Bexley mayoral candidates meet in debate

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Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Bexley mayoral candidates, from left, front, Scott Weinblatt, Robyn Jones, Matt Lampke, William Harvey; and back, Bill Minckler, Gene Weiss, John Brennan, and Travis Irvine, gather for a debate Oct. 11 sponsored by the Bexley Chamber of Commerce.

They are against tax increases, in favor of Main Street commercial development, and would be okay with a sip of champagne at a Jeffrey Mansion wedding – even the one who conceded he’s too young to legally imbibe.

The eight candidates for Bexley mayor rolled out their proposals and extolled their backgrounds to an overflow crowd at an Oct. 11 forum sponsored by the chamber of commerce at the Bexley Library auditorium.

Robyn Jones, John Brennan, Scott Weinblatt, Bill Minckler, Matt Lampke, Gene Weiss, Travis Irvine and William Harvey are vying to succeed Mayor David Madison as he leaves office after 32 years.

They presented a broad range of experiences, and even age ranges, down to Weinblatt, an 18-year-old Bexley High School senior who promoted himself as being "young and energetic" and who pledged a cooperative administration.

"I don’t just want to run the city, I want to run it together," Weinblatt said, noting that he has registered 50 new voters.

Irvine, a 24-year-old self-employed filmmaker, also made an appeal to young citizens.

"We need young people in government," and in the community, the Bexley native said. "The suburb would appeal more to 20-somethings if we had a 20-something mayor."

The candidates all agreed that Bexley will be entering a new phase starting Jan. 1, and each believes they are the one to lead the city.

"When David Madison leaves, we need someone to get us through that transition," stated Jones, an attorney and first-term City Council member.

The mayor functions as a city manager, Jones asserted, "and it’s up to the mayor to make sure there are good people working for us."

Jones, a 23-year resident of Bexley, pointed to her experiences as a teacher who attended law school at night, and has practiced several types of law, as qualifications for the office.

Brennan remarked that he has 25 years of experience in city government, half of it in Bexley, including serving as the city’s parks and recreation director and seven years on City Council.

He has made the transition with three mayors, and "you have to hit the ground running" with a change of administration, Brennan said.

Minckler, Bexley’s technology director, noted his experience in human resources, as well as business and technology, as among his qualifications.

"I am all about being an agent of change," stated Minckler, who noted that he has overseen the renovation of the technology in every city department over the past two and a half years, from hardware and software to employee training.

Lampke has been a City Council member for six years and an attorney for 10, currently with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, where he supervises a staff of 35 and monitors the activities of numerous state agencies that, he said, have given him valuable connections.

Running the city is not just about ideas, Lampke said. "You need a mayor who can act on those."

Weiss, an attorney and former Bexley school board member, declared that he has no political aspirations beyond the office of mayor.

"People have said ‘You’re getting into politics,’ and I say ‘No, I’m getting into government.’ There’s a difference," Weiss said.

He believes that the job is so important that he is willing to give up his private law practice, something he will be able to do "because I planned ahead, which is what the city needs to do."

Harvey, a financial consultant, described himself as a businessman with leadership experience who can make decisions and execute plans on budget.

"I’m an executive, and there should be an executive to lead the city," Harvey said.

The biggest challenges facing the city will be financial, "and we need to deliver quality services and not tax residents out of their homes," Harvey said.

No new taxes

One questioner from the audience asked what the candidates would do to keep people with modest incomes in Bexley.

Weinblatt suggested reducing the cost of their utilities, such as water and trash collection, and providing coupons for local businesses.

As a cost-saving measure, Weinblatt suggested returning part of the mayor’s salary to the city budget.

Irvine pledged to return $30,000 of the mayor’s $90,000 salary if elected.

He wants to see businesses other than banks locate on Main Street, particularly ones that appeal to young people and families.

"You have a place to keep your money, and nowhere to spend it," he said, adding later "you need businesses to attract people, and people to attract businesses."

Minckler said the city needs to decrease expenses and increase revenue, but not always from the pockets of residents.

"I’d think long and hard about raising taxes," Minckler said.

He also favors housing code enforcement that is "consistent, fair and appropriate."

Lampke recommended advertising the programs already available, such as financial assistance for recreation activities, and the Homestead tax exemption now available to all senior citizens.

He is opposed to tax hikes without voter approval. "As mayor, I will not increase taxes without a vote from you," he promised.

Weiss warned that, at current spending levels, the city is on its way to a $5 million budget deficit within three years, and prescribed commercial development to boost the city coffers.

He doesn’t want to see construction of a service garage or police station on the city hall site that will block that development.

Jones said she led the fight on council to keep a tax issue off the ballot to fund a new police station, reasoning that the city had $7 million in its general fund that made the tax unnecessary.

The city hall lot isn’t the only desirable Main Street location for development, Brennan pointed out, and that there is open space belonging to Capital University that does not generate tax revenue.

He is willing to look at options other than building a new police station behind city hall.

He also proposes a partnership between the city and Capital for their police departments that would allow for the joining of forces and sharing dispatching and locker room space.

Mansion martinis?

The candidates favor allowing alcohol to be served at private parties at Jeffrey Mansion, as a way to boost rental revenue, as long as it is closely regulated.

"All things in moderation," Minckler said.

"Yes, as long as it doesn’t interfere with recreation programs, and doesn’t push out recreation programs," Lampke offered, suggesting that Bexley could go from charging $300 to $3,000 for a wedding party.

As a recreation director, Brennan has had party planners hang up as soon as they learn alcohol is prohibited.

If permitted, the city needs to have liability insurance in case of an accident on the mansion grounds, he added.

Brennan is against expanding parking on the mansion grounds to accommodate private events, and expressed concern about additional cars on nearby streets.

Harvey is skeptical that allowing alcohol to be served, as part of the renovation of the mansion as a cultural and events center, will generate as much money as projected.

"It’s not going to solve all of the mansion’s problems," Harvey said of the 101-year-old landmark in need of extensive repairs.

Broadcasts of the complete debate will be aired on Time Warner’s public access channel and on Bexley Public Radio 102.1 FM on Oct. 15, 17 and 19 from noon to 1 p.m.

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