VANDALIA — This is the third of a three-part series in which candidates for Butler Township Trustee, the Vandalia-Butler Board of Education, and Vandalia City Council respond to a set of questions sent to each candidate by the Vandalia Drummer News.
This installment will publish the answers given by Vandalia City Council candidates Amber Aivalotis-Weaver, Mike Blakesly, Candice Farst, and Dave Lewis. There are four candidates with three seats being filled. Candidate order is alphabetical.
Name: Amber Aivalotis-Weaver
Current occupation: Operations Manager at Davidson Garage
Current elected office (if any): None
Prior elected offices held: None
Automotive Management Institute Training
Automotive Service of Excellence Certified Service Writer
Sinclair Community College Business Administration Classes
Please describe the professional or other experience or attributes that you feel qualify you for the office you seek:
I am currently the Operations Manager of my family’s Small Business. I have served on the Harrison Township Business Association as a Board Member, on the Family Life Advisory Board at Christian Life Center and a Board Member of the Women in Auto Care. I have been a longtime volunteer with the Montgomery County Police Athletic and Activities League, Chaplain at Montgomery and Clark County Jails, Volunteered with National Night Out, Taste of the Crossroads, Oktoberfest, I serve on the Committee for the 41Hope5k Blake Laforce Memorial, member of the Vandalia-Butler Chamber of Commerce. I am an active community member, mother and business person.
Name: Mike Blakesly
Current occupation: Fire Safety Inspector
Current elected office: Vandalia City Council Previously Vice Mayor (2 terms)
Educational Experience: Graduate of Vandalia Butler and hold a degree in Fire and Public Service Management. National League of Cities Leadership Certification
Name: Candice Farst
Current Occupation: B.K. Drugs, Inc. dba Ken’s Pharmacy, VP Managing Officer
Current elected office: Vandalia City Council Member
Prior elected offices held: N/A
Educational experience: Tecumseh High School, Misc. Accounting Classes
Please describe the professional or other experience or attributesthat you feel qualify you for the office you seek:
I have owned my own business and have participated in the marketing and accounting part of our family business for many years. Previous to that, I worked in accounting for other businesses and also with numerous volunteer organizations: VB Boosters, various PTA’s. I formerly held a Dayton Area Realtors license.
Name: Dave Lewis
Current Occupation: President of Lewis & Michael Inc.
Current Elected Office: Vandalia City Council
Prior Elected Office: Vandalia City Council
Educational Experience: Vandalia Butler High School, BA Miami University Public Administration / Personnel Management, Law Degree University of Dayton
Please describe the professional or other experience or attributesthat you feel qualify you for the office you seek:
My experience over the last 33 years has included a wide range of issues. The subject matter has included dealing with finance, zoning, building management, personnel, taxation, workers’ compensation, unemployment, budgeting, purchasing, and union management contract negotiations.
I believe my experience both in the private sector and 17 years in the public sector allows me to bring a considerable knowledge base to the many issues that face the City of Vandalia.
As a public servant, I have always put the interests of the citizens in front of the many that compete, and have always been direct in my approach to communication, been prepared for the work that comes to council, and wish to continue to serve to bring resolution to the number of issues that face our city.
Q: Bringing back local control has been a high priority of the City Council over the past few years which included passing a resolution calling for more local control that was sent to the state. What is your view of this issue and how can the Council continue to push for more local control?
Aivalotis-Weaver: By staying informed on issues and decisions being made at higher levels we can be more involved with issues as they come. It is important to protect our local control as much as possible. If we can stop overreach from the beginning it will save a lot of work in the long run. We, Vandalia residents, know more about what our community wants (not the bureaucrats in Columbus). We, Vandalia residents, know the appropriate developments our own community would support.
Blakesly: Government starts at the local level for all political jurisdictions and should have autonomy over the state government similar to states having autonomy over the federal level. We as a city should have a local voice. If that voice to govern ourselves is taken away then we lose control and our identity as a community. We as a council (and I) pledge to continue to send our message to the state legislators of our displeasure of how they are eroding home rule. It is inexcusable to me the state wishes to take away local control measures of our city and our budget at the expense of our citizens.
