Tiffin, Ohio — Five of the six candidates for at-large Tiffin City Council seats participated in the League of Women Voters candidates night on Wednesday.
There are three at-large seats up for election this November. The occupants of these seats represent the city as a whole, rather than just a single ward. Two of the three seats up for election are currently held by incumbents running for re-election.
The forum, which was livestreamed on the Tiffin City Schools Facebook page, included candidates Jeff Rhoades (R), Cheyane Thacker (D), Ben Gillig (D – Incumbent), Zackery Perkins (R – Incumbent), and John Bing (D).
Candidate Kevin Grover (R) did not participate in the event.
The event was moderated by Gene Chintala, president of the League of Women Voters of the Tiffin Area. Some questions came from the league while others were submitted by the public via email.
Listed below are each of the questions directed towards the candidates, and how they responded.
“How will you address climate change such as increased rainfall, power outages, and floodplain management?”
Jeff Rhoades: “Climate change is clearly causing issues nationwide, that’s no secret to anybody. It’s getting hotter every year, storms are getting worse, more rain, more snow. Tiffin is going to have an issue with that because we’re susceptible to flooding, so we’re going to have to keep that in mind and address that issue. That’s going to cause issues with sewer, so we’re going to have to address that and make sure we’re prepared for that.”
Cheyane Thacker: “I’d like to echo what Jeff said. I think the best way to go about this is to create a climate action plan. Lots of communities across the country and across the world have done this. There are multiple things that a climate action plan can include. It can include waste reduction management, it can include, like Jeff said, making sure our sewer and rainwater are staying separate. It can include things like making the flood walls being secure in some capacity. So I think there are many ways you can tackle this as a small city.”
Ben Gillig: “First and foremost, as we replace outdated equipment we need to make certain we are investigating the best possible and most energy efficient alternatives to help offset our carbon footprint. And as Cheyane mentioned, we do need to have a plan. This needs to be something that we are ready for and that we are prepared for. Fortunately we have an excellent team in place that I think can lead us to that.”
Zackery Perkins: “I believe that it’s a sensitive subject, meaning that we all know it’s happening, but at what cost? So we have to be careful. I know the city likes to go a little further than most, and we’re always looking for grants and things like that. We built the hybrid stations, I know we have a hybrid vehicle now. I know that’s going to continue on, we just need to make sure we don’t carry that financial burden to the taxpayer. So as long as we can continue on that path, I think that’s a great path.”
John Bing: “Preparation, preparation, preparation. The best thing that we can do is become as aware as possible of what might happen, listening to experts, gaining as much information as we can, and then preparing. Anticipating before things happen, what might happen, and be ready to deal with them effectively.”
“Recently, the City of Tiffin installed a charging station for electric cars. What else do you think could affect the city government as we respond to climate change?”
Cheyane Thacker: “Specifically, I think waste reduction is probably our best bet. That’s the easiest way forward. One of those things is recycling. Lots of citizens and residents have recycling bins, but I’ve lived downtown for a long time, for the past four years, and lived in a commercial building. And we did not have any access to recycling. I think that’s an easy, quick way to do it. But also composting. There could be a city compost that would add to our parks system and benefit the plants in our parks, so I think that’s another option as well.”
Ben Gillig: “Again it all goes back to really being aware of what our needs are, what needs to be replaced, and what we can replace with a more energy efficient alternative that will not only reduce our carbon footprint, but will also be a benefit to our taxpayers.”
Zackery Perkins: “I think that goes back to same thing Mr. Gillig said, and the last answer I had also, which is we’re going to continue on finding grants and ways to improve on anything that is related to climate change, as long as we’re not putting that burden on our taxpayers here in Tiffin. We don’t want to slow down economic development or anything of that nature.”
John Bing: “I think the best thing that we can do is, as I think Mr. Gillig said, new equipment, better equipment, and more careful judgment in terms of what we buy, so that these are going to serve us for a long time and in a way that has a good green footprint.”
Jeff Rhoades: “Not a whole lot more to add to what anybody already said, other than Tiffin has done a really good job, especially the last few years with the mayor and current members of city council, of making great improvements to town. How many people would have thought a few years ago we would have a station to charge electric cars? So just continue to see what’s out there, what technologies are developed, and go get it.”
