7 seek seats on Port Clinton council

PORT CLINTON The city government will have a relatively clean slate after the Nov. 6 general electio
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

PORT CLINTON

The city government will have a relatively clean slate after the Nov. 6 general election. Port Clinton Mayor Tom Brown is retiring after 11 years, and three council-at-large seats will be open.

In the mayor's race, Councilman Jeff Morgan is running against Councilwoman Debbie Hymore-Tester, who is not running for re-election on council.

Council members John Folger and Debra Benko, both Republicans, are seeking re-election, while Mike Snider, Amy Kelly and Randall Lipstraw are also in the running.

The development of Water Works Park is one major issue in the mayor's race, Brown said.

On Nov. 6 city residents will vote on Issue 10, which would rezone Water Works Park. A yes vote will allow Puller Group, an Indianapolis-based developer, to build a hotel, waterpark and convention center.

"Economic development is a major issue for the new mayor," Brown said. "If this zoning passes, the mayor's got to be the leader. If it doesn't pass, they're going to have to find other avenues of development."

Water Works Park development will also have an impact on the council race.

Brown said there has been some major division on council between the members who support the Puller Group development and members who support Stonehenge, another developer for the project.

"During my administration, I've seen ups and downs, but I've never seen one (council) so divided," he said. "It doesn't mean they can't disagree, but they've got to decide to work together."

Debbie Hymore-Tester

Occupation: Owner/Operator Country Gentlemen Hair Salon & Spa for 23 years

Party Affiliation: Republican

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works Park project?

Without question, the Puller proposal is the best selection for the City. The creation of jobs, making us an attraction/destination, bringing people here year round, and providing instant financial relief are the main benefits I see with this project, which I fully support.

If elected, what goals do you plan to accomplish while you are in office?

There are many issues that I will tackle if elected. By attacking the city's numerous challenges, my administration will do everything in its power to make Port Clinton a better place to live and work. By utilizing my team building and leadership skills, I will lead a team effort to accomplish this in a budgeted and timely manner.

Immediate Tasks for Year 1: Annual staff seminar to set the goals and agenda for the upcoming year; review and update every job description; meet with department heads individually to review their plans, projects, timelines, priorities, and budgets for the upcoming year in order for their departments to run more efficiently and effectively; hold weekly administration meetings to monitor plans, and make adjustments if necessary.

With The Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the city's economy?

* Waterfront Development -- We must continue our due diligence and negotiations with the Puller Group recommended by the Council Planning Committee and voted for by City Council.

* Sports Complex -- The current baseball diamonds at the Waterworks Park will be relocated behind City Hall with future possibilities of two more ball diamonds, nature walk trail, exercise stations, and concession stand. This creates the opportunity for bringing tournaments throughout the week and weekends and will add to the local economy. (Food, hotel, fuel, shopping).

* Municipal Wireless Network -- Explore a public/private partnership with Put-in-Bay, Catawba Township and private carriers for installation of a wireless network. Visitors who can stay connected to their homes and places of work will be able to come to and stay in our area more often and longer, which will add to our economy.

* Attendance at Developer Conferences -- Port Clinton must make a better effort to compete with other communities for bringing new jobs and industry to our city. Research and advertising must be done to get our message into the hands of prospective relocators. By being proactive and reaching out to investors and developers, Port Clinton will have a better chance of attracting new business to Port Clinton.

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

As stated in the question about goals if elected, I am going to implement more involvement, meetings and reviews with all departments.

Jeff Morgan

Occupation: Realtor, Morgan Real Estate

Party Affiliation: Independent

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works park project?

I have been actively pursuing the development of the Park since 2004, as a Member of the Waterfront Enhancement and Protection Committee and then as co-chairman of the Developer Selection and Qualification Committee. Like many of the citizens, I participated in the public meetings that developed the criteria for the request for proposals. The criteria clearly stated the importance of the chosen development having the economic ability to stimulate the rebirth of our historic downtown. It also clearly stated that it was to enhance access to the waterfront, to create public gathering spaces. There are a total of 21 criteria on which to rate the proposals, however the rating (scoring) was never completed.

The agreed process to evaluate all proposals and qualifications was stopped, without a defensible reason as to why the committee that had worked so hard, the past one and a half years, was not allowed to have any input into the selection of the developer. To date this question remains unanswered.

Voters please understand that a no vote on Issue 10 is not a vote against development; it is a vote against the waterpark. A NO Vote on issue 10 sends a clear signal to council that before we go forward, we need to know that this is the best project for meeting the city's long-term needs. When the community becomes part of decision making and has all the necessary information and gives their consent, we can start the rezoning process. A yes vote, however, will send the signal to this council and administration that you are in favor of the waterpark. Port Clinton can not afford to jump on a quick fix if it does not cause long-term benefits.

