The community had a chance Monday evening to “Meet the Candidates” for the upcoming Nov. 7 general election.
This annual event put on by the Washington Kiwanis Club invited locals to meet and question the candidates for the Washington City Council, Washington City Schools Board of Education and Washington Court House Municipal Court Judge, as well as learn additional information on levies coming to the ballot. The proceedings were divided into two portions in front of the crowd at the Rusty Keg’s Crown Room in Washington C.H., the first being an introductory section allowing those seeking the various public offices to explain their own stance on particular subjects and introduce themselves.
WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE MUNICIPAL COURT JUDGE
The two candidates for municipal court judge, the incumbent Victor Pontious and Steve Eckstein, started the evening off with each describing their qualifications to the crowd. Eckstein, who spoke first, said he has been a lawyer for over 30 years here in Ohio, 12 of which he was prosecuting attorney. He said he then spent three years at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office doing what is called “Federal Criminal Case Appeals” followed by four to five years of serving as the assistant court administrator at Franklin County Municipal Court. While there, he helped manage 15 judges, 200 employees and day-to-day operations in a court that regularly sees over 250,000 cases a year.
“Voting is making your voice heard and registering your opinion of how you think your government should operate,” Eckstein said. “When you vote for president you might think your vote is like a grain of sand on the beach, it really doesn’t add up to much. Here in the local elections, your vote is much more like a rock in a bucket, it is much more important. The local elections have the most significant impact on your daily lives.”
Judge Pontious took to the podium next and also stressed the importance of local government, saying the local elections will have an impact on the quality of life for everyone in Fayette County. He said the community should not take government for granted, however it is up to the voters to select the right person for the job. Pontious then began to explain how he has noticed people he talks to do not always understand what the municipal court does. He said that he also finds when people learn more about what they are doing they become more supportive.
“The municipal court handles misdemeanor traffic and criminal cases and civil cases where the matter in dispute is less than $15,000,” Pontious said. “In 2016, 5,188 cases were filed in the Washington Court House Municipal Court. Through September 25th of this year, 5,225 cases have been filed. Of this number we have about 1,000 criminal and traffic cases more this year than we had filed last year. The Ohio Supreme Court sets timed guidelines for the resolution of all these cases. All of the cases in our court have been resolved in that time guideline except two, which were filed by the City of Washington. A small claims involving income taxes. One case we believe will be dismissed in a couple days and the other case we don’t have a good address for the defendant. We take each case very seriously.”
WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE CITY COUNCIL
For Washington C.H. City Council, five individuals are running for four open slots: Incumbents Ted Hawk, Dale Lynch and Kimberlee Bonnell are running for another term and they will be challenged by newcomers, Caleb Johnson and Stephen Shiltz. Shiltz drew number one to start off the introductions. He said he was born and raised in Washington Court House, graduated from Washington High School, and has been married to his wife Daisy for 41 years. Between their children and great grandchildren, all live in Washington C.H. and many work here as well. In the many years Shiltz has been in business, he said he has gained lots of experience all over the state with various chamber of commerce, downtown revitalization boards and many other places like Springfield, Cleveland and more.
“You know I have a vested interest in keeping Washington Court House strong, safe so we can live here, raise our children here and hopefully one day retire here,” Shiltz said. “I have got 44 years in retail business. I started in 1973 in downtown Washington Court House at the old Ross Jewelers. There isn’t a problem in our downtown I haven’t heard and we haven’t worked through at one time.”
Lynch was selected next. This is the fourth time Lynch has ran and said he ran then for the same reason he does now, his family. When he was growing up here, Lynch said he got a lot of help from the city and he always wanted to give back. He spent 40 years with the Washington City Schools system and is currently teaching college classes at the high school level, which he said he loves every moment of.
“I am teaching government, good thing for me to teach,” Lynch said. “Here is what I tell my government students. There are three basic things I have learned in ‘Government 101’ if you want to put it that way. One, every time anyone is elected to any office they think they have a mandate. The problem with city council is six other people think they have a mandate. So one of the things you want from your government is someone who can work with other people. I think in 12 years I think I can do that well. The second part of Government 101 is nobody wants their taxes raised, but want all of the services the city can provide. The third thing is, you are supposed to vote when you are an elected representative for what the people want, but what I have found in 12 years on the council is not a lot of people tell you what they want. Unless it’s to do with dogs or something like that, then they tell you.”
Hawk, who has five children, said that serving on the city council is his way of being a part of what’s going on in his life. He has been married for 50 years and said both his children and wife support him. He said he just wants to serve them as well as he serves anyone in the community. He said city council is not a job for a single person, but the group must work together as a team.
“I do appreciate the opportunity and the fact it has been given as an opportunity,” Hawk said. “When I think about serving on city council, it isn’t really totally as a servant, but it is partly selfish. I have a family here and raised all my kids here. I have grandchildren here now, so I have a vested interest in our city. I love our city, I love the history to it and I just hope I can be a part of it.”
The second newcomer seeking a spot on council is Johnson. Johnson, who graduated from Washington High School in 2011, was born and raised in Washington C.H. He said between graduating and running for city council, he attended and graduated from Ohio State University, and worked at the Ohio House of Representatives with Gary Scherer, Jim Butler and Bob Peterson. He specifically served as a constituent aide for Butler and handled many issues relating to his constituents in the position.
“Butler told me, and I think it’s very good advice, treat your constituents like your clients, fight for them,” Johnson said. “Make sure when they talk to you, that you listen and make sure you do whatever it takes so they end up better after talking to you than before they called. I am just like you. I drive through town every single day. I see the downtown, that we were told would be fixed 10 years ago. I see the growing heroin crisis that has affected a lot of people in my age group. I see the business owners who are doing the best they can but they are struggling. I am running because we need to fix these problems now.”
Finally, Bonnell introduced herself and described her last few years in city council. She said she ran originally to make a difference and after being asked by the past council president why she wanted to run, and was asked if she had an agenda, Bonnell said simply, “I just want to help.” In her term, she has opposed legislation governing dog ownership, and assisted in creating new legislation toward making the community one of more responsible pet owners.
“I just want to be a part, I just want to do what I can,” Bonnell said. “I have a voice and I want to use it. I have lived in Washington Court House for the last nine years, but was raised here. I always wanted to come back and I always wanted to serve our city. I won the election four years ago and I was thrilled to begin my term. It is difficult, you do have to listen, you do have to discern, you do have to think about what is best for your city. But it is so enjoyable, it is such a pleasure to be able to bring things before council that people have asked me to. And everything I have been told I have brought before the council. There are things that I say, ‘I’m not sure if this is best, but our constituents have asked to bring them before council.’”
Stay with the Record-Herald for more coverage of the “Meet the Candidates Night” later this week.