MOUNT VERNON – Voters in Mount Vernon’s Third Ward will determine their next city council representative on Tuesday in this year’s general election.
Andrea White (D) and Tammy Woods (R) are running in this year’s only contested city council race. Three candidates are set to fill the three at-large spots (Tanner Salyers (R), Janis Seavolt (R) and Julia Warga (D)), while Samathantha Scoles (D), John Francis (R) and Mike Hillier (R) are the lone candidates for the First, Second and Fourth Ward seats, respectively.
Nancy Vail (R), who formerly held the Third Ward council seat, chose not to run again this fall. Three other council members followed a similar path, allowing Salyers, Scoles and Warga to step in.
White and Woods will battle for the opportunity to represent Mount Vernon’s Third Ward, which includes most of the city’s east end. The two candidates debated last Thursday night in front of a large crowd in Mount Vernon Nazarene University's Jetter Hall.
They answered questions from local media representatives on a wide range of topics, including the creation of a stormwater utility, the proposed roundabout project that would connect Route 229 and Route 36, and the proposed satellite fire station on the east end of the city.
Although White and Woods are running on behalf of different political parties, they seemed to agree on most issues.
Both strongly supported the idea of a stormwater utility, which, if passed by council, would require city residents to pay a fee that would go toward stormwater repair projects. Council made headway on the initiative last month by eliminating three proposed components – education credits, maintenance credits, and tier pricing – and stripping the idea down to its roots.
“From what I can tell, we don’t really have a choice. The city needs to do something – the EPA is telling us that we need to do something, that we have variances allowing us to proceed as we’ve been proceeding, but we need to move forward and treat our stormwater before it goes into the rest of the environment,” White said. “This stormwater utility gives us a mechanism to do so.”
“I’ve been hearing about stormwater utility, quite frankly, for decades now. It’s something that’s kind of gotten kicked down the road and obviously something that has to be addressed now,” Woods added.
“Having said it’s been kicked down the road, usually something else – a bigger fire has presented itself that had to be dealt with. But we’re now to the point where something has to be done.”
Both White and Woods said they supported the stormwater utility framework that council is currently considering, but Woods does not believe the proposed $6 ERU rate will generate enough money for the city long-term.
“But having said that, I’m not sure what it is. I’m not sure anybody here knows what that is,” Woods said. “It’s going to take a lot of research to find out. But we need to face that now, we cannot keep pushing that down the road."
Woods believes council should conduct further financial research before making a decision on the matter.
“I deal in a world of finance every day. I like dealing with data and facts,” said Woods, who serves as treasurer for the Knox County Career Center. “And I have just not seen at this year’s council meetings where anybody has presented that they have done their research to come out and say, ‘This is gonna take x amount of dollars per year.’ And quite frankly, that scares me a little bit."
The candidates agreed that traffic concerns should be a priority for the next city administration. They encouraged long-term planning in which new routes and traffic patterns would be developed, in an effort to increase efficiency for all drivers, including truck drivers who traverse the city on state routes.
The candidates also discussed the proposed roundabout project on the east side of the city, which would take place in their ward.
The Mount Vernon News reported two weeks ago that the next city administration will be tasked with looking at a potential roadway project that would connect Route 36 and Route 229. The project would include an extension of Upper Gilchrist Road and the construction of two roundabouts on Eastern Star Road.
Woods said she is “all for some sort of outer-belt idea to take that traffic out of the middle of town.”
“I’ve heard propositions using an Edgewood [Road] extension as the cut-across – we do not need to be tearing apart residential areas to get trucks from 229 to 36,” Woods said. “It’s, again, going to cost money, but we have a downtown that’s quite frankly getting beat up by semi-trucks every day, and we’ve got to get that traffic contained, controlled.”
White questioned whether the proposed project would impact traffic in other areas of the city.
“It certainly can’t solve all of the problems. I’m not even sure that it will solve the Edgewood problem...” White said, in reference to the number of drivers that use Edgewood Road as a cut-through to Route 36.
“If we build that corridor, will it take the truck traffic away from downtown? I think that’s a really open, valid question, to figure that out.”
Both White and Woods supported the city’s recent proposal to build a satellite fire station on the east end of the city.
Mayor Richard Mavis and Safety-service Director Joel Daniels met with the Knox County Commissioners on Oct. 15, asking about county-owned property on the corner of Coshocton Avenue and Upper Gilchrist Road.
Mavis said that with the number of emergency runs in that area, Knox Community Hospital close by, and a senior community development that could potentially add 100 to 150 senior citizens to the area, Fire Chief Chad Christopher feels an east-end satellite station is necessary.
White agreed, adding that the satellite station would have quick access to Coshocton Avenue and Yauger Road, two main thoroughfares on that end of the city.
“Right now, if we needed a fire truck, it needs to come through downtown traffic,” White said. “If we had a fire station out there, it doesn’t need to contribute to city traffic and it doesn’t need to go through city traffic. So I think from a safety perspective and a timing perspective, but also from a traffic perspective, it really makes a lot of sense.”
White said she’d spoken with Third Ward residents about this idea, and some were concerned about the noise that would be added to the community if the city were to build a fire station there. Wolf Run Regional Park, one of the city’s scenic escapes, would also be located next door.
Woods added that a decade ago, the city bought land on Sychar Road to potentially use for a satellite fire station. She said this decision, like all others, will require planning.
“I think it all goes back to the need to have those discussions around a long-term plan of, ‘Where is that growth happening, where is the best place for this?’” Woods said. “And I will be honest with you, I’m not even sure this has been a discussion with city council yet.”
