Three Nov. 5 candidates -- Scott Donaldson, Melanie Farkas and Bryan Newell -- are looking to win a seat on the Liberty Township board of trustees.
The winner will replace Melanie Leneghan, who is not seeking reelection.
ThisWeek Olentangy Valley News asked three questions of each of the candidates. Here are their answers:
What is the biggest issue facing Liberty Township right now, and how would you resolve it?
Donaldson: There are many issues facing Liberty Township. The message that seems to resonate with most people is ending the drama. We need to keep our township out of the news and get back to business.
The township should be focused on continuing to provide some of the best pre-hospital care via our EMS and response from our wonderful fire department. We need to support them wholeheartedly, but we need to also focus on roads, parks and snow removal, and get back to the basics of running a township effectively.
Farkas: I believe the biggest issue facing Liberty Township is poor planning and collaboration. Our township has a comprehensive plan but doesn't appear to adhere to that plan.
For example, it states the township should "maintain high-quality services appropriate for a growing township" by providing essential public services, coordinating with other agencies and communities, and maintain sound and equitable township finances. In the past 12 months alone, we've seen our fire/EMS services attacked from multiple angles, no coordination and terrible relationships with the city of Powell and Delaware County, questionable financial decisions that have cost the township more money in legal fees and costs for its medical director and township administrator.
The first thing I will do is schedule a public meeting with Powell City Council members, as is supposed to be happening annually thanks to the Cooperative Economic Development Agreement, and discuss strategies in improving collaboration and working together to plan for the future of our area.
Newell: Over the last year, our residents have been fighting to preserve the level of fire and EMS services they voted for in 2017. I'm proud of how the community has banded together to push back and attempt to be heard.
As the only trustee candidate who has earned the trust and endorsement of the Liberty Township firefighters, I will end the drama and chaos by presenting a resolution which will limit the board's ability to defund the fire department simply by bringing it up under "other business." If any changes need to be made, the public deserves complete transparency and to be a part of the discussion.
I grew up in a family of firefighters so I know from experience that we should be relying on the fire chief's expertise in bringing forth budgets and setting department priorities.
As a trustee I will encourage open and transparent discussions of the chief's recommendations among the board and the residents. This includes the need to recognize the department's continued success in bringing in grant money. I believe strongly in the residents' right to understand how, and why, their money is being spent.
How do you feel about the current board of trustees' actions regarding the township's EMS?
Donaldson: The current board of trustees could have handled the EMS/fire situation in a much better way. More effort towards transparency and listening to public concern would have vastly improved the situation.
In addition, more sharing of public information and documents is needed to keep our citizens informed. We need to support our wonderful fire/EMS and work towards total transparency in all we do moving forward.
Farkas: The actions of our current board of trustees has been extremely disappointing. Two trustees have been trying for nearly a year to attack our fire department by trying to trade it away to Delaware County, threatening to dissolve our EMS unless the county pays the township $1 million per year, and more recently, artificially raising the balance of the fire fund to declare a "surplus" and then rolling back our fire levy funds, which will cause significant financial issues for the fire department.
Voters approved continuing funding for our fire department by 75% of the vote in 2017 -- which means this should not be a conversation. Two trustees are acting directly against what the voters decided.
Township trustees are public servants and must work together for the good of the people who elect them. They must listen to residents who bring a variety of knowledge and expertise to each trustee meeting and then make the important decisions for our township that are in the best interest of this community.
Newell: It's reprehensible and embarrassing for our community. The two elected officials who have put us in this position have manufactured this crisis so they can "fix" it and then take credit for saving taxpayer money.
When you have a fire levy pass by 75%, it is crystal clear that voters know what level of service they want, and they are willing to pay for it. Our fire department has been understaffed since the failure of the 2012 fire levy. We currently don't even meet national staffing standards. There are days we have nine firefighters/paramedics covering 33 square miles and 30,000-plus people. That is unacceptable.
My approach to appropriating tax dollars for the fire department will be to consult with the fire chief and his staff and invite residents to be a part of roundtable meetings so that there is complete transparency as to how, and why, their money is being spent.
Our community is full of highly educated residents who have chosen to raise their families here. To ignore their voices and step on their rights has been status quo for far too long, and as trustee I will end the chaos and drama surrounding this issue.
Do you think the tumult among trustees over the last year has damaged public trust in the board? If so, how can it be repaired?
Donaldson: I absolutely believe that the tumult over the last year has damaged the public trust as it relates to the board of trustees. Trust is something that needs to be earned, and it will take some time for this to be repaired. Efforts toward transparency and sharing of information will go a long way.
In addition, if I would be so fortunate to be elected, I would go out of my way to meet with as many people as I possibly could and listen to their concerns. The benefit to going door-to-door for this election is that I have this opportunity, but it needs to continue past Nov. 5. Your trustees need to serve the people and not themselves or special interests, and it is time to make this change.
Farkas: I certainly do believe the issues over the past year have damaged public trustee in their Liberty Township trustees. Their actions have demonstrated what happens when power goes to a politician's head and they act against what is best for our community.
If I am elected, one of the first steps in earning the public's trust once again is to be accessible to our friends and neighbors. We are a part of this community, we are raising our children here, we go to the grocery store and parks and restaurants here, we have had EMS or fire come to our homes.
I will hold regular open coffee hours to allow residents to chat with me, get to know me and share their concerns and ideas. Open-meetings laws wouldn't allow my fellow trustees to do these coffee hours with me but will encourage them to do the same thing. Our community members need to trust that their elected officials are working in their best interest and will make time to listen.
Newell: Not only is it the trust between the public and the board that's been decimated, but our leadership has also alienated us from partners who help us govern better and more efficiently. Trust has eroded with the city of Powell and with officials at the county level.
We need to make a concerted effort through our actions as a board to show we want to be partners again and end the "our way or the highway" mentality two of the three trustees have been projecting the last two years.
We are a township. We have none of the powers of a city or county. To solve the complicated suburban issues we face, we must collaborate with the government entities around us. We can't treat them like second-class officials. Respect is received when it is given, and our elected officials haven't been giving much to our residents or our partners lately.
We need to start acting with respect toward each other, listening and discussing ideas like the highly educated community we are. Being open and accessible, we will be able to rebuild the trust that has been lost.