Commission Candidates Tout Differing Strengths

WEST LIBERTY – Patty Levenson wants more government transparency and fiscal responsibility, and Orphy Klempa wants to use his business and political connections to further economic development.

Levenson, a Republican, and Klempa, a Democrat, are vying for an Ohio County Commission seat this November and talked about a variety of issues Wednesday during the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Debate at West Liberty University. Questions were posed by chamber President Terry Sterling; John McCabe, managing editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register; and local radio personality Howard Monroe.

Levenson, a Wheeling resident, said she has a real estate firm that renovates and resells houses. Klempa, also a Wheeling resident, is a state senator and business manager for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters. Topics discussed included the role of a county commissioner, the future of The Highlands and the Ohio County Development Authority and use of future Marcellus Shale gas drilling proceeds.

Klempa and Levenson agreed a commissioner’s job is make sure public funds are spent wisely. Levenson added she is concerned the commission is not getting paid back in a timely manner by the county’s development arm, the OCDA. She said about $9 million is owed to the commission, and that the OCDA’s debt is worth about $260 million.

Klempa said he was not sure how much debt was owed, but if elected he would make sure any debts would be paid down even if that meant using the county’s future natural gas drilling lease proceeds. He also wants those proceeds to be used for development.

Concerning the future management of The Highlands, Klempa, who serves as a member of the OCDA board, said he believes the authority continues to do a fine job at the site. When asked if he believed a private manager or firm should be hired to manage the site instead of county Administrator Greg Stewart, Klempa said the thought had not crossed his mind. But he did not think hiring another person would be a wise use of money.

Levenson believes a professional firm should be used to manage The Highlands. And she believes the county should divest its interests in the development to the private sector, especially before taking on additional projects.

”It seems right now the money is flowing out instead of flowing in and there are lawsuits pending and legal fees that are rising as a result of suits against us. I’d like us to take a step back and look logically at where we are before accumulating additional financial burdens,” she said.

Citing Highmark’s plans to move its Wheeling office to The Highlands, Monroe asked if the candidates thought the county and city of Wheeling were in competition for development.

”The largest city in the county is being robbed of its employment base. … It’s very unusual that a county is in the development business,” Levenson said.

But Klempa said since so many retailers have left the city and county, he is happy he can now buy clothing in Ohio County because of The Highlands.

“If it takes government intervention to help economic development and to create jobs, then we need to do that,” Klempa said.

Both candidates agreed a second interstate interchange is needed at The Highlands. But Klempa said the OCDA continues to apply for grants in an attempt to secure funding for that project. Also related to The Highlands, Klempa said he has not given up on the Wild Escape Theme Park project or at least something similar happening at the site. Levenson said after doing some research, she does not believe the original park developer, Steve Minard, has the funding to make the project happen.