Farst: Council initiates ways to combat state control issues on a case by case basis. Recent issues have justified contact through local organizations such as Mayors and Managers, state public officials and through attendance at hearings at the state level. Council can also state our position as a public resolution. Informing our citizens so that they can speak to their state representatives is also an important part.
Lewis: This is a very difficult issue in so much as the erosion of the concept of local control occurs at the state level. Cities are by statute empowered to govern themselves through city ordinances, taxation, zoning, and planning among other areas. I have always believed that the most effective form of governance is at the lowest and most direct form, that being the local level. The state has chosen over the years to balance its budget by redirecting funding to itself rather than allowing tax dollars to come back to local municipalities.
The result is that municipalities in many cases are forced to raise taxes to cover the shortfall. Most recently with the passage of House Bill 5 the ability and methodology of taxing by our local jurisdiction has been affected; and I believe adversely.
The danger is, with every piece of legislation that takes away from local citizens to choose how to conduct its business the citizens lose another part of effective local governance, and in turn makes it that much easier for the legislature to further usurp the power of our local government.
Q: State and federal mandates can, and often do, contradict with the notion of local control. What in your view is the proper role of the local city council, state, and federal government? If these conflict, what is the role of the city council?
Aivalotis-Weaver: The proper role of city council is to create ordinances/resolutions for city matters, monitor the municipal budget with the highest fiscal regard, support and listen to residents, provide information to residents, and create relationships with the higher entities that effect municipalities. Without relationships of others in higher office, the ones in higher office do not know what municipalities need. I am blessed to have the support of many local state representatives because of my previous community endeavors. The relationship I have with these leaders will help when we are discussing what is good for our city and what the citizens do not want.
Blakesly: Local control otherwise known as “home rule” allows a charter city such as Vandalia to decide their own destiny in respects to land development, zoning, and the health and safety of its citizens. However, state and federal laws can often supersede local rule in the best interest of the state or the nation’s benefit such as taxation, Homeland Security, Americans with Disabilities Act and other similar interests. When it is discovered state and federal laws conflict with local laws and ordinances it is up to City Council to make sure that the city is in compliance. When made aware of these conflicts, we direct the city manager to explore if the city could be exempt or find relief from such laws. If not, then we have no other choice but to comply.
Farst: The role of the City Council is to always work to support what is in the best interest of Vandalia to the highest degree possible. Vandalia’s needs are primary.
Lewis: Simply put, local governments should govern matters that are of a local nature providing it is within the Ohio and Federal Constitution. Citizens are best able to affect change at a local level. I think most people don’t want the federal or state government telling them who to use for trash pickup, how much it will cost and when it should occur.
The above is an example. State government’s role has evolved over time as has the federal governments. If these conflict, the role as I see it is to be the voice of the local citizens and to voice opposition as a body to our state and federal elected representatives, along with directing our city management to voice opposition through the various groups the city is a member of.
Q: What do you see as the opportunities and challenges the City of Vandalia will face over the next five years?
Aivalotis-Weaver: Opportunities: Vandalia’s economic development plan should mirror what Vandalia’s residents want. What types of developments would be supported by our community? That is what I’d ask residents if elected. Vandalia needs to seek more input from residents to determine what developments residents would support. No one-size fits all economic development approach works for municipalities. I’ll work tirelessly to seek input from residents about developments and I’ll work to make sure community supported developments happen.
Challenges: The largest threats to Vandalia are threats that our neighboring municipalities also face: Montgomery County’s heroin epidemic – cost and crime has the potential to do much damage, appropriate economic developments – getting residents to give input on all developments and become more transparent, and the loss of state funding for basic services – it is time Ohio invests Vandalia’s residents tax dollars back in Vandalia. My proposal to address these problems: since beginning this campaign, a major problem discussed as I meet neighbors is the lack of information shared with residents. Residents need to be aware of threats Vandalia faces and work with council to share ideas for a solution. Council members are elected to approve solutions; but, council members cannot overlook getting input from Vandalia residents. I dearly support our police and fire departments that have worked so hard during this heroin/opioid epidemic, I support reaching out to residents to notify about developments – to ensure proper developments are sought, and I’ll work with residents, and our Miami Valley state representatives/senators, to proactively advocate for additional municipal funds.