If elected what goals do you plan to accomplish while you are in office?

We need to start by developing a strategic plan for our future. We need to look not only at today and tomorrow, but we need to look 20-50-100 years. Where do we want to be then? The vision we create for Port Clinton has to come from you the residents and taxpayers of the city. We need to include everyone's input to create a vision that will be beneficial to all residents and visitors. Creating a vision is not an overnight process, but it is a methodical one. I know we have done study after study, but if the first study we did created a vision and road map for the future, we may have been able to save money by knowing which studies we needed to create that vision. Instead, we have completed many studies, although we have implemented very few.

We need to work with our employees to determine their vision of the city 20-50 years down the road. The voice of the workers has not been heard in the recent past. These folks know the city at a different level than most of us. These are the folks that make the city tick on a daily basis. We need to involve them in the solutions.

The administration and employees must always remember that we are either elected or hired to serve at the pleasure of our residents. Residents should always receive a service-oriented experience every time they have a concern or issue.

With the Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the City's economy?

Our tax base in shrinking and I think we all have to realize that it is not only business that we have lost, but we have lost a significant amount of residents, many to our surrounding townships. According to the Sangree report commissioned by the city, the population within the city limits has been steadily dropping. As a city we need to be more consumer-oriented in our approach to handling the day-to-day activities and opportunities that arise. We need to be the place that people want to live. The more residents that share the burden of taxes, the less likely we will need to increase the taxes of the few residents that remain.

We need to encourage development in the southern and western side of the city. Unfortunately, Port Clinton has not been proactive in seeking development for the move-up buyer. In Port Clinton if you want to "move up," you have to move out. We need to change this. This decline has been ongoing. We need to do whatever we can to encourage annexation where it makes sense.

We need to push our sewer services out into the adjacent townships. We need to extend our sanitary service line to Ohio 53 and Ohio 2 and beyond into Bay and Portage townships. Sewer services probably do more for the development of an area more than any other utility.

I believe that most residents feel we need to do "something" with Water Works Park, but maybe before we go forward in that direction, it would be my suggestion that we complete our vision and put into action a plan that can complete that vision. Once this is done we will know what it is that best suits Water Works Park and the residents and visitors of Port Clinton.

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

My first order of business would be to meet with all city employees and let them know we will expect their input and suggestions on how we can service the needs now and in the future for the citizens of Port Clinton. I will then meet with all department heads and ask them to meet with the employees and with their help develop a plan on how to do what needs to be done better and less expensive. Ask them to look into their crystal ball with what they feel is important now and in the future to the residents of Port Clinton. Our new Safety Service Director will need to be someone that has had previous experience in city administration along with experience in economic development. Someone that is familiar working with tight budgets and someone that knows how to stretch that budget. Someone that has had experience working with other local, state and federal agencies to cooperate and share as many resources as possible.

John Folger

Age: 49

Occupation: Independent contractor specializing in home repair and remodeling

Party Affiliation: Republican

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works park project?

The status of the project is "on hold" pending the outcome of the referendum on the zoning change of the park property. If the residents of the city choose to accept the zoning change that the City Council adopted in June, then negotiations between the City and the Puller Group will resume. If the decision on Election Day is to not allow the zoning change, then no development will be allowed on that property.

If elected, what goals do you plan to accomplish while you are in office?

* Demand that a fair and financially successful agreement for both parties is reached between the city and the developers for the Water Works Park Project.

A growing community with an expanding economy and population attracts additional growth, opportunity and wealth. Conversely, a city that is in decline due to loss of available jobs results in population loss, a shrinking local economy and tax base. A city government faced with declining tax revenues or revenues that do not keep up with inflation has no choice but to reduce city services and investment on infrastructure. A reduction in city services ultimately enables further losses and the downward spiral continues. Port Clinton is caught in that downward spiral today. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to restore the vibrancy and growth that our community has experienced in the past by continuing to utilize part of the existing park property for the benefit of our city in a different way. It does require, however, the willingness of the community to embrace this change of use as a good thing. We need to understand that it can bring us a greater benefit by becoming the catalyst for development on a scale the city has not seen for decades. This development will begin a positive cycle of growth that will support our city for generations.

The city has a long way to go before a final agreement can be reached with the chosen developer. In fact there is always the likelihood that no agreement can be reached and the city must restart the process of selecting another developer. What is paramount is that the final agreement assures that the developer can succeed, because then the city can be assured that it will also succeed in the long term. The development must be successful for the developer in order to attract more development within our city. Money and investment flows to success. We want money and investment to flow to Port Clinton.

