Four face off for BG at-large council seats
Written by HAROLD BROWN Sentinel City Editor
Friday, 25 October 2013 11:14
The four candidates for two at-large seats on Bowling Green City Council on the Nov. 5 ballot offer a wide variety of viewpoints and experience for voters.
Republican Bob McOmber is seeking his third four-year term, while Democrat Sandy Rowland is seeking her first term. Rowland was appointed to fill the seat vacated when Democrat Joel Kuhlman was appointed a Wood County Commissioner, filling the unexpired term of Alvie Perkins. Kuhlman later won election to a full four-year term.
Challenging McOmber and Rowland are Republican Sandy Milligan and Green Party candidate Joe DeMare.
McOmber is a retired attorney, Rowland is a Realtor, Milligan is a business owner and DeMare a machine operator and small business owner.
DeMare said he is running because he wants to change some things. "I an unhappy the armory was demolished" and that council "allowed a mistake like CVS." He said growth can be good "but it makes a difference what sort of business is planned.
DeMare used an example of a Green Party member of Cleveland City Council who fought an incinerator project in his neighborhood and won. He is concerned the CVS will cut into Main Street's customer base. "If Bowling Green State University students can get what they want at CVS, they may not go farther to Main Street. I would rather see any additional development on East Wooster be directed toward offices or simply maintaining of the residences."
He believes in locally-based economics. "We need to encourage small business to locate here and not make it easy for CVS or Wal-Mart. We need to help small and local business."
DeMare said his family moved to Bowling Green when his then 17-year-old son starting taking classes at BGSU. "We found a home on South Main Street and we have fallen in love with the community."
He fully supports the proposed charter amendment. "It is essential we as a country define the right to clean air, clean water and allow the people the enjoyment of their houses. The charter amendment here in our community says we want things cleaner and the state can't do anything" about it.
• The backyard chicken issue rejected earlier this year by council needs to be revisited. "The idea fits in with a locally-based economy."
• The city needs dedicated bike lanes. Bike lanes will lead to more bike riding. "I do a lot of riding and have seen accidents and close calls."
• In the long term he sees BG as a net producer of electricity using more solar power and more wind turbines. "BG took a few steps but has lost ground. Turbines are bigger and cheaper and easier to construct. We have the experience."
• The city ought to exercise an option in the lease with BG Country Club in 2015 and take back the property.
• There is a real need not just in Wood County but in the country to build a separate Green Party.
Milligan said she would place an emphasis on economic development. "I care about Bowling Green. I am passionate about our success,"
She has been involved with Downtown Bowling Green, a member of the executive board of the Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
"City council can help create a welcoming environment. We need to keep up the tax base and tax revenue with jobs. The new B-5 zoning district creates a lot of opportunities. We need to continue to look at mixed uses of apartments and storefronts. We need to work to get retail and businesses into existing spaces."
To that end she suggested looking at tax abatements and reduced utility costs and "maybe come up with a new zone for buildings that have sat empty for a certain amount of time."
Milligan said Bowling Green should promote its location on Interstate 75 and close to the Ohio Turnpike. "The planned widening of I-75 will help us," she said.
She considers the purchase of land around the Community Center a good idea but "I don't know if I support the purchase of Ridge Elementary. Most of the discussion by council was in executive session. I think maybe council should have researched it a little bit longer. Tearing down a building when there was a business looking to go in there is a concern."
One person told council the night it was considering purchasing the building that they had hoped to locate a charter school in the structure.
"I want to bring a business voice to council. We have fine folks on council. My approach is we need a balance of voices and viewpoints. The business point of view is missing. Running a business presents circumstances that people who do not run a business don't face. The buck stops here. I am used to making decisions. I won't take a stand without information."
Milligan described herself as "a very organized person. I wear many hats. I can take on a lot of things."
McOmber said he believes a town like Bowling Green is small enough that individuals make a difference. "Everyone has an opportunity to volunteer, to help others. City council is a higher profile position that suits my personality and skill set pretty well," he said.
He came to Bowling Green to attend BGSU and has remained a resident. He previously served on the Bowling Green Board of Education.
Earlier in his second term McOmber said he had a heart attack and "for a while I thought I might not run again. After six months I was feeling better, like my doctor told me I would. I consulted with friends. I enjoy being part of council and wanted to stay in a decision-making role. It is stimulating to me. Serving on council has its bad moments but the good outnumbers the bad considerably."
McOmber said another factor in his decision to seek another term is that four of seven council members have less than two years experience. "We are weighted on the side of inexperience now. It is important to have some experience on council," he said.
McOmber said he has the ability to look at controversial issues and broker compromises. As an example, he cited the B-5 zoning district created to handle development on the edge of the central business district. "After B-5 was proposed the east side residents were still unhappy. I met with the administration and worked on some wording that was acceptable to them and palatable for the developer.
"In the Market Square development what the Greens want is much better than what was there. People want and hope a perfect solution emerges. It's better than dilapidated rentals but not the 'no rentals at all' that some wanted. You give a little and you get a little." He believes the discussion on the issue better served everyone.
McOmber anticipates that it will be a challenge to maintain city services going forward. "Almost 10 percent of the general fund budget has disappeared with the loss of the estate tax and the cut in the local government fund." He is also concerned about the possible state collection of city income tax and how it might further affect city revenues.
Not one to sit on the fence on controversial issues, McOmber does not believe the proposed charter amendment "is in the best interests of the city." McOmber said the wording is too broad, the proposal is inconsistent with the rest of the charter and has the "potential to greatly disrupt the city's utility operation. After 15 years at a Fortune 500 company I can tell you the charter amendment is not perceived as positive by business and industry. This sends a very negative message to business and industry."
Rowland said Bowling Green has been so good to her with city services and schools. "I am able to give back and I feel a need to give back. Once I got onto city council it became important for me to stick around and see things through."
She said a need for green space in the First Ward has been accomplished with the city's purchase of Ridge Elementary. "There will be a place for children to play safely. I'd like to work on bike paths connecting BGSU with the rest of the city. Lots of people who work at BGSU tell me they would like paths to make it easier and safer to ride to and from campus."
She envisions the former junior high/senior high property becoming a community meeting center, a common green space for music in the summer, a place where students might perform, a place to help overcome the BGSU/community divide. "The farmers market could be there," she said.
At the time of this interview Rowland declined to reveal how she would vote on the proposed city charter amendment. "Both sides have good arguments. I don't know the answer. I won't share how I plan to vote. My vote is my business," she said. Since that time she stated on WBGU-FM that she would vote against the amendment.
"I feel the debate has already harmed us and industry in BG. I am not speaking against either side. After the election, no matter which side wins, we need to work to get Ohio to open up the rights of Ohio municipalities to regulate certain businesses such as fracking and factory farms, prevent subprime lending and take away the law that lets city employees live outside the city. I see the state taking more and more rights away from home rule municipalities."
She is also concerned about continued efforts of the state to take over the collection of municipal income taxes. Rowland said the city can do it cheaper and is concerned the state will find a way to keep more of the money for purposes local voters didn't intend.
• Likes the smart growth approach of former Meridian, Miss., mayor John Robert Smith, who recently spoke to a meeting of council's Transportation and Safety Committee, which was attended by all seven council members. "Realtors also support the idea of smart growth. It makes for better places to live," she said.
• Sees a lack of affordable housing for first-time home buyers. She said it should be a part of the city's economic development plan. "Too many Vehtek employees are living out of town because there is a shortage of homes aimed at first-time home buyers. Many of those types of homes have been converted to house college students."
• Bowling Green needs public transportation and more retail stores.
• The city is in "great financial shape."