A new city attorney will be elected Nov. 5 to replace incumbent Republican James "Jed" Hood, who did not seek reelection.
Republican Robert Barga and Democrat Chris Shook are vying for the four-year term that begins Jan. 1, 2020.
Barga, 31, is an attorney who is also is serving a four-year term on the Reynoldsburg school board, where he is a member of the finance, athletics, calendar and negotiation committees. He earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and his law degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law.
Shook, 39, is an assistant city attorney with the city of Columbus. He earned a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University and a law degree from the University of Akron.
The candidates answered the following questions from ThisWeek Reynoldsburg News:
What is the greatest challenge/need facing the city and, if elected, how would you address it?
Barga: Across the city, you will find properties that are in violation of code, increasing our rodent population and decreasing your property values.
Many of these properties are owned by absentee landlords. With a strong record on property-code cases across the state, I will ask council to alter our property code and create a system that allows the city attorney to incentivize landlords to fix their properties. In partnerships with non-profit and other service groups, I will also create a "neighbors helping neighbors" group, to attempt to help those on fixed incomes make their repairs.
Shook: The greatest challenge facing our city is public safety. The citizens of this community want their families to feel secure in their homes, in their travels throughout the city and in our schools. This is the most important service a local government can provide to its people. We need to make sure our police officers have the resources they need to do their job in the field and we should provide them the assurance their work will be validated when criminal cases are prosecuted in the courtroom.
As city attorney, I would serve as the chief prosecutor for all misdemeanors committed in the city of Reynoldsburg. In my 14-year career, I have worked every angle of the criminal justice system, as a prosecutor, as a defense attorney, and as an acting judge in the Licking County Municipal Court. I have the experience as an assistant city attorney and as a special prosecutor to work closely with our law enforcement officials to promote public safety in our court system. I am prepared to take on that responsibility from the first day in office.
If elected, how would you improve/change the office of city attorney? (i.e. technology improvements/drug court etc.)
Barga: We need to amend our property code, to allow the office to pursue absentee landlords, and ensure compliance with code.
We need to create a drug docket and recovery court, to allow non-violent offenders who are ready to reform the opportunity, while protecting the community from additional crimes. We need to expand our intergovernmental cooperation, teaming up with our townships, surrounding cities and school district to share costs and increase the ability to protect our city. We need to modernize our office and update to face the modern social-media world. To see more of my plans, please check out my page: facebook.com/Barga4cityattorney.
Shook: We need a recovery court to combat the disease of addiction. The purpose of a recovery court is to identify high-risk, high-need offenders who have committed non-violent crimes motivated by drug or alcohol addiction and provide them the right resources to get them the help they need. While our City Council allocated almost $90,000 in December 2018 to get a recovery court off the ground here, we are still without our own and it is time for us to join other communities such as Hilliard, Upper Arlington and Whitehall who already operate local drug courts. That will be my first priority as city attorney to get this done in 2020.
We also need to spend less of our taxpayer dollars on outside legal counsel. Every year, we send thousands of dollars to private law firms to provide legal advice and representation to the city on matters that can and should be handled by an elected city attorney. In addition, we currently contract out our prosecutions in Licking County (city of Newark) and Fairfield County (city of Lancaster).
We have an obligation to prosecute cases that occur in this city, regardless of the county where the offense occurs.
Which cases/issues have you worked on in private practice that would be beneficial to you if elected to serve as city attorney?
Barga: I practice around the state, working with low-income families to address concerns in a variety of fields. My record on property code violations will translate into a strong enforcement method for the city. My experiences with the drug epidemic will allow me to create a recovery court that heals our community. My work on the school board has shown a commitment to public record and sunshine laws, protecting your right to know what your elected officials are doing.
Shook: Having worked in both the private and public sector in my 14 years as a lawyer, I have a diverse background of legal experience. I've represented over 1,000 clients in my career, including small businesses in a variety of legal matters, victims of crime, landlords, tenants, and (currently) the city of Columbus. I've conducted over 20 jury trials in commercial civil litigation and in criminal cases. I've worked for over 10 years with the Interfaith Pro Bono Legal Clinics of Licking County, providing free legal help to individuals who cannot afford an attorney. For over four years, I volunteered every Thursday to serve on the Treatment Team for the Licking County OVI Court specialized docket. I also have extensive experience with the specialized dockets in the Franklin County Municipal Court. Among the clients in my career, I've represented Denison University on multiple building and zoning matters, an elected city official in Newark on an alleged ethics violation, and I've prosecuted city officials for crimes such as drunken driving and domestic violence. My work throughout my career has prepared me to serve as the chief prosecutor for this city and as the legal advisor to our elected officials.