Blakesly: One of the positive opportunities Vandalia will have in the future is continued economic growth. However, this will also be one of Vandalia’s is biggest challenges. The trend of the current economic growth in this area is in warehousing and logistics. This type of development brings with it increased traffic to the city. It is for this reason, why I advocate responsible and controlled land use development within the guidelines of our comprehensive plan. Another opportunity we have will be to continue promoting Vandalia as a “great place” to live, which is the “perfect fit,” because of the amenities we offer.
Farst: Challenges: One ongoing issue is keeping our budget balanced to the needs of the community. Two big challenges to Vandalia over the coming years are: Road repair costs from distribution truck traffic and the drug epidemic locally and regionally. Both issues are on our radar.
Opportunities: With our Economic Development Director also taking on the role of Community Development, we have the opportunity to showcase Vandalia’s many amenities and positive features to the region as we look for future employment options. We can present Vandalia as the great place it is to live, work, play and learn.
Lewis: I see the most significant challenge to the city as the continued development by jurisdictions surrounding our city such as Dayton, Union and to a degree Butler Township. These developments have had a real impact on our quality of life and being outside our jurisdiction are difficult to guide or control.
By exercising good stewardship over our finances and striving to maintain superior services we have the continued opportunity to set our city apart from others and guide our development to opportunities that are assets to our quality of life. A sound financial footing allows us to pursue opportunities that complement our community, not detract.
Q: Many residents are concerned about crime, especially drug related crimes occurring in Vandalia hotels. Are those concerns valid and if so, what can be done to reduce crime?
Aivalotis-Weaver: Vandalia’s police, fire, service, and administrative departments serve Vandalia extremely well. I’ll always support our community members who risk their lives working for Vandalia. Our residents need an advocate that will approach state officials and seek money for additional services. Our funding from the state has been cut and it is time to advocate that funding returns. I’ll work with residents, and our Miami Valley state representatives/senators, to proactively advocate for additional municipal funding. I think partnering with local churches and social services, the G.R.O.W. program and the Drug Coalition will be great ways for the community as a whole to stand up and combat these issues from a different angle as well.
Blakesly: As we have seen in the news, the opiate crisis is real and affects us all. I believe this is what is driving the drug-related crimes mostly found in Vandalia hotels. This is a valid concern. For this reason Vandalia has the opportunity (in which I will help to encourage) to partner with the Montgomery County Regional Area Narcotics and Gun Enforcement (R.A.N.G.E.) task force and their Drug-Free Coalition to help reduce and optimistically eliminate this illegal activity in our area. Furthermore, drug prevention, along with the Sheriff’s help, needs to be taught in our schools.
Farst: Citizen safety is at the top of the list for essential services. Council received updates regarding crimes in Vandalia monthly. We are kept abreast of ongoing police activities. During Budget workshop, we look forward five years to the needs of the police department. We then concentrate on the coming year concerning new equipment and program needs. We also discuss police and fire issues during all retreats.
Lewis: It is clear that drug related issues are epidemic in the United States and the issues with this at I-75 and I-70 are well documented. Our police statistics indicate a clear increase in incidents, however, I don’t believe they are strictly related to our hotels/ motels. The city currently has only 3 hotels located within the city and these are patrolled constantly. We are fortunate not to have the burden of policing many facilities so that our resources can be put to the entire community.
Currently the police force in Vandalia is accredited and is run in a very proficient manner. To reduce crime a constant effort must be made to maintain a high-quality force but also to continue zoning and policies which do not promote a criminal element.
Q: Another major area of concern for residents is development west of the airport and the resulting traffic, trucks, and noise. While these areas are primarily in the Cities of Dayton and Union, what can/is the city doing to mitigate the impact on its residents?
