Chamber gets to Meet the Candidates

A 6- by 11-inch card of information was enough to arouse some discord at the Marietta Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidates luncheon at the Marietta County Club Friday.

The intent of the event was for business owners to have the opportunity to gain a first impression with so many new candidates seeking office, said Charlotte Keim, executive director of the chamber.

But the disagreement over a piece of campaign literature placed at tables by Marietta City Council Republican at-large candidate Jon Grimm raged on even after the candidates finished their answers to chamber and audience questions and while those in attendance formed lines to pick up lunch.

Grimm’s cards indicated City Council had voted for “expensive bonds to renovate a plush new chambers” and “extensive new zoning rules.” The card also included the statement: “That’s right – they looked at their body of work and came to the conclusion few others could make – the taxpayers owe council a raise.”

Current city councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, demanded Grimm remove the cards from the tables.

“The raise is for the next council. If you are elected, you will get the raise,” said Vukovic to Grimm.

Grimm argued that Vukovic, who is running unopposed for his seat on council next term, knew he would benefit from the raise when he voted on it.

“You did vote to give yourself a raise,” Grimm said. “If you filed for office, you voted for a raise.”

“That raise had to be agreed on before we decided to file for office,” Vukovic shot back.

Though the event is designed to give area business owners a chance to interact with candidates, very few turned out this year.

“I was disappointed it was so poorly attended,” said Barbara Stewart, 58, of 210 Washington St., who owns Mattress Max in Vienna, W.Va.

Several chamber staffers and other public officials attended the event, which featured 15 candidates.

Stewart said she was surprised by the political literature placed on the tables and by the presence of large campaign signs.

“Jon Grimm claimed all those things about council, who I believe have done a great job. … I don’t believe they have been profligate with the money,” she said.

Stewart said she doesn’t vote for people who don’t want to work with others to find solutions. She said it’s unnecessary to stir up emotion.

“Let’s just stick to the facts,” Stewart said. “These are people who work very hard for very little money. It just turned me off.”

One issue the five at-large candidates (running for three available seats) addressed was the property maintenance codes – something Grimm called “restrictive.”

“I’m all for property rights, but if my neighbor wants to live like a caveman, I don’t want his saber-tooth tiger running around,” said Michael Mullen, I-at large, who is hoping to retain his seat.

Kathy Downer, a democrat who is also running for an at large seat, said the property maintenance codes are needed for health and safety reasons. Grimm said he would support ideas that make it easier to do business in Marietta.

“If we tell people what we have here, they will come here,” said Harley Noland, D-at large.

Noland, who is also running again, espoused more marketing for available tax credits and the area’s natural resources.

Michael Boersma, Republican candidate for an at-large seat on council, said he would support a revitalization district downtown because some of the oil and gas employees have told him they would be willing to live here and commute north to Caldwell when their jobs shift up there. The revitalization district would bring more restaurants and nightlife to downtown Marietta, he said.

The city treasurer’s race includes Republican Cathy Harper and Democrat Willa O’Neill, both hoping to succeed the retiring Valerie Holley.

“I believe government needs to be responsive to the citizens and the citizens have the right to services from the city,” O’Neill said. “Citizens also want government officials to be good stewards of tax dollars.”

Harper agreed the treasurer needs to be a good steward of city finances.

She said she would develop a brochure to entice businesses to come to Marietta and write a quarterly column to publish in local newspapers to highlight Marietta’s economic opportunities.

Incumbent city councilman Michael McCauley, D-2nd Ward, said the main reason businesses are moving out of Marietta’s city limits is because of building codes.

His Republican opponent, James “Chip” Wilson, seemed to agree.

“They talk about regulation,” Wilson said, in reference to city building codes being a problem. “We’re talking about big city bureaucracy with small-town business.”

The small-town feel is one of the best features of Marietta, where the pedestrian environment lends itself to the success of downtown restaurants and businesses, he added.

To head up council, Democrat Kevin Paskawych and Republican Josh Schlicher are vying for the Marietta City Council President post.

Paskawych supports the idea of a downtown revitalization district.

“Whatever the makeup of the council, we need to sell Marietta, and council needs to move forward and promote business,” he said.

Schlicher said he has been out and about the city, finding what issues people have and meeting city department heads.

“You can’t do that sitting behind a desk,” Schlicher said. “I want to bring balance and foresight to council.”

Only two candidates for Marietta City School Board of Education attended the event.

Businessman John Lehman said the schools have the opportunity for corporate sponsorship to help with school funding.

“Big oil is on the way,” Lehman said. “They have foundations. They want to give money.”

Karen Burton said she was a teacher for 39 years and she wants to see expansion of the Partners in Education program. Under the program, businesses support local schools in a variety of ways.

“We were told, ‘If you pass the income tax, money will go to the schools,'” she said. “That didn’t happen. ‘If we get the lottery, that money will go to schools.’ That didn’t happen. We are on our own.”

Marietta Board of Education candidates Wendy Myers and Donald Atkins and incumbent city councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, were not present at the event.