Both Woods and White agreed that, if elected to council, they would fight for the allowance of more public participation time during meetings. Public participation has been limited at recent meetings due to time constraints, and public hearings have instead been scheduled for the city’s most contentious issues.
“I am all about letting the residents voice their opinion, whether it’s something council is dealing with that night or not,” Woods said. “Not that I want those council meetings to be turned into a free-for-all... but there are times that the public should have the right to come and address that council about something that maybe nobody else knows about, or that may be coming later and is being addressed that evening.”
Woods and White also said they would support, in whatever way possible, the city’s fight against drug abuse and addiction.
“I think the city can be a partner or an agent to help organizations come together, and I think that’s already been happening to a really good extent,” White said.
“I don’t believe that city council can legislate away a drug and mental health problem,” Woods added. “I think everybody in this room probably has a friend, a relative, a close acquaintance who suffers from the drug issue and we didn’t see it coming. Those people need more help than city council will ever be able to provide.
“I’m not sure raising tax dollars to put towards those specific things are the answer. We are not the expert in those areas at all. But there are resources out there, and as a council, we can support making those available. We can support legislation that allows those things to exist.”
Both candidates shared similar thoughts on the city’s homelessness issue.
“It’s going to take all of us working together to do what we can do,” Woods said. “So sitting on council, if I can enact legislation that gets us more police officers to fight that – if I can do what we can to open up more resources, as far as buildings – yep, we’re all for it.”
White added that she would be willing to make “hard decisions” in an effort to increase housing for the local homeless population.
“Things like halfway houses or shelters don’t always have the best perception as being wanted in particular areas, but they have to be somewhere,” White said. “And it’s very likely that there is a variance or something that council will ultimately have to pass and say to a neighborhood, ‘Yes, this is where this is going to be built, in this particular neighborhood.’
“I guess it’s one of those issues where they could kick it down the line and not make that decision, and let it hang indefinitely or for the next council to take care of. I guess I’m willing to just come out and say, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to vote for a variance.’”
Woods said she does not believe additional housing will ultimately solve the city’s homelessness problem.
“There has to be a multitude of resources for them, a multitude of help, to get to the true, core source of why they’re there,” she said, referring to the local homeless population.
When asked what will be most important to her when making decisions on city council, Woods said council should have two main focuses: “the safety and security of the citizens in the city, and to very fiscally responsibly spend those tax dollars in which we’re entrusted."
“It’s basically the strategic plan,” Woods continued. “What is the goal for the city? Stick to that, keep safety and economics in mind, and we’ll be heading in the right direction.”
White said she felt Mount Vernon is already safe and secure, and that “fiscal responsibility is a given. That’s a tool that you use to then do strategic planning and then enact your strategic planning for the city.”
White said the city should not be afraid to spend money in order to attract businesses and people. She also expressed her desire to “keep Mount Vernon a welcoming, inclusive community, where we can attract young families and keep families here.”
“We’re going to grow. The growth of Columbus is heading in our direction,” White continued. “And I think that’s a good thing, we just need to be strategic in how we plan for that growth. We need to expect that we’re going to grow. And of course we’re going to keep things safe, but we’re going to also want to attract businesses and attract families to come live here.”
MEET THE CANDIDATES: White, 49, is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Kenyon College. She has lived in Mount Vernon’s Third Ward for 13 years, and is the co-founder and board president of SPI, the science playspace located in the former Buckeye Candy building in downtown Mount Vernon.
“We worked with Kenyon to bring their resources downtown, create a unique partnership, and save a historic building that was deteriorating,” White said in a written statement. “Now it is bustling and full of life, with kids playing and learning and Kenyon students working on film projects.”
White said she chose to run for council for her two young children, and she is excited about helping the city craft its future, given the recent development downtown.
“It’s an exciting time for Mount Vernon,” White said, “and we need to maintain this momentum, plan what our downtown and corridors leading into the city will look like, how traffic will flow, how out-of-towners will see the city and find their way.
“It’s important to be fiscally responsible – and SPI is, I believe, a good example of that – but that’s a tool to move forward, and it only goes so far if we don’t have vision and fresh ideas to keep the momentum of the exciting growth Mount Vernon has experienced. I believe I have the combination of pragmatism and creativity that would help us do just that, and I would be honored to serve my community on city council.”
Woods, 56, is the treasurer for the Knox County Career Center. She is a Mount Vernon native, an MVNU graduate, and a 15-year Third Ward resident.
“My roots run very deep in this town,” Woods said with a smile.
Woods has spent the majority of her career working in governmental finance, and she has also served as the chief financial officer of a local bank.
“The reason I decided to run for the Third Ward is I have a really solid background in governmental finance,” Woods said. “That involves budgeting, that involves forecasting, negotiations, creating policy, applying for local, state and federal grants. I believe that background allows me to bring a lot to the table as a member of city council.”
If elected, Woods said she looks forward to being the conduit between Third Ward citizens and their local government.
“They just want to be heard,” Woods said of her fellow Third Ward residents. “And I see that as my role on council.”
Woods believes her history in Mount Vernon will allow her to be held accountable while on council.
“Having been born here, went to school here, it seems like every street I walk down, it’s either a relative, someone I went to school with, or someone who was involved in sports with my children. So I know I will be held accountable in this position, and I look forward to that,” Woods said.
“I just want you to know, I’m committed to this. This is my home and this is where I plan to stay, and this is my chance to make a difference in Mount Vernon.”