Van Wert city council president candidates Pete Weir (left) and Ken Mengerink (right) decide who will answer a question first during Meet the Candidates Night Tuesday night at Trinity Friends Church. The program was hosted by the Heart Land Patriots. (Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)
Van Wert city council president candidates Pete Weir (left) and Ken Mengerink (right) decide who will answer a question first during Meet the Candidates Night Tuesday night at Trinity Friends Church. The program was hosted by the Heart Land Patriots. (Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)

BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin Editor

egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - With city elections still around seven weeks away, candidates for municipal offices kicked off the campaign season Tuesday night at a Meet The Candidates Night hosted by the Heart Land Patriots at Trinity Friends Church.

The format was simple: Each candidate was given five minutes for a short speech, then competing candidates sat together and answered questions from the audience. Although the crowd turnout was low, the speeches and question and answer periods are available online at www.timesbulletin.com.

The evening began with the two Republican candidates seeking the city council president post - Pete Weir and Ken Mengerink. Current Council President Gary Corcoran is not seeking re-election.

Weir, the evening's first speaker is currently serving his second term as Fourth Ward councilman. He informed the attendees about his leadership accomplishments, noting that he retired from service because of family obligations.

"I am uniquely qualified to fulfill this post with 20 years of military experience, five years of government employment, and two-plus years on city council," Weir stated. "I want to be council president, because I'm all about our community. I got involved with council because I desired to help find solutions for issues in such areas as trash, junk vehicles, parking, speed limits, traffic signals, condemned housing, budgets, and so forth. I want to put that same energy into being our city council president."

Mengerink, who has served on city council for eight years in the 1980s, then another 20 years on Van Wert City Schools Board of Education, 14 of those as president, and also 12 years on the Vantage Career Center Board of Education, eight of those years as president.

"I feel I have the knowledge to run a very good meeting and to direct the city the way that we need," Mengerink said. He went on to discuss some of the important decisions made during his years of service on council, such as the development of Fountain Park and purchasing the land for the city's third reservoir.

"I'm asking for your support," he concluded. "There are no magic answers, but I think I have a lot of experience running boards meetings..."

The council president candidates were followed by First Ward Councilperson John Marshall, who is running unopposed for his fourth term. Second Ward Councilperson Joi Mergy was unable to attend due to a family commitment.

Up next were the Third Ward council candidates incumbent Stuart Jewett and Jerry Mazur.

Jewett began, giving his background and various work within the city.

"I think you can recognize that I'm a person who really cares about my community," he asserted. "So when you ask what my qualifications are to do, basically, a volunteer job, to be on the city council in Van Wert, I think my number one qualification is that as a Van Wert resident with kids, grandkids, and everybody else here, I care about this community... I volunteer everywhere and every way I can to try to help this community run smoother and grow."

Mazur talked about his long career in business with Otis Elevator Co., then moved into a discussion of his community service. He spent 51 years with the company, including 16 years abroad. Mazur moved to Van Wert in 2000.

"What I do in Van Wert, I volunteer," he stated. "My whole life is dedicated to volunteerism.... I get a lot of pleasure out of volunteerism, and I think the city should encourage volunteerism." Mazur then suggested that law enforcement funeral escorts be done by off-duty officers rather than those on duty as one possible budgetary cost-saving measure. He went on to emphasize another similar opinion.

"As far as government is concerned, I am a firm believer in processes. I think the city is not looking into the processes of every position they have out there, to determine whether they are doing the best practices," Mazur declared. In fact, the city is discussion having a performance audit done by the Auditor of the State's office.

Of the two candidates for the Fourth Ward council seat, only Democrat Jim Hamman was present. Republican Steve Trittschuh did not attend. Hamman and Trittschuh do not face one another until the general election in November.

Hamman gave his background, remarking that he came to Van Wert in 1973 as head football coach and teacher at Van Wert High School. Eventually he worked his way into administration at Vantage Career Center.

Hamman observed that he was the only Democrat in the room but noted that he was fiscally conservative. He also remembered the lessons he taught students at the high school saying that people are affected a lot more by local government.

The final group were three of the candidates seeking the council at-large positions. Not present were incumbents Brent Crone (R) and Jeff Agler (D). The four Republicans face off in May for three positions. The three winners and Agler will be on the ballot in November with the top three vote-getters being elected.

Stan Agler began the final segment speaking about the change of attitude in city government during his many years in office, saying when he began serving in the 1960s council worried about keeping things equal among the city's four wards. "Now," he noted, "It's a community gathering. That's terribly important, and I think we've achieved a lot doing that."

Agler, who served as Van Wert mayor for 12 years, spoke about his background and his love of working in city government, as well as his experience.

"The role I tend to play, and I've been on there a long time, there's generational differences," he said. "Why do I want to stay on? I enjoy it, there's no doubt about that. I could coach, I could do a lot of other stuff, but I enjoy the city government. And right now I have things that might be useful."

Two former council members seeking at-large seats continued the discussion. Jon Tomlinson, at age 36, was the youngest of the candidates, and was probably the youngest person in the room Tuesday night. After serving for two years as Fourth Ward councilman, he did not seek re-election in 2011 in order to finish his doctoral degree dissertation.

"I committed to myself and to others that once I got that PhD done, if it felt right, then I would run [for council] again, that I would get back on City Council and that's where I'm at and why I'm here."

Tomlinson currently serves as a professor at University of Northwest Ohio, teaching health care administration, marketing, and business administration.

Kirby Kelly also served on council in 2010-11, as councilman from the Second Ward. Kelly did not run again for that seek, instead losing in a bid for the mayor's office in the Republican primary in 2011.

Kelly seemed restricted by the time limit during his speech, saying, "I don't know how far I want to go with some of my comments tonight," near the beginning of his remarks. He then gave short comments about the city budget and the need to cut expenses.

"We need to start getting very serious on the budget," he declared. "There are things that can be done. Let's start with how we negotiate contracts." Kelly advised tying pay increases to inflation rather than giving flat raises. He also suggested higher employee contributions toward their health insurance costs.

"For a family plan, it costs the city $15,000, but the employee only pays $6,000," he said. "That's a big difference. I don't think the taxpayer should be subsidizing the fact that you have a family."