“The EPA has mandated that all cities separate storm and sanitary sewer systems. Tiffin financed this by increasing sewer fees. Not long ago, the city reduced the sewer rates. What is the plan to complete the sewer separation and where will this money come from?”
Ben Gillig: “We did a sewer rate study by Raftelis, and that was our initial concern as well. If we were going to lower the sewer rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will that put us at a shortfall? And the overwhelming answer was that it will not. We have an excellent team in place in city administration who is aggressively pursuing any grant dollars that are available. At some juncture I would assume that we are going to require some financing, and eventually that will be bonded out because this is quite a substantial project.”
Zackery Perkins: “I can echo on everything that Ben said. The survey was conducted and it was proved that we are financially stable enough to reduce the rates. There is no intent on raising rates at this current time for any repairs or anything like that, we can bond out. There are also non-interest loans over 30 years that we can do, that can be taken out of the budget little by little. It’s financially secure and I wouldn’t look for any rate increase anytime soon.”
John Bing: “I think bonding out is obviously the best way to go. I don’t see any reason to increase rates, but I would strongly suggest that this is a very good project that needs to be done. And we ought to be concerned about doing it as soon and as fully as possible.”
Jeff Rhoades: “As explained, our current members have a good plan in place. So obviously I would trust them and the plan they’ve put in, and just work along and go along with them to help with that.”
Cheyane Thacker: “I feel like a lot of my sentiment has already been expressed. But what I will say is that I agree with John. It’s really important for us to make sure this project is done very quickly, because especially when you talk about climate change and the possibility for extra rain water. You really don’t want any kind of human sewage ending up in your river, so I feel that’s really important.”
“If there is a limited amount of money to be spent, what are your priorities for doing so?”
Zackery Perkins: “There are six things to always focus on. You have to focus on economic development, public safety, reliable infrastructure, transparency, being an active community. All those things are very, very important, and I want to make sure all those things are being addressed day in and day out. And Tiffin is getting high marks in all of those areas. We actually have a surplus of funds, so we have the opposite of what the question is asking. I’m sure at some point that may catch up to an extent, but we’re very proactive about how we sit financially and to make sure we have all the things we need to improve this city.”
John Bing: “I think it’s important that we don’t let one thing get out in front and feel because this is a priority, we’re going to let other things slide. I think we have to balance out the various kinds of things the city does. Having been involved in the parks and recreation programs for so long, I’ve recognized the fact that what we don’t see, what’s kind of underground, is kind of out of sight and therefore out of mind. But it’s very important, I think, that all areas of city life, from police and fire to the maintenance of our roads and parks, all get attention and are balanced by careful consideration of what needs to be done and when it is necessary to do it.”
Jeff Rhoades: “Every job I’ve ever held, I’ve always been responsible for a budget. I believe in always staying fiscally responsible and working within the budget you have, so that would be obvious that we would need to do that. That along said, you don’t want to let your services go down and take a step back. My first priority would always be safety. First, I want to see a strong fire department, strong police department, we have that here. They need the funds they need to do training, keep adequate personnel. So that would be my first priority, and that would be it.”
Cheyane Thacker: “I think first priority is, I would agree with Jeff in some respects, but also the things that make people’s everyday lives better, which is their roads, their sewer system. The basic necessities. Obviously you never want to cut from a parks system, you never want to cut from any sort of extra important aspect of our daily life. Like Zack said though, as this point it seems like there’s a surplus of funds, so planning for anytime that there may not be is important, but I think not as pertinent to our current situation.”
Ben Gillig: “Sometimes I think that people believe that city council is the one that sorts all these things out, and it’s true to an extent. But we have in place a number of department heads, and what we would need to do is really focus on what are the services the city provides. We have our public works department, we have the sewer, we have the sanitary facility, we have roads, we have the parks, police and fire, and city administration. So how can each of those department heads, how can we maximize the funds they have available? We need to ask questions and we need to be well prepared.”
“How do you propose to maintain public safety with reduced number of police and fire personnel?”
John Bing: “I think we have to depend upon the expertise of the heads of these departments, listen to what they have to say, at the same time encourage them to become familiar with the full range of innovations that are occurring in both areas that are available to us to give us a first class set of city services.”
