Bexley's city council will look different after November, given that two incumbents have chose not seek reelection this fall and six challengers have stepped up to join the two incumbents who are in the running.
Council members Steve Keyes and Tim Madison decided not to run for their seats.
Keyes said he decided not to seek reelection after two terms because he wants to devote more time to community service beyond council, having been recently appointed to the board of Jewish Family Services.
"Eight years is just enough," Madison said of his decision.
Mary Gottesman, 71, one of the incumbents who is running, is a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Joel Greff, 53, is a partner in Shareatech, a technology consulting firm.
Matt Klingler, 34, is a project manager for Farber Corp., a construction firm.
Troy Markham, 50, the other incumbent running, teaches biology at Ohio State University.
Meagan Matteson, 42, is a nurse practitioner.
Ian Nickey, 41, is director of communications and government relations at Hicks Partners, a government affairs and public relations firm.
Jen Robinson, 48, is the director of Harmony KIDS, the youth arm of Columbus' Harmony Project.
Jessica Saad, 41, is a stay-at-home mother whose most recent outside employment was as business development manager at Infinity Info Systems.
ThisWeek Bexley News asked three questions of each candidate.
What makes you uniquely qualified to serve residents by being elected to Bexley City Council?
Gottesman: Nurses are passionate people persons. We are educated about the important impact of the environment on human health and well being and we are educated in addressing human needs at the community level. I hold BA, MS and PhD degrees in nursing. I have been a registered nurse for over 40 years, a pediatric nurse practitioner for 25 years, and a collegiate educator of professional nurses for 32 years. Since joining City Council, I have held focus groups to listen to residents, including teens, to help me understand what is important to them and the ways in which we can grow as a community. I started the Bexley Community Health Action Team (CHAT) to address three major issues in Bexley -- barriers to inclusion, challenges to mental wellness, and a dearth of services and resources for older adults. Over the past two years the CHAT has worked hard to identify what older adults want and need to thrive safely in Bexley. Those new services will launch in January. The Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative will soon complete a strategic plan that specifies concrete steps towards building a cohesive sense of One Bexley for All, a critical strategy in supporting good mental health.
Greff: I am uniquely qualified to serve the residents of Bexley because of my academic, professional and service experiences. I reside in South Bexley and am a proud Bexley High School graduate. I graduated The Ohio State University with a BS in actuarial science. Concurrently as I was starting a new business and a family, I earned an MBA in finance and organizational dynamics from Franklin University. I am a problem-solving entrepreneur and started a number of successful companies. I served the city on the Bexley Technology Commission and was the liaison officer to the Bexley City Schools Technology Consortium. I have significant for-profit and non-profit board experience including 15 years of service to Columbus Torah Academy as board vice president and finance and endowment vice president. I am currently the president/director of Dyslexia Institutes of America and partner/co-founder of Shareatech.com. As a businessperson with creative problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, I analyze everything. I look at details and nuances while evaluating both positive and negative impacts of the decisions I make. By applying these skills on Bexley City Council, I bring common sense, critical analysis and proven experience along with values of respect, honesty and integrity. I am not a rubber-stamper!
Klingler: Throughout my 12 years as a construction project manager, I have been fortunate to be on some excellent teams and execute some very intricate projects. The virtues of collaboration and cooperation while working within strict constraints and on a tight budget, have been instilled in me throughout my career. As a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 189 JATC board, I have a keen sense of fiduciary responsibility. I believe these attributes are thoroughly transferrable and will help me succeed as a city council member.
Markham: As an incumbent, I provide experienced leadership. That leadership has resulted in the review and feedback on four city budgets, including adding money to the city's rainy day fund. I am proud of our council's fiscal responsibility and will work to maintain that. I've served as council chair of our Parks and Recreation department and also as Service and Environmental chair. In each of these capacities I improved those departments and kept our focus on long-term financial stability. The last four years have been some of the best in our city's history, and we need to keep it up. In fact, fiscally we are at our best, with spending down last year and revenues up this year. We've worked on all four corners of the city and added new athletic fields in the southeast corner of the city. The Cassady corridor has been improved and the gateways on the east and west sides have been upgraded. But this city still faces challenges. We also have exciting new opportunities such as furthering Main Street rejuvenation and adding a new dog park for the city. Now is when Bexley needs experience and success on city council during the next four years.