* The City must develop a solid, long-term plan for street rehabilitation and preventive maintenance. The resurfacing program that exists today is a piecemeal effort that is controlled by an insufficient budget and our preventative maintenance program is limited to the Dura-Patch operation that is not a true preventative maintenance solution. The plan has to include steps that determine the total costs to return all the city's streets to an acceptable condition, and it must establish a reasonable timetable to accomplish that goal. It should also identify and secure available funds to ensure the plan will be financially supported in the long term. The plan needs to be a "work smart" effort that uses all available funding sources such as TIF funds and grants, coordinates resurfacing projects with sewer/water improvements, and emphasizes preventive maintenance to increase the life of the resurfaced streets. Lastly the council and administration must formally commit to implementing the plan. Only the first part of this plan has been accomplished to date. We now need to focus intently on securing adequate funding to drive the project forward.

* Eliminate eyesore properties in the City by making people accountable to their neighbors. Some of the city's property maintenance laws need to be made stronger. Some new ones need to be written, but most important of all, a community grows stronger when it strives to live by the golden rule.

With the Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the city's economy?

How about a $100 million downtown waterfront resort hotel, conference center, marina and indoor water park? We will have a unique position in the regional market as a destination resort community by being the only resort of this kind on the shores of Lake Erie. The resort guests will be able to visit a small historic community's downtown, stroll along the lakeshore to the beach or walk to the Jet Express for a short ferry ride to the Erie Islands. All without getting in their car. The Puller proposal provides hundreds of year-round jobs immediately, and the resort hotel will also have a multiplier effect on the surrounding economy by producing 1.5 - 2 jobs for every new job that the project creates. That means a total of 750 to 1200 new jobs in Port Clinton and the surrounding area.

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

The reasons that Mr. Babcock has left office and is facing criminal charges is that an elected official did her job as she was required to by demanding that the proper procedures of reporting financial transactions be adhered to. If she hadn't taken her responsibilities seriously and instead looked the other way this issue may not have become known. It is very important to consider the character of an individual when deciding upon whom to vote for. In this case, someone with the characteristics of trustworthiness, integrity and persistence truly served the city well. Voters need to consider the character of the individual in addition to the words they speak.

Debra Benko

Occupation: Communications consultant

Party Affiliation: Democrat

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works Park project?

The future of Port Clinton is truly at stake in this election. Port Clinton's revenue situation is so dire that we face the choice of acting now to reverse the economic decline, or keeping things the same and having that decline continue to the detriment of everyone in the community. In order for negotiations toward bringing the Puller Group hotel resort project to Water Works Park to proceed, Port Clinton voters must approve the zoning change to Central Business District for the Water Works Park property. I have supported the right of citizens to vote on this issue.

If the majority of voters vote "yes" on Issue 10 to approve the zoning change, then the city will be able to negotiate with the Puller Group toward a contract to build a hotel resort, including an indoor waterpark, marina, convention center, and public promenade. This resort would increase residents' access to the waterfront by including such proposed amenities as an amphitheatre, ice skating rink, an improved fishing pier, restaurants, and retail. This resort would also bring in hotel tax, income tax, property tax, sewer and water fees, and profit/revenue-sharing payments that would increase city revenues without placing financial burdens on current residents.

Any contract finalized by the Puller Group and the city's negotiating team, comprised of an engineering firm and a law firm as well as members of the city administration, would then have to come before city council for final approval before the resort could be built. Input from the public would be sought during this process.

If the majority of voters vote no on Issue 10, then the zoning change will fail, negotiations with the Puller Group toward building a hotel resort will not be able to continue, and the Water Works Park property will remain an underutilized park, which currently consists of an abandoned water treatment building, a parking lot, and a ball diamond used only 50 days per year (plans are for the ball diamond to be moved to another location).

The zoning change/Issue 10 is about what matters most to Port Clinton residents. In order for the city to continue working to bring the hotel resort and the increased revenues and employment the resort would provide, citizens must vote yes on Issue 10 to rezone Waterworks Park. I would like to continue to work with residents toward building a better tomorrow in Port Clinton.

If elected, what goals do you plan to accomplish while you are in office?

Through my service on City Council and on the boards of local nonprofit organizations, I have gained an understanding of the important issues that face our community and the concerns of Port Clinton residents. City council must work to strengthen city services, repair our roads and other infrastructure, and provide more programs for seniors and children, including recreational and cultural opportunities. In order to make these improvements and maintain our quality of life, we must revitalize our economy.