Jeff Rhoades: “That would be a challenge. I’ve worked in law enforcement and criminal justice my whole life. I know when you’re understaffed, it creates other issues. You’re going to overwork your officers, your firefighters, they’re going to get burned out, they’re going to get tired. That creates safety issues. So you have to do everything you can to keep as many personnel as you can out there. Fortunately for Tiffin, we do have great leadership, so like John said we would have to rely on them to make the tough decisions and keep the departments as strong as they can.”
Cheyane Thacker: “I’d like to echo what John said, you do have to trust the experts, trust the people who are in those positions to tell you what they need, and to staff properly. But also I think some of it comes down to seeking out grants. So many of our firefighter positions have come from grant funding from the state, from what I understand, new positions at least. So seeking out any sort of grants we can to help our fire and safety officers.”
Ben Gillig: “First of all that would be quite an unfortunate situation if we had to address that. But again, it all comes down to preparation. Cheyane had mentioned the grants, and those are certainly something to pursue aggressively. But what happens when those grants run out? We need to make sure we have a plan in place for the worst case scenario, particularly when it comes to the safety of our friends, neighbors, and guests.”
Zackery Perkins: “We have pretty fantastic chiefs. Chief Chappell for the fire department does a fantastic job, and they’re doing everything they can to stay staffed, and staffed adequately. Of course any raises or anything we can possibly do to help out, we are more than welcome to. And then we had Sheriff Stevens, who won an election and moved on, and then we had Interim Chief Windsor, and now we have a newly crowned chief of police who is fantastic too. So I think that they will do an excellent job staffing, and I believe we can recruit to this city. It’s a great city, it has a lot of draw to it, we’re growing, and we have the funds to enforce the population that we have. I don’t think there’s going to be any issues here, many people want to come here to work.”
“There are several proposed city charter amendments. Are you opposed or strongly in favor of any of them? There’s about a dozen.”
Jeff Rhoades: “At this time I’m not. I did look them over, but like you said, there’s a lot of them, so too many to sit there tonight and say I’ve decided either way on any one or all of them. So not at this time.”
Cheyane Thacker: “I think the charter review committee has done an excellent job on spending a lot of time on these changes. Particularly I think the gender changes are really important to make sure we’re including people of all genders. And also, I think there have been some other excellent changes, including there was a change to how we do primaries. I think keeping it the way it is is beneficial to us.”
Ben Gillig: “We’re fortunate enough to have a number of members from our charter review commission here. Mr. Perez and Kade Rowe, and I believe Ken Egbert, Aubrey Flood. And we need to trust the experts. They did an absolutely incredible job of doing a deep dive into the charter. There was meaningful discussion and debate, and I am in favor of all of the proposed amendments, and did vote as such to present them to our constituents.”
Zackery Perkins: “If you don’t already know, the charter review commission worked long hours for a long time to review every single page, every single word in that charter. They did a fantastic job, and most of the changes if not all of them are language style changes. It’s not laws and rules necessarily. Instead of “he,” it’s going to be “they” or “them,” and things like that. I am completely for everything in it, especially just being language style changes. There’s nothing that’s really going to impact anyone too much.”
John Bing: “I commend the job the charter commission did, I’ve read through the recommendations and I support them all.”
“How would you approach a situation where a public official or officer of the city was making public racist comments?”
Cheyane Thacker: “First of all, I think that’s something that has to be addressed immediately. It’s completely unacceptable, and I would hope that person would make a public apology, but also it would be on the city council as a whole to make comment on that and to denounce any sort of racist language.”
Ben Gillig: “Strong public rebuttal, almost immediately. Earlier this year after the events in Minneapolis with the death of George Floyd, I proposed making it a priority that we address systemic racial issues and have a plan for when things such as these come up. And a good portion of that will have to do with education and clear expectations.”
Zackery Perkins: “There’s simply no place for racism any longer. There never was. So it’s completely unacceptable. I don’t believe anyone up here or in this room or anyone that I even know of would think that’s acceptable. An apology would help of course, but it’s just not acceptable at all.”
John Bing: “It is not acceptable, but I would deal with each person individually and look at the circumstances. And I think the best thing that we can do is work with people who work for and with the city to improve their dealings with the public and help them think through what’s appropriate and what is not appropriate for them to say, and how they should act.”
Jeff Rhoades: “Simply put, it just can’t be tolerated. My response would be I would expect the supervisor of that person to take immediate action.”
Additional articles outlining candidates night for school board candidates and township trustee candidates will be published on TiffinOhio.net. Stay tuned here.