Aivalotis-Weaver: This has been a complicated issue for some time. Currently the City is working on getting some signage up to tell trucks to take alternative routes where possible. Businesses have been contacted and encourage their drivers to not drive through the City. It is going to take collaboration with those who drive the trucks and the City. While talking with residents recently I have been told there has been a slight decline in the traffic through the City. I also think if residents see trucks speeding or breaking law by speeding in school zones and residential areas, they need to report it to law enforcement or call it in to the trucking companies. All sides need to work together to come to a solution. We also must inform neighboring leaders of these issues.
Blakesly: Council has recently learned of the results from our consultant’s study what can be done to slow, discourage, lessen, and/or eliminate, the truck traffic and the noise it brings to and through Vandalia. Council has also consulted with Ohio Department of Transportation to explore further options as to what legally can be done since RT 40 and Dixie Drive are state routes. Additionally, staff was directed to personally make contact with both businesses in Vandalia as well as P&G in Union and Spectrum on airport property to discuss alternate truck routes for these businesses. These discussions encouraged them to use airport access road. One of the solutions our consultant advised us we could do was to place signage mainly on southbound Dixie Drive before National Road that will alert truck drivers no turns can be made off of Dixie onto National Road. We are told more discoveries and/or options are being explored.
Farst: We have begun the implementation of a multi-phase plan to reduce the truck traffic through downtown Vandalia. Last year, staff met with the various trucking companies to explain the issue and ask for their help in directing their drivers to take the I-70/I-75 Route around the City. We are now working on better signage to help divert trucks to the interstate. We are making plans for other options as we know that this will only become a larger issue as Dayton and Union allow more large truck distribution businesses west of the Airport.
Lewis: This question ties into number 3 above. The city, within the confines of our zoning code, is working toward mitigation. First through a review of the entire zoning code with the dual purpose of using current and future land use to mitigate or thwart increased truck traffic through our downtown.
Second, by taking a proactive position on the continued development with the municipalities adjacent to our city limits and working through the county to lessen the impact of the development that exists today with a keen eye to the future. I believe because of the differences in our position with these other entities that this tact will be less productive as opposed to use of placing signage and traffic prohibitions.
Q: It is sometimes necessary to represent the needs of the community by taking an action that is not popular with the people in attendance at the City Council meeting, based on information available only to the Council. Please describe how you would address this issue when it arises.
Aivalotis-Weaver: Communication is vital. Very little information is given in City Council Meetings and I can understand from someone looking in on them how things can appear, that can be misleading. I encourage everyone to attend workshops or reach out to Council Members with questions. For myself, if elected, I plan to be as accessible as possible for questions and concerns. Regularly attending community and social events, being visible and available as much as possible to help residents understand why decisions where made.
Proper proactive communication with residents will allow for residents to provide their opinion and have time to digest what matters will be discussed at council meetings.
Blakesly: First and foremost each councilperson represents the voice of the citizens. I must take in all information available to me in order to make an informed decision. This decision is based on the facts of the matter or situation within the confines of the City Ordinance and State or Federal laws. If there are no codes or laws that apply, and is not in opposition to the health and welfare of the community then I must make a decision based on best practice and common sense. Although the decision may not be popular and is often difficult, I try to keep in mind what is best for all of Vandalia. I often find it similar to how the Supreme Court makes decisions. They too, are often victims of unpopular decisions but make those decisions based on the principle, “What is in the best interest of the people.”
Farst: Council should always explain to the best of their ability why a decision was made. The law director and city manager may also explain from the legal or staff perspective. The public is always invited to attend the workshops where more discussion takes place between council, staff and the law director. I am always available to discuss an issue.
Lewis: Principally the best way to address unpopular issues is through a thorough understanding of the point of contention and talking to the various parties concerned either at workshops or directly with the people affected. I have attempted to explain my position to all concerned on areas of controversy and my specific reasons for a position one way or another.
Q: Vandalia is known for its congenial political atmosphere, especially on City Council, which is in stark contrast to other surrounding communities. Why do you think this is and what will you do to foster respectful political debate when it is necessary?
Aivalotis-Weaver: I respect the friendly atmosphere at city hall, respect Vandalia’s elected and appointed officials, and think that showing respect and maturity is necessary as community leaders/neighbors. Respectful debate is one freedom that makes America great. I am not afraid to speak up for times there needs to be a change and speak up for neighbors that may be concerned with particular matters.