Since my appointment to Council last March, I have worked to bring economic revitalization, investment, and new jobs to Port Clinton. Only by increasing the city's revenues will the city be able to resurface our streets and upgrade our infrastructure. Bringing new investment will enable us to improve city services without placing financial burdens on residents. Bringing more full-time, year-round employment opportunities will improve the quality of life of our families and entire community.

Dialogue between citizens and city council members is essential at this pivotal moment in Port Clinton's history. As a council member, I have strived to listen to the needs and concerns of residents and to provide avenues for more communication through town hall meetings and presentations to community organizations.

I believe that we must work together to revitalize our economy and preserve our community's unique character for generations to come.

With The Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the city's economy?

Port Clinton's population is declining, job opportunities are scarce, and revenues have not been keeping up with expenses. I support bringing investment to Port Clinton that will create year-round jobs and generate new revenue to turn things around. The Puller hotel resort, including an indoor waterpark, marina, convention center, and public promenade, would be a major first step that would bring approximately $100 million in investment and create an estimated 400 permanent jobs, many of them full-time and year-round with benefits. Of these positions, approximately 10 percent would be managerial and supervisory positions with annual salaries ranging from $33,000 to $100,000 per year. A major benefit of the hotel plan is that the year-round nature of the resort will significantly improve the local job market

With 400 jobs, the hotel resort would become the largest private employer within Port Clinton's city limits. These employment opportunities would greatly benefit local residents who currently can only find seasonal work. They would also bring more young families to our area. More full-time year-round employment opportunities will make it easier for residents to put food on the table, provide for their children's education, and buy a home. Seniors living on fixed incomes would benefit from additional part-time jobs.

Other businesses have expressed an interest in coming here contingent upon the Puller hotel resort coming to Port Clinton. Hospitality industry expert David Sangree concluded that the hotel resort would "promote a positive ripple effect in the local economy" and likely result in the creation of "one-and-a-half to two times" additional jobs in other existing and new businesses in Port Clinton.

City council members also need to work with government officials at the county and state levels to bring companies and jobs to our area in new and growing sectors of the economy such as alternative energy. But such efforts will likely be successful only if we can point to our community as one that is attracting young families here year-round and making strides toward thriving again.

The city should also partner with the Main Street Port Clinton program to assist downtown businesses in their application for Community Development Block Grant funds.

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

We must elect city officials who are ethical and law abiding and hire city staff who are ethical and law abiding.

The city administration must exercise oversight over staff and be sure that all policies and procedures are properly followed.

Mike Snider

Occupation: Vice president of operations for Lake Erie Vacation Rentals, Inc., a rental and property management company with interests in Port Clinton, Portage Township, Catawba Township, Carroll Township and South Bass Island.

Party Affiliation: Republican

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works Park project?

The status of the project is currently on hold until the zoning issue is resolved Nov. 6. Once a yes vote on Issue 10 is achieved, the next step in the process is to have the city's negotiating team work out the best possible contract for the Citizens of Port Clinton. At last count I believe there are over 160 areas of interest identified as issues which needed to be addressed before an agreement could be worked out.

If you are asking me my thoughts on the concept of the Puller Project, I think it is wonderful fit for the community on so many levels. Bed tax, sales tax, water/sever revenue, family activity, marketing dollars promoting Port Clinton, spin-off development, continuous flow of new guests looking to spend money in the community, convention business, extending vacation season and in general a message to the world saying Port Clinton welcomes you, are just examples of the positive benefits of a project like the one offered by the Puller Group.

If elected, what goals do you plan to accomplish while you are in office?

Development and growth, infrastructure and a return to community pride are all goals. However, my #1 goal must happen before I take office. That goal is helping the community pass Issue 10. I can envision a Port Clinton with paved streets, smooth sidewalks, clean parks, manicured cemeteries and a welcoming attitude towards investment. However, without the passage of Issue 10 these goals become difficult to accomplish given the fact that we have less buying power from the revenue the city receives, a shrinking population and loss of our workforce. That is why Issue 10 must pass if we want to begin to pay forward as a community.

With The Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the city's economy?

Passage of Issue 10 is the first step. The only potential in "no" is the certainty of nothing. The message sent in "no" is direct and to the point. That's certainly not the message I'd like to see announced by the citizens of Port Clinton.

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

I'm not certain there is an answer. This event resulted from the actions of individuals acting on their own, outside the proscribed perimeters established by specific rules governing their behavior is impossible to judge. To my knowledge they had no record of such behavior prior to reaching their current position with the City. To hold other responsible for individual actions or to somehow predetermine who would undertake similar actions in the future is outside the scope of any employee vetting process.

