MOUNT VERNON — Come Jan. 1, Mount Vernon residents will have a new mayor for the first time in 24 years. At-large Councilman Matt Starr (R) won the mayoral race by a margin of 84% to 16% over Independent candidate Wayne Link.
“A change in leadership can be really scary and really exciting,” said Starr. “It's both sides of the same coin.”
Knox County Republican Party Chairman Chip McConville recalled the discussion five years ago when Starr first said he wanted to be mayor. Starr lost a close race to Mayor Richard Mavis in 2015, and then was elected to city council in 2017.
“Now he's here to reap the rewards of all that hard work,” said McConville.
Starr also recalled that discussion, noting that one person involved was the late Richard Cochran. A civic activist, Cochran was also involved politically, serving on the state and local level as well as being former chairman of the Knox County Republican Party.
“I feel Rich's spirit here tonight,” said Starr. “I'm going to enjoy the victory tonight, and then the work starts.”
That work starts with enlisting the aid of Mavis and Safety-service Director Joel Daniels to develop a plan to ensure a seamless transition.
“We have unfinished business to take care of. That has to continue,” said Starr.
Starr's administration will include Richard Dzik, who has accepted Starr's request to serve as safety-service director. Formerly the director of Knox County 9-1-1, Dzik holds a master's degree in public administration and has experience with collective bargaining, project management, budgeting and finance, and increasing efficiencies.
“He has experience in the public and private sector, which I really like,” said Starr.
As far as leadership style, Starr said he plans to be out and about the city's departments.
“I'm not going to be in the office very much,” he said, adding that he wants to get the staff involved in establishing priorities. “The front-line staff know the issues, and they usually know the solutions.
“I also want to find ways to engage with the citizens and show them the value of their tax dollars,” he added.
Regarding establishing citizens' trust, Starr said, “It's not what you say, it's what you do. How we do the job is just as important as getting it done.”
After becoming mayor, Starr will retain ownership of his company, Kokosing River Productions, but will forego any salary. He has a core group of six or seven people who will oversee day-to-day operations. Starr will take more of an executive role, although he admitted that he “might still write just for therapy.”
“I cannot approach the mayor's job with anything less than 100%,” he said.
3rd Ward City Council Race
In addition to a new mayor, 2020 will usher in several new faces to city council. Among the newcomers is Tammy Woods (R), who won the 3rd Ward council seat by 216 votes over Democrat challenger Andrea White.
Woods, who is replacing long-time Councilwoman Nancy Vail, says she has big shoes to fill.
“I'm excited about the opportunity,” said Woods. “I've gotten to meet a lot of people knocking on doors, and I'm still meeting people. I have big shoes to fill, and I am sure I will be held accountable.”
Woods has been attending city council meetings, and also went to last year's budget meetings.
“That's what convinced me that I could put my background to use,” she said. “But this first budget meeting is going to be interesting for everybody.
“I still have a lot to learn, but it will be exciting.”
Woods cited some carryover from the stormwater utility discussion as one of the challenges facing council in 2020. Another challenge is the turnover on council, getting new members to jell and getting to know the new administration.
“I think all of the new people who are going to serve Mount Vernon are excited,” she said. “We'll get that synergy.”
In other city races, the following candidates were re-elected running unopposed:
Bruce Hawkins (R), council president
Terry Scott (R), auditor
David Stuller (R), treasurer
Rob Broeren (R), law director
Other council results:
At-large council seats: Janis Seavolt (R), Tanner Salyers (R), and Julia Warga (D)
1st Ward: Samantha Scoles (D)
2nd Ward: John Francis (R) (re-elected)
4th Ward: Mike Hillier (R) (re-elected)