Two candidates out of council race
City council elections took an unexpected turn this week when councilmember Bill Jindra, in his second term in office, resigned as a result of the ongoing dispute over Oberlin’s Wal-Mart development. Additionally, councilmember Sharon Fairchild Soucy is facing legal challenges to her write-in candidacy. If Soucy joins Jindra in absence from the ballot, the Nov. 8 election will be uncontested for its four current councilmembers and two challengers, David Ashenhurst and Anthony Mealy.
Jindra, a retired Avon police lieutenant, feels he has been unfairly treated regarding his involvement in enabling Wal-Mart to build a superstore in Oberlin while he was council chair prior to 2004. In an interview with the Review this week, Jindra emphasized that Wal-Mart’s ability to acquire local land was out of the council’s control, as the property on Route 50 did not require annexation and was already commercially zoned.
The council has attempted to prevent Wal-Mart’s construction twice: once in 2001 and once in 2003. Jindra described the latest move as “very crafty on Wal-Mart’s part” and “very disappointing.”
In light of the extent to which Jindra tried to block the superstore, he is hurt that some community members have criticized or belittled his efforts. In response to the claim that he was not receptive to the public’s input on important Wal-Mart issues during his tenure as Council chairman, Jindra emphasized to the Elyria Chronicle Telegram on Thurs., Sept. 29 that this “was not the case. I was Council chairman then, and there were plenty of standing-room-only meetings about Wal-Mart.”
In making his final decision to resign from council, which takes effect today, Jindra expressed feelings that his integrity had been wrongfully called into question surrounding the Wal-Mart issue as well as disparaged by those with political agendas, particularly by some current Council members he declined to identify by name.
One example he cited to the Chronicle was an editorial in the Sept. 16 issue of the Review, which he felt unfairly accused his council of collusion in the Wal-Mart deal and could have been influenced by members of council seeking to dodge the wrath of voters. [For a clarification of this editorial, see page 8]
Jindra also alleged that a member of Oberlin Citizens for Responsible Development, an anti-Wal-Mart advocacy group, had gone to Avon to examine his old police record.
This allegation was vigorously denied by Mark Chesler, a member of the group.
“We did not go to Avon to look at the records,” he said. “If he thinks we did, he’s mistaken.”
The status of Soucy’s candidacy is still a matter of dispute. On Sept. 2, she was notified that she had been disqualified because she had failed to sign some necessary paperwork.
A councilmember since 2004, Soucy claimed she turned in her paperwork for re-election in late July and double-checked in early August that everything was in order. She was reassured it was.
Two weeks ago, she read in a Lorain Journal article that she had been disqualified because of a missed signature. Upon verification, she discovered it was true, although the Board of Elections had assured her paperwork was in order. She was encouraged to continue to run as a write-in candidate by the BOE’s director, and reassured by the law director that it was legal. “The rule says that if your charter doesn’t forbid it, you can run as a write in,” she said.
With the help of lawyer Gerard Phillips, Oberlin student Jacob Rinaldi has since issued a challenge to Soucy’s write-in. Whether or not Soucy will be allowed to run will be decided Monday afternoon at the Board of Elections.
“I’m floored by the whole situation,” she said. “I’m very sorry that he didn’t call me or have a conversation with me first.”
Rinaldi was unavailable for comment.
If this potential stumbling block is pushed aside, it will be counteracted not only by her incumbent experience, but also Soucy’s familiarity with the city.
“I am one of the few people you’ll find [on the council] who has lived here all my life,” she said.
For this upcoming term, Soucy views the primary issue to be campaign finance reform.
“If there’s anything that threatens the success of our democracy, it’s the money that flows into campaigns,” she said.
In regards to students, Soucy encourages the East College Street Project and other “green roof projects” that are enacted through young peoples’ involvement.
If Soucy is unable to run in this year’s city council elections, the five current councilmembers all seeking reelection are guaranteed to keep their seats.
Gardner, Sandberg, and Peterson ran as a slate in 2004, but this year they will all run individually. Sandberg, known to many students for her contributions to the college as a politics professor, brought a unique approach to politics with her when she came to city council last year.
