LISBON - One of the Columbiana County commissioner contests features a three-way race between incumbent John Payne, Unity Township Trustee Tim Weigle, and former commissioner and state representative John Wargo.
Payne was chosen by the county Democratic Party in January to fill the position following the resignation of Penny Traina to take a job in the private sector. Weigle is the Republican nominee, while Wargo is a lifelong Democrat running as an independent candidate.
Payne's career as a public official dates back 30 years when he served a term as mayor of East Liverpool, followed by a stint on city council. He worked 14 years as director and deputy director of the county elections board before retiring in 2005 to take a job as a member of former Congressman Charlie Wilson's local staff. That job ended when Wilson lost his re-election bid in 2010.
Payne, 66, has also worked for a while as a junior and high school teacher and coach, and he was an administrator and teacher at the former Ohio Valley Business College.
He has a bachelor's degree in business from Kent State University, a master's degree in school administration from the University of Dayton, and a doctorate in public education from Northwestern International University, an online college.
Payne believes the contacts he has made throughout his career are an asset in his job as commissioner, which he views as a quasi-administrative position.
Payne said he has been working on several economic development projects related to the shale gas boom that he is not at liberty to discuss publicly just yet.
"I think what we can do locally is try and take advantage of the oil and gas industry that's coming in here and see what we can do to develop that," he said.
The county needs to focus on ensuring educational opportunities related to the drilling industry are available and on making the necessary water, sewer and road improvements.
"What attracts businesses is infrastructure and education. You have to have adequate building facilities, roads, water and electricity, and the skilled work force to match that," he said.
The drilling boom represents a major economic development opportunity for the county, and Payne said one way to take advantage of that opportunity is resurrect the county Progress Council, a volunteer organization of local businessmen and community leaders created in the 1990s.
The Progress Council was active in trying to bring the Saturn plant to the county, along with the federal prison, which was eventually located in Elkton. Payne said they need that same coordinated effort among local leaders, working with existing economic development organizations.
"It's just a matter of everyone working together and coordinating efforts ... The big challenge will be whether we can take advantage of this burgeoning energy (boom). This could be our renaissance," he said.
In regard to commissioners sharing casino tax money with communities in the county, Payne believes it is premature to have that discussion, since they really have no idea how much they can afford to part with at this time. The county has only received one check from the state.
"If the income doesn't come in on this gambling, you can't give out what you don't have," he said.
There could come a time when commissioners determine there is sufficient gambling money coming in that some of it could be shared with communities, but this is a decision that would have to be made annually.
"The bottom line is I believe once county expenses are met I have no problem sharing that," Payne said.
If that were to occur, he said the money could be distributed based on population similar to the distribution of state Local Government Fund money, or they could create a pool of money and have communities submit an application saying how the money is to be spent. In this way it would resemble how commissioners share the county's annual allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant money.
Payne also wants commissioners to act now in naming a new county Emergency Management Agency director, which is why he suggested they name the person recommended by the interview committee. He said he is satisfied with the person recommended for the job.
Wargo, 74, has a career in public office that dates back nearly 50 years, starting as a Franklin Township trustee and then a stint as county recorder. He served as state representative for the county from 1971-1982, and as commissioner for 12 years after that, retiring in 1996.
Wargo is miffed the Democratic Party chose Payne over him to fill the Traina vacancy.
"I broke ground for a lot of these guys. When I asked for that one-year appointment there was absolutely no consideration ... That's the only time I asked the party for anything," he said.
Having said that, Wargo said he decided to run for the full-term as an independent instead of as a Democrat, not to be the spoiler, but because he loves to be active and believes he can still contribute.
"I didn't do it to get even with the party. I kind of felt I have as much right as they have (to run for commissioner). Now the public will have a voice in this," he said.
Wargo said he has numerous accomplishments over his 30-plus years as a public official, but he is most proud of the role he played in landing the federal prison and the 600 jobs that came with it; obtaining money for the Kent State University branches in East Liverpool and Salem; and co-sponsoring Ohio's first bill requiring strip mines be reclaimed.
He said a side benefit of getting the federal prison was construction of the sewage treatment plant in Elkton that also serves Lisbon, although village officials were angry since the plant was forced on them. "I knew it was the right thing to do," he said.
If elected, Wargo said he intends to work on getting the U.S. Route 30 realignment project moving and would like to do something about the county's drug problem.
As for commissioners sharing casino tax revenue, Wargo said the county has major needs that need to be addressed before you can even have that discussion. "I don't think you have enough money to spread around to the townships and everyone," he said.
Weigle, 60, has served as a Unity Township trustee for 22 years and is currently a county Port Authority board member, having been appointed last year. He has worked in the construction/heavy equipment business all of his life, and for Ohio Caterpillar in Youngstown since 2001. During that time he has worked as regional product support manager and is currently the branch manager of the Youngstown location.
"I'm just going to bring a business mind set to the board, and I think that's what the county needs," he said.
Weigle said he had contemplated running for commissioner in 2010 but stood aside after learning fellow Republican Mike Halleck wanted to do so. "I felt the door opened up (with Traina's decision to leave) and there was an opportunity for me to run for commissioner," he said.
One of his goals if elected would be to ensure the shale gas boom is managed in a way to protect the public's health and safety. "These folks are going to be in our county for the next five to seven years. There's probably going to be a lot of drilling and truck traffic. We need to operate as safely as we can and as healthy as we can," Weigle said.
As a trustee, Weigle said he has already been dealing with drilling companies about maintaining township roads being used, and he would put that experience to work as commissioner.
Weigle is also a member of a township association committee that has begun meeting with drilling companies to discuss issues and would like to see commissioners begin doing the same.
At the very least, Weigle said he would like for drilling companies to provide the name and number of a contact person for each site, which could be passed on to safety personnel. Getting that information as a trustee has been difficult.
In addition to addressing the drilling situation, Weigle said he would work with the sheriff and county Drug Task Force on increasing efforts to combat the county's drug problem.
"The sheriff's office has been run on a shoestring budget for a long time, and I think its time we get these folks a little bit more money so they can put more deputies on the road," he said.
Weigle has some ideas about economic development, saying they need to bring the chamber of commerces together and have the port authority begin working with them more closely.
"We need to get our heads together to develop a plan to capitalize some of the businesses coming into the county. Right now, I think everyone is doing their own thing, and we're just not working together," he said.
In regard to sharing casino tax money, Weigle is not necessarily opposed to doing that, but, if so, he would favor putting some of the money into a pot and communities could apply for the money similar to how commissioners run the CDBG program.
"I would like to be able to help a township if they had a special project they wanted to do, and they were willing to put funding toward the project," he said. "Just giving the townships money like we do with LGF money, I'm not sure that would be the wisest thing to do."
Weigle said the county has shared what it can with communities, whether it be commissioners and the CDBG money or the engineer's office using its crews to resurface roads if the village and townships purchase the materials. He pointed out the townships also receive free legal services from the county prosecutor's office.
"I sometimes think the trustees don't stop and think that we do get some things from the county we are fortunate to get," Weigle said.
As for the appointing a new EMA director, Weigle understands the interview committee was made up of professionals, but he believes commissioners should have at least sat in on the interviews for the finalists.
"I'd had some questions I would like to ask. Commissioners should have been there," he said.
Commissioners are paid $65,620.