Matteson: I made it a priority to attend city council and school board meetings as an engaged citizen long before I considered running for office. I have made public comment about numerous issues over the years including instillation of the Capital University field lights and the sixth-grade move to the middle school. When I felt particularly strongly about an issue I moved into a more active role using my years as a nurse to actively listen to other residents regarding their thoughts and ideas. This is how I completed the Montrose playground renovation -- by listening, creating a committed team and inspiring action. I created a Facebook page that is still active today around school safety bringing a diverse group of citizens together to share and debate how best to protect our kids. I believe my deep commitment to this city is one of the ways I am uniquely qualified to serve as a city councilperson. I was here before this election, I am here now and I will be here as an active citizen regardless of the outcome on November 5th.
Nickey: The cost of childcare has outpaced inflation dramatically. Childcare bills can rival a mortgage or college tuition and this can be a barrier to starting a family or keeping a career. While it's impossible for Bexley to address this issue by ourselves, we can support families with a childcare municipal income tax credit. I am proposing a $500 Bexley income tax credit for families spending $5,000 or more annually at State of Ohio Certified child care centers. This sends a strong message that Bexley is a welcoming community to the next generation looking for support as they balance work and family while being burdened with unprecedented amount of student debt. My proposal does not increase city expenses and any revenue forgone will be offset by increasing incomes and property values. In addition to my proposed policies I have leadership experience setting budgets and creating efficient programs with a local charity focused on supporting residents facing crisis and potentially loss of their home or residence.
Robinson: I have worked for over two decades creating and implementing community-based programs for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the Columbus Council on World Affairs and, currently, as the director of HarmonyKIDS, the youth arm of Columbus' Harmony Project. The skills I have gained from these positions are crucial in making me a successful City Council member. Working with business leaders, service agencies, community organizations, funders, community members and school and city staff and administrators, I have become adept at active listening, information gathering and assessment, consensus building and facilitating compromise. I have also been responsible for the stewardship of budgets being accountable to individual funders, funding agencies and government departments at the city of Columbus level. I am confident that these skills, my work experience, my commitment to the success of our city makes me uniquely qualified to be your next Bexley City Council member.
Saad: I will use my business experience to bring additional development and business opportunities to Bexley, to improve the city's gateways, and to maximize the unique qualities of this special community. My passion for our residents and community has allowed me many opportunities in our great city to be in leadership positions. I had the opportunity this year to chair BRAVO!, Bexley Education Foundation's largest fundraiser, netting $135,000 for Bexley schools. These community leadership positions along with my 15 years of private, public, owner and operator, and start up business experiences, has strengthened my abilities in the art of effective communication, team building and action planning. I am able to be open, honest and direct in seeking out the best solutions to solve problems and help plan for the future of our city.
What more can the city do to promote redevelopment and investment in the Ferndale Place/Mayfield Place neighborhood in southwest Bexley?
Gottesman: The city has funded the critically important environmental testing that has identified significant levels of lead and organic carcinogens in the soil in the southwest corner of Bexley and underlying the apartments and townhomes in Ferndale-Mayfield. The CIC has advanced the testing and worked in collaboration with Franklin County Public Health to identify environmental hazards throughout the area. Additional testing will commence soon. It is unlikely to differ from the findings for the two properties owned by the CIC. If the same unhealthful conditions are verified, the city and CIC have plans in place and piloted to relocate residents to safe housing. Families with children in our school system will be rehoused within Bexley. Individuals without school-age children will have assistance to relocate where they wish. We have identified and begun to work with a national leader in affordable housing to build new, multi-purpose, affordable housing that will match or exceed the number of units we lose when anticipated environmental remediation proceeds. Council and administration will support these efforts with tax abatements and any necessary supportive legislation to speed progress in Ferndale-Mayfield as well as working with the city of Columbus to revitalize the Livingston corridor.
Greff: If I get elected, the Ferndale/Mayfield Place redevelopment is a top priority of mine. I think we need to look for redevelopment and investment in the entire Livingston Avenue corridor. As a resident of South Bexley, I have been interested in developing ideas on what the city can do there for some time. Many residents are unaware of the remediation that needs to be physically done to the land and expense with any redevelopment project since it was once a landfill. The city's creation of Schneider Park is a tremendous first step. I think if we can work in collaboration with local developers and investors along with city leadership, we can jointly put together a plan for mixed-use commercial and residential properties in these areas. As part of the residential redevelopment, having an accommodation for some affordable housing units would be critical to supporting residential growth in this area. I think we need to collaborate with the city of Columbus as well and see what can be facilitated to develop a joint plan benefitting the entire corridor covering both north and south sides of Livingston Avenue. Bexley and Columbus both should have an interest in redevelopment and revitalization of the area.
Klingler: Before we get into the redevelopment of the area, the city needs to continue the ongoing effort to remediate the area. Once remediation efforts are complete, there are numerous possibilities. The city will continue to utilize the CIC committee, and get input from the citizens on the best possible solution for the city. After reviewing the most recent budget meeting, I have faith in City Council that we will continue to invest in the Ferndale Mayfield neighborhood.