Amy Kelly

Occupation and experience: 1994-1998 Ottawa County Sheriff Reserve Deputy, Former Ottawa County Sheriff Reserve Secretary and Treasurer

Party Affiliation: Republican

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works Park project?

We must build a better city to be more competitive in attracting new businesses and residents. It is vital that we create an economic engine within our city that boosts our declining economy. Developing our waterfront serves as that engine and creates positive momentum.

If elected, what goals do you plan to accomplish while you are in office?

* Economic Growth Strategy. We need a written economic growth strategy that involves government, business owners, organizations, and local community residents. We need to prioritize projects and establish long-term goals for the city and then make sure we accomplish them.

* Downtown Revitalization. We need to bring "uniqueness" to our downtown, unlike the traditional downtown. Frankenmuth has Christmas, Shipshewana has flea markets. What can Port Clinton offer? I plan to work collaboratively with Mainstreet Port Clinton in restoring our downtown and bringing in new businesses.

* Joint Economic Development. I would like to work with neighboring townships to explore how we can further work together to benefit both the city and township and create a win-win situation.

* Teamwork. We need to create a team-working atmosphere that will produce positive results. Cooperation between administration and council is necessary.

* Public Awareness. I plan to work to better educate and communicate within our community. Through listening to other's ideas, we are able to better work as partners in the community. We need leadership that concentrates on consensus building and respect for each other and its citizens.

With the Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the city's economy?

* Economic Growth Strategy

* Waterfront Development

* Joint Economic Development

* Downtown Revitalization

* Research other model programs

* Use every economic development program available

* Aggressive Action and Hardwork

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

Re-evaluate current policy and procedures. Implement stronger guidelines, if necessary, to prevent future incidents. Work cooperatively with city administration.

Randall G. Lipstraw

Occupation: Sole proprietor, Center Stage Barber Salon

Party Affiliation: Democrat/Independent

What are your views on the status of the Puller Group/Water Works Park project?

There would be no controversy, or a referendum brought forth by the citizens had they been allowed to receive all information from both proposals. The supporters of the Puller Development have met resistance in large part by questions not being allowed to be asked, as well as those questions not being answered -- only responded to with defensiveness and aggression. The supporters being five members of council, the PAC organization PRIDE, have in fact made statements that without the actual development, rather than simply rezoning Water Works Park for any development. They have in fact made statements that without the Puller Development, the city will irreparably decline, taxes will have to be raised, all scare tactics to gain support. They have repeatedly silenced any opposition.

If elected, what goals do you plan to accomplish while in office?

1. My first project would be to form the Port Clinton Community Foundation. The purpose of this organization would be to encourage and enable the development and growth of small businesses for the downtown Port Clinton district. This organization would function on the interest generated by seed money that would be placed in an account. Once there is substantial growth in interest on this account, low-interest loans and/or small grants would be provided to help with the creation of businesses for the downtown Port Clinton district (start-up fees such as permits, licenses, inventory, business capital, etc.) if they fill an established criteria of feasibility. This is in no way to take the place of courting industrial and/or manufacturing companies for our area. If elected I pledge to use my councilman's salary as seed money.

2. Implement a more stringent outline on administrative expenditures. Lowering the amount allowed that administration may spend before getting council's approval. Currently that amount is $24,000, and that is way too high of a limit. If there is a genuine, proven need for such expenditures, there would be no refusal to grant such requests when proposed to council. And again, concerning this matter, a line-item budget needs to be done and enforced.

3. As part of keeping an open line of communication with the community, have a monthly auditor's report published in the local paper. We should bring all information to the public as often and as much as we can.

With the Pharm closing and empty storefronts downtown, the economy has become an important issue. What is your plan to improve the city's economy?

Economic revitalization and growth if of the utmost importance. Port Clinton is a tourist area, and we do rely on tourism for a large percentage of our revenue. However, we must not let tourism overshadow the need for Industrial/Manufacturing revenue. We have our own Port Clinton Industrial Park right in city limits, yet it is barely occupied. We need to seek out cottage industries for our city. We need to tap into the market of technological, medical, your "light" industrial market. We must also understand the need to and be willing to work with the county and the state to help bring manufacturing and industrial companies to this area, our city and outlying areas of our city.

In light of the recent resignation of Rich Babcock, who was indicted for theft in office, what actions would you recommend to make sure nothing like this happens again?

There needs to be regular, perhaps monthly, reviews on city employees, by department as well as appointed positions. Titles do not exempt anyone.

The Sandusky Register election guide is coming Monday, November 5.  Also, don't miss

Q&A Live with the candidates running for Perkins Twp trustee at 8 p.m., November 1, at sanduskyregister.com/vote2007