access to. I believe we can build on our current Green Westerville projects for the business community to make sure residents have similar to access to electric-vehicle chargers and solar panels. As the only central Ohio city with our own power utility, we are in the unique position of being able to be leaders in extending the city's environmental goals to our power grid.
What are your thoughts on development and the state of Westerville as it is today? Do you think the city has areas it needs to address, be it redevelopment of a corridor, filling in a project that is in progress or maintaining a certain set of standards?
Conley: The city has created a comprehensive plan that details areas that are suitable for development as well as redevelopment. Since the city receives its funding from income taxes, this plan is essential. The more high-quality jobs that are created, the more revenue for the city. The city's development team focuses on both new and re-development to ensure the economic vitality of Westerville. Business retention is essential in this competitive environment. The city actively works with our current businesses to help them with expansion needs and then works to "backfill" the former location.
Treneff: As a city, Westerville is coming to the end of "greenfield" commercial development once the commercial areas currently under development (Westar Place, Braun Farm, Zumstein Tract, and some others) are completed. It is important that these areas be developed with quality projects that provide tax revenue to support city services for our residents. Brooksedge in the southern part of the city is a focus for redevelopment as is the older industrial area on Broadway near the Uptown. There are few opportunities remaining in the city for residential development and those need to be sensitive to existing adjacent neighborhoods.
Wright: I support Westerville's development agenda, which I understand from the Westerville Community Plan (2016) includes 1) keeping Westerville on the cutting edge with technology, infrastructure and greenspaces, 2) attracting new businesses and jobs to our city, and 3) supporting existing businesses and capital ventures. Similarly, I understand the angsts by some residents who are concerned about Westerville's growth and development. According to the Westerville's Community Plan, "a growing number of Westerville residents are now at, or approaching retirement age." At present, approximately 25.7% of Westerville residents are 60 years old and older, and many are concerned by rising property taxes in Westerville and their fixed incomes. Many seniors are concerned that they may be "taxed out of the city," given limited affordable housing options. If elected, I will work to build collaboration between the Westerville's Economic Development team, city leaders, senior residents, and state and local organizations, such as the Ohio Department of Aging, Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging, and Franklin County Office on Aging, and others to explore innovative and workable solutions to senior housing options. Such options may include expanding the Homestead Exemption, which reduces property taxes for homeowners 65 or older, or developing specific affordable housing communities for seniors.
Wagner: I'd like to see the rules for development do a better job of addressing sustainability issues. For example, Westerville does not currently allow the use of permeable paving. That means that when we have high amounts of rain, there is nowhere for the runoff to go and is increasing the flooding in our roads, yards and parks. I'm glad that the city is moving forward with stormwater improvements, but I want to make sure that our codes don't lock us into reacting to problems instead of preventing them.
What experience do you have that you believe would be helpful as a council member?
Conley: As the principal of McVay Elementary and then Chief of Academics for Westerville Schools, I was a leader who worked with groups having diverse opinions on issues and helped bring them to a resolution that all could agree upon. I also was able to empower people to become leaders themselves, thus helping our schools and our students. I know our community -- my work as chair of the Parks Foundation and as a leader in the Sunrise Rotary Club has given me the opportunity to work with and get to know people who live, work and support Westerville. During council's most recent meeting, the invocation included a statement that sums up my reason for running for council, "Honor the Past, Focus on the Present, Plan for the Future." If elected to Westerville City Council, this is exactly what I will do.
Treneff: I have served more than 15 years as a member of City Council, including as chairman of City Council and mayor. I also served 10 years as a member of Planning Commission, including six years as chairman, and four years on the Board of Zoning Appeals. I also service on the COTA Board of Trustees.
Wright: For nearly 10 years, I have worked for a non-profit organization whose mission is "to reduce poverty by providing hope-inspiring help and real opportunities for self-sufficiency." At the core of this mission lies collaboration with others to achieve common goals, good stewardship over resources provided by various funders, and complete operational and programmatic transparency with stakeholders. I will bring these principles and others to Westerville City Council, if elected. In my early 20s, I read Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," and its principles changed my life. The 7 Habits are: 1. Be proactive, 2. Begin with the end in mind, 3. Put first things first, 4. Think win-win, 5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood, 6. Synergize, and 7. Sharpen the saw. Given these Habits, I will work to bring ideas, experiences and resources unique from what has been the norm, in an effort to better understand and represent those who may not have had a voice (or influence) previously. Five years ago, I would not have considered running for City Council; however, I have since become very involved in our community. I'm a board member for the Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club, the Westerville Education Foundation and the Westerville Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association.
Wagner: I believe my lifelong community involvement, wherever I have lived has helped prepare me for this position.
I interned with Rhine McLin when she was in the state senate and worked on her first mayoral campaign in Dayton. In college, I worked with Kalamazoo residents in the Vine neighborhood to make improvements using Community Development Block Grants; interned with the Downtown Dayton Partnership; and developed the City of Dayton's first digital database for use nuisance violations in the Housing Department. When I worked at McGraw-Hill, I was responsible for budgets and managed teams of editors. I also attended the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership and chaired The McGraw-Hill Companies Columbus Activities and Community Service Committee. I own my own business and, as a result, I'm vested in the success of local businesses. This has also given me additional fiscal experience. Our family makes use of many of Westerville's resources, particularly the parks, camps and activities sponsored by the city. As an active community member, I want to make sure that the city continues to be a safe place to raise a family.