Blakesly: I believe this exists on Vandalia Council now because in my opinion all Council members truly have Vandalia’s best interest at heart. We tend to put our personal egos and agendas aside to do what is right for the future of Vandalia. Each of us respects each other’s opinions and often times agree to disagree but still come to a consensus. We actually take pride in ourselves of how well we get along and work together to accomplish the work in front of us. Nonetheless, we still hold the interests of Vandalia over our own gain. We recognize we are the leadership that must guide the city the same way a board of directors guides a major company. Our job is to look into the future and make decisions that will continue to see the city prosper. We know this is our mission and always try to keep that in mind when we are discussing ideas and issues that will or could have long-term impact on the City. This is why I believe we accomplish more in a civilized manner than other jurisdictions.
Farst: Vandalia does now have a council that shows respect to one another. All present members seem to appreciate that aspect of our group though we do have healthy debates. I believe we are very fortunate that all members behave in a manner which shows respect for the City and our staff.
Lewis: I have taken the approach that any issue usually has more than one side to it. It is unreasonable to believe that my position or any other is 100% correct. It has been my experience that everyone on council wants what is best for the city as opposed to having some personal agenda. This makes it easy to have respectful and thoughtful debate. By not taking any issue personally with the above understanding, I have found that simple respect with whomever you are dealing with is the foundation for productive debate.
Q: Sidewalks or pathways connecting the path at the Recreation Center along Stonequarry Road to Morton Middle School are a significant concern to school officials and many residents. The council has committed to connecting from the Rec Center as far down Stonequarry that is in the city, but coordination between Butler Township and Montgomery County will be required to complete the project to Morton. How can you as an individual council member and the Council as a whole spur this project to completion and are you in favor of the city taking a leading role in the completion of this project?
Aivalotis-Weaver: This has been concerning to my neighbors and myself for many years. I live 1.9 miles from the school, which is considered walking distance and the kids in my neighborhood do not only walk down Stonequarry but then cross without a Crosswalk. I see traffic backed up in the morning and the children either forced to walk in the street or through people’s front lawns. It is long past time this issue be addressed. I would be happy to take the lead in getting this issue taken care of. I have already reached out to Montgomery County and state officials to see how we can address this, ways to get it paid for (a private/public partnership is another possibility for some portion of this project) and a time line to get it done.
Other municipalities have obtained state grants for walkways/bikepaths (by partnering with school districts/neighboring cities) and I’d work with school leaders to see that Vandalia replicates an ODNR grant.
Blakesly: City Council, and I as an individual, have taken the stance this is a health and safety concern for the citizens of both communities. I am proud that Vandalia has taken a lead role in this project. I am personally in favor of doing what it takes to coordinate with Butler Township, Montgomery County and the school district to complete this venture. About three years ago, I was on a committee with a Township trustee and school board member to explore the possibilities in funding this endeavor. We met with school groups to discuss what it would take to make this happen. Now since others are more serious about this, I will do my best to continue dialogue with the other entities that it involves.
Farst: We can bring everyone to the table to help facilitate the sidewalk issue. The City of Vandalia Council and staff have a good working relationship with Butler Township and Vandalia-Butler Schools. This positive working relationship is evident in the coordinated efforts that we have accomplished together over the last number of years.
Lewis: This project on its surface should be one that is easy to accomplish. After working on it I have found it is not. The sidewalk must run through the city then through the township. It must cross Peters Pike, which is a county road and county crossing, and then terminate through the school system’s property. It requires coordination of 4 separate public entities.
I have reached out to the County Commission and they have indicated a willingness to discuss the crossing and expense. Vandalia has recently approved the construction of a sidewalk past the recreation center and the several properties within the city. Brad Neavin, former superintendent, was on board and Rob O’Leary as his predecessor is now getting his arms around the project.
Our city manager has reached out to the township and it appears the township has some resistance due to expense, as the right of ways for the sidewalk must be acquired and the sidewalk expense to Peters Pike.
I am a big proponent of the project and, as a father of seven children, hope to take a leading if not significant role in bringing this to a reality.
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