Markham: The city should continue aggressively investing in the Ferndale/Mayfield area. During my term on city council, we added new athletic fields to the area and have initiated a partnership with the city of Columbus to renovate the Livingston Avenue corridor. We've already funded street and sidewalk projects to improve the infrastructure within the area and improve the connection to Main Street. We have a lot of work ahead of us, with the environmental remediation of that area, but we also have great opportunities. We need to focus on stimulating upgrades to the housing in that area and also promoting development, including options for multi-use facilities. We must ensure that the area continues to offer low-cost housing options for residents. As we strengthen these neighborhoods, we strengthen the city as a whole. Also, things like the addition of the athletic fields, upgrades to Snyder Park, and the dog park-which I have been working on with the administration on for the past three years-will continue to bring residents and visitors to the area. I think this is another important tool in promoting redevelopment.
Matteson: I believe the biggest thing Bexley can do to promote redevelopment and investment in this area is improving physical connection. This process has started -- the city recently created a physical link between this neighborhood and Sheridan Avenue -- something that was long overdue. Physical connection allowing safe access begets emotional connection and that emotional connection will inspire investment. Adding to and improving west-east physical linkages will promote redevelopment by giving students and families easier access to the schools. Continuing to improve the green space along Alum Creek is another area of potential. Allowing for continuous movement along a beautiful and peaceful south-north route giving easy access to our vibrant Main Street corridor would certainly make this area more attractive to potential developers. People move to Bexley to feel a part of something. Let's promote investment by physically and emotionally linking our residents to one another.
Nickey: For the necessary environmental remediation to occur we will need to leverage state and federal resources. However, we shouldn't wait for new housing construction to address affordability and accessibility issues in Bexley. We need to embrace resident-driven and resident-focused programming to deliver wellness, career development and education services. Many organizations are already working on innovative programs to deliver these services and have an established process to on-board participants in neighborhoods all over Central Ohio. As these programs move out of the demonstration phase, Bexley should position itself as a partner and another place for these programs as they come to scale.
Robinson: The rejuvenation of the Fernadale Mayfield neighborhood is an important issue for our city. The health and well-being of our residents is first and foremost. The work that the Community Improvement Commission and our Recreation and Parks Department has done to test, remediate and rejuvenate the area are great first steps. As attention is given to the revitalization of the Ferndale Mayfield neighborhood and the Livingston Corridor, we are provided with a perfect opportunity to attract new business development and investors. By making use of various legislative tools such as Targeted Employment Area designation and Targeted Tax Abatements, we provide incentives which make the area appealing to outside investors and developers. Also, by putting in place structures that limit increased property taxes in the area, we create a benefit, not only for business developers, but also for the residents who choose to live in the neighborhood. I believe it's important to approach the rejuvenation of the Ferndale Mayfield Avenue neighborhood holistically, addressing business, residential and city needs collectively, keeping an eye on our tax dollars, to ensure the creation of a vital, thriving area that serves and supports the residents who live in and visit this part of our city.
Saad: Finalizing the details of a development plan that can increase revenues to offset incentives for workforce and senior housing. Providing attractions in the current greenspace, playground areas, and community garden of Ferndale/ Mayfield to bring Bexley residents together in the area is essential building upon "community" that benefits all of Bexley. Continue to support the environmental remediation and development initiatives, and efforts to create a dog park.
What can be done to provide more affordable housing and diversify the socioeconomic status of Bexley's residents?
Gottesman: Many perceive Bexley as being unwelcoming towards persons of color and as more responsive to wealthy residents, a reputation built over decade. Times have changed. We are a more diverse community than in the past and many residents care deeply about eliminating the barriers we have erected that damage our sense of being a welcoming, inclusive community. Three years ago, the Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative began as an effort to bridge our divides. We are completing a detailed Strategic Plan to make change a reality. The areas of concern and proposed goals of the Collaborative were validated at the two Big Table conversations hosted by Stacy and Grossman and me in August. We have plans, together with Bexley City Schools, to reach out to our surrounding neighborhoods and build connections through shared events and programming, through community conversations and work on implicit bias as well as diversification of our city work force, boards and commissions. Our planned, new affordable housing units will be available to everyone regardless of age, disability, income, sexual identity, or color. It is guaranteed through federal housing funds. Our developer operates the housing they build. They come with stellar recommendations from Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
Greff: I believe affordable housing and socioeconomic status are symbiotically tied to a family's housing budget. Bexley has challenges which make this difficult. The city is geographically challenged, and new construction requires land. Bexley land is at a premium in price and availability. The Livingston Corridor has the land is an ideal location for investment and redevelopment. Another challenge is our community tax burden. We are best-in-class in public services, public safety and education which is why people of all socioeconomic statuses want to move to Bexley. These benefits are expensive and are only achieved by collecting income tax and property tax and in Bexley taxes historically keep rising. In most cases, affordable housing is rental property. Landlords are typically responsible for the property taxes and incorporate them into the rents. Collaboration and partnership will be the key to developing projects that bring investors value and return and the city affordable housing that residents are asking about. As for income taxes, every resident needs to pay their fair share based on their respective income. A mutually beneficial collaborative project in the Livingston corridor would go a long way in providing more affordable housing and as a result continue expanding socioeconomic diversity.