“I bring a view that’s outward looking and seeks to identify the impact on local government of federal and state legislation,” she said.
During her year serving on council, Sandberg has worked on the East College Street Project, which she expects will increase tax revenues to the campus as well as bring young entrepreneurial talent to Oberlin. She has also worked to provide low interest financing for businesses through the port authority of Lorain County.
Peterson, the second member of the slate, has worked extensively to open the council up to greater city participation, including all those inhabiting the western part of town.
“I see students as a very important group of citizens here in Oberlin,” he said.
Of particular significance, Peterson supports Wal-Mart’s local opening.
“Oberlin has one of the highest poverty rates in the county; people need jobs,” he said. He also acknowledged the need to discuss class issues through a Wal-Mart context, like why it is that a certain population of the town supports its opening. Ultimately, his stance is optimistic: “It’s here and let’s try and make the best of it.”
The third member of the slate is a man who considers college/town relations to be an imperative dynamic to improve. Chair of City Council Daniel Gardner said the community suffers from “misunderstandings and communication breakdowns” between the two sides.
“I speak college as well as I speak city,” he said, “and I am committed to using my interpretive skills for the betterment of all of Oberlin.”
Gardner seems to exemplify infusion: he has received national and statewide recognition for building college/community partnerships such as the Federal Community Service Work-Study program and the Bonner Scholars Program, which provides free tuition to Oberlin High graduates who attend Oberlin College. In return, he asks students to “think about the responsibilities they have as citizens of Oberlin.”
Everett Tyree has lived in Oberlin since 1977. His re-election campaign reflects his personal philosophy on community involvement. “In everyone’s lifetime you need to give back to your community,” he said, “for me that time is now.”
Along with Peterson, Tyree heartily supports Wal-Mart’s local opening. “If I can get Wal-Mart to get in here, that will up the tax base, give jobs to my constituents and help the schools out.” In regards to the company’s alleged corruption, he sees some management level dishonesty as inevitable at a company that expansive. He also expects Oberlin’s downtown businesses to benefit from Wal-Mart by becoming “better businesspeople by having to compete.”
Rimbert could not be reached for an interview at the time this article was printed.
Under these circumstances, the two challengers will also have no trouble winning spots on the Council.
Challenger number one, David Ashenhurst [full disclosure: father of Review commentary editor Casey Ashenhurst], attributes much of his qualifications to the towns he has lived in. “I have a lot of understanding of how college communities work, and also how they don’t work,” he said.
Ashenhurst has not only the communities to thank, but also his persistent involvement in those communities. He has worked for community improvements like environmental protection and smart growth through his numerous non-profit involvements. “I’ve been an active citizen now looking to be an actual official,” he said. Ashenhurst describes his ethnic principles as coinciding with those of Oberlin College.
As well as further developing its economy, Ashenhurst would like to see the city improve its transportation opportunities for residents who need it. He also hopes to “deepen the regional consciousness of city council” by participating in and encouraging fellow congress people to participate in regional development. But in the end, Ashenhurst says he is not out to make big changes.
“I’d like to join the council and encourage the direction they’ve taken,” he said.
This term’s second challenger brings a different sort of experience to the table. Anthony Mealy served on city council from 1986 to 1987, a term during which he helped to build a new police station, get the local cable co-op off the ground and construct the town’s east-west bike path — one of the first of its kind in Ohio. He has also served as chairman of the Oberlin Zoning Board of Appeals, Secretary/Treasurer and board member of the Oberlin Community Improvement Corporation.
In order to maintain adequate public services and facilities, Mealy described “sensible economic development” and campaign finance reform as steps in direction the council needs to take. Mealy subsequently identified the top issues for voters to be the mileages that will be on the ballot this year. Two are levies for the school board, meant to strengthen the educational experience of local youth, while the other is a renewal for the public library: a proposed increase from two million to 2.25 million.
“I would encourage all residents to support these because of the education students are getting and the service and benefits we’re all getting from the local library,” he said.
“What I offer students in reality is government,” he said,
“good efficient government.” He is committed to maintaining a
“good, wholesome” environment for students in town by supporting
local police and fire protection and by improving the community’s civic