Candidates talk about mayor and council positions

Photo by Michael Kelly Marietta City Council Third Ward candidates Steve Thomas (left) and Bill Gossett answered questions Tuesday night at a forum in the McDonough Auditorium.

The structure of the mayor’s office, how it works with city council, how the city works with the county, and what Marietta might look like in the future were some of the topics mulled over by candidates for city office at an election forum held Tuesday afternoon.

About 50 people attended the event, held in the McDonough Auditorium on the Marietta College campus and sponsored by the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce and the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.

All city council seats are up for election Nov. 5 as well as the mayor’s job, but only Ward Three and the mayor are contested races. Tuesday afternoon, all eight candidates in uncontested races, as well as Marietta City Schools board vice president Russ Garrison, who is running unopposed for another term on the board, were given a few minutes to make statements. School Superintendent Will Hampton also was given three minutes to give a pitch for the Marietta City Schools bond levy, which is on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Those in contested races were given questions.

The three mayoral candidates – incumbent Joe Matthews, who is running as an Independent, Democrat Harley Noland and Republican Josh Schlicher – all recounted their experience in office and familiarity with the functions of city government. Matthews has been mayor for two terms, and previously held the office from 1992 through 2003. Noland has served four terms on city council, and Schlicher has been on council for six years as president.

Photo by Michael Kelly Mayoral candidates (from left) Joe Matthews, Harley Noland and Josh Schlicher answered questions Tuesday afternoon at a forum organized by the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce and the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority in the McDonough Auditorium at Marietta College.

The session was intended to introduce the candidates to voters – early in-person and absentee voting began Tuesday.

The city is periodically hit with flooding, and when asked what the city should do about that, Noland said the best response is to have an organized reaction plan and suggested an advisory group to help residents and businesses be prepared. Schlicher noted that during the last flood, the Harmar lift station river gauge was off by two feet.

“Going forward, the biggest thing is active and accurate information, and get it out to property owners,” he said.

Matthews simply stated he would never agree to have a flood wall.

On the question of how the mayor’s office might be changed, both challengers said they believed the mayor should become a more active position in terms of taking legislation to the city council.

“We have a strong council, weak mayor model, and there needs to be a closer connection … better communication, and a full complement of employees,” Noland said.

“The mayor is the chief executive officer for the city,” Schlicher said. “It’s been mainly a ceremonial office, but I want to move it to more of a full-time executive.”

Matthews noted that he participates continually in community events and staffs the office within what he thinks are the financial capabilities of the city.

All three candidates said they believed the best path of growth for the city is eastward along State Route 7.

“Companies are looking for sites that already have utilities, and by extending our water and sewer it will only help the economy in our area,” Noland said. “For sewer, more flow means greater efficiency.”

The candidates also were asked what they would do to attract young people to the city.

“We already have Marietta College, Washington State Community College, the Washington County Career Center,” Matthews said. “There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing now.”

“There is a large group of young people who are totally mobile, and we have a wonderful quality of life to offer, low rent,” Noland said. “I think we need a development program to reach out and make it easy for them to come here.”

“We have education, Washington State Community College is No. 1, we have the opportunity with the (Marietta City Schools) levy, we have employment, we’re giving our citizens quality of life,” Schlicher said. “We need to get a good plan around what they want, and they’re like businesses, they’re all different, it take planning and team work.”

The two candidates for Marietta City Council Third Ward, incumbent Democrat Steve Thomas and Republican challenger Bill Gossett, were also given questions.

Asked what they would like to see for Marietta in the next five years, both chose the importance of attracting more people to the city.

“We need to move forward with being able to bring in good-paying jobs … factories, to give us the fiscal abililty to maintain what we have,” Gossett said.

Thomas, who earlier said he favored passage of the school levy, said infrastructure is critical to bringing new residents in.

“We’ve got good sewer and water, schools, that’s what people look at when they move,” Thomas said. “If you don’t have that, nobody want to come here.”

Thomas is seeking a fifth term on council. Gossett, a downtown businessman, is running for the first time.

Michael Kelly can be reached at