Klingler: Bexley can and will continue to invest in the Ferndale Mayfield neighborhood in an effort to provide better and more affordable housing. We can make a better effort in the school systems to ensure that all children who go through the Bexley school systems feel welcomed back to the neighborhood when it's time to start their families. We can continue to focus our energy to provide for our Seniors to make sure they feel like they can stay in Bexley and don't feel the need to move outside of Bexley.
Markham: Bexley is a city that values diversity. You can walk around and see the yard signs that celebrate and invite diversity. Our city is not as diverse as we could be, but we are becoming more diverse every year because we attract young, educated, diverse families. More importantly, we know from research that socioeconomic diversity in schools can improve test scores for students of all backgrounds and improve graduation rates. Affordable housing is a part of maintaining socioeconomic diversity. Last year I attended the annual MORPC meeting on behalf of Bexley as its council service chair. We saw how communities such as Toronto create diverse, thriving neighborhoods through the thoughtful creation of multi-use buildings that combine commercial and residential spaces that serve many different socioeconomic sectors. I'd work to apply these concepts to Bexley.
Matteson: I grew up in a rented duplex on Sheridan Avenue. I wouldn't be who I am today without the attainable housing that was available in Bexley at that time. As I listen to more residents I find the call for attainable housing to be louder and more frequent. Young adults, graduate students, young families, empty-nesters and retirees are all potential residents who are rapidly being shut out or pushed out of Bexley because of home prices and a lack of single-family home alternatives. Bexley needs to make attainable housing a priority. We have seen a number of high-end multi-family buildings developed in Bexley over the past 10 years. We need to focus now on diversifying the living options for our residents. Southwest Livingston is certainly an area of potential. Attractive, mixed-use, attainable housing could be created with excellent access to the Jewish Community Center, connection to public transit and easy entry to the freeway system. Another possible location for this type of housing is in the North Cassady corridor, again an area with access to public transportation and close proximity to Maryland Elementary. Our city knows how to develop. We need to make this type of development a priority.
Nickey: Safe and affordable housing is needed and I would like to combine it with wrap-around programming provided by innovative organizations already doing this work in Columbus. Wrap-around programing is a direct service model providing assistance like career and life coaching; educational and wellness goals; and rental-support to residents working hard to keep their families in communities like Bexley. As these innovative programs move out of the demonstration phase, Bexley should try to position itself as a place for these kinds of programs as they come to scale.
Robinson: We live in a desirable neighborhood where the richness of our community is found not within the wealth but within the citizens of Bexley. While I hear from those outside of the "bubble" that we are not a diverse community, I disagree. We have socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity that should be applauded, fostered and celebrated. I think creating opportunities for new families to live, work and go to school in our city regardless of socio-economic status is an important responsibility for our City Council. The development of Livingston Avenue, the Ferndale Mayfield neighborhood and the North Cassady corridor provides opportunities to seriously consider the issue of affordable housing. In a small community like Bexley, with limited space for new development, these areas present an opportunity to provide housing and infrastructure to support vital city living. By taking advantage of tax abatements for new developments and by putting in place structures to limit property tax increases in these areas, we attract housing developers and investors who can pass these benefits on to their residents, thus ensuring the opportunity for people representing all socio-economic levels to live and succeed in our city.
Saad: It's important to provide opportunities for all families in Bexley to live and work for community. We should welcome innovative area development partners willing to use creative financing tools we can offer to re-imagine the Livingston Avenue corridor and continued improvements at Ferndale/Mayfield. Listening to the residents of Bexley I believe we should establish a "Bexley Commission on Aging & Senior Services." This commission would serve as an informed voice to empower, educate, and enrich the lives of our seniors. Expand efforts of our Diversity & Inclusion Collaborative by partnering with the "Bexley Be Well" initiative that has been launched in Bexley schools, the goal being mental health and support for all ages of residents in our community.