St. Clairsville Candidates Field Questions During Forum
By ROBERT A. DEFRANK
For The Intelligencer
Candidates for contested seats in the city and answered questions from the public and shared their visions of the future Thursday at a Meet the Candidates Night at Ohio University Eastern.
While prior city council meetings have been marked by heated exchanges and personal attacks, Thursday’s event was passionate, but restrained. The future of water service continues to be a point of argument among candidates for the mayor’s seat. Incumbent mayor Terry Pugh and contenders Bill Brooks and Kathryn Thalman gave their statements and answered questions submitted by the audience.
“We need to bring the city back together,” Brooks said. “We need to have a mayor who leads and not rules. We need to have one that’s going to listen to the citizens and listen to council.”
He said he would concentrate on improving current city assets and services rather than on growth through the oil and gas industry.
Pugh said he and his administrative team would continue the accomplishments of his term such as working with Richland Township on shared projects and developing land outside the city. He said his highest priorities if reelected include complying with Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandates and ending flooding on Bellview Street.
“I know what it takes to run a business, to run a city,” he said. “What you get is what you get with me: a leader.”
Thalman said she brings a business background and was motivated to run by an apparent lack of transparency in government.
“I would ask first of all for transparency. I feel there has been a lot of things we have not had fairly put on the table, especially with the water issue. We have not looked at every option,” she said. “Research and accountability are very important.”
She said while there is discord in the city, it is because city leaders have not listened to the residents.
To the question of privatization, Pugh said he continued to be in favor of selling the water and wastewater system to Aqua Ohio, a private state-regulated entity.
“There’s no question, I’m for privatizing the water system,” he said, adding that he has visited communities served by Aqua Ohio. He also referred to a Wednesday council meeting with EPA officials. “If council can’t understand the benefit of Aqua, then they weren’t listening. You’re asking me, after 35 years no one did anything for the water system in St. Clairsville and they think the municipality and a change in different offices can handle it now? They’re dreamers. That’s my answer: privatization.”
“Mayor Pugh was part of the problem for at least 12 years. Why was nothing done?” Thalman said. “We’re to the point that we’re looking at having to sell our water. There have been alternatives suggested. … We weren’t given the opportunity to even explore what options there were. … The boom that’s coming to this valley is undeniable, and if we lose control of our water it is the worst thing that could happen.”
“Never, ever sell your water,” Brooks said in his opening statement. “I would hire an independent engineer to tell us what is wrong with our plant, what it will take to band-aid it until we could get on county water.”
He said he would put the costs of local renovations and the short-term rate increases of Aqua Ohio before the residents and call for a vote.
In answer to a question about mayoral involvement in daily business and oversight, Brooks said he would prioritize hiring employees from the community. Pugh said he regularly put 40-50 hours a week in the job and hired the most qualified people, regardless of residency. Thalman said she would address divisions in the police department and re-hiring city employees to keep roads clean.
Mayoral candidates were also asked how they would promote the city and encourage residency, since the latest census puts St. Clairsville in danger of losing its city status. Thalman said she would promote a more business-friendly environment. Pugh said the city would continue to provide quality services to attract people. Brooks said the city would do more to publicize its quality.
The divisions in the city were also reflected in the candidates for three contested council-at-large seats. Incumbents Linda Jordan and Mike Smith and contenders Mark Poindexter and Perry Jones answered questions. Councilwoman Beth Oprisch was unable to attend.
Poindexter said he objected to there being only one bid for privatization. He and Smith said more options should be explored. Jones, a past council member, said the water system has been neglected since 1977 and should be addressed in the best way possible. Jordan said she is leaning in favor of privatization based on information provided during the past three years of discussion, but she is still reading through the proposed contract with Aqua Ohio.
The upcoming election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.