Lorain and Elyria mayoral candidates talk plans for growing economy, Ohio SB5 at CHIP’s debate.
By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent
Contended Democratic mayoral candidates for Lorain and Elyria duked out their plans to grow their local economy in a debate at Lorain’s St. Joseph Community Center, as the May 3, 2011 primary nears.
The Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress (CHIP) hosted the annual Candidates debate to an audience of roughly 100 people, April 13, 2011. They also hold an annual general election debate in October.
Incumbent Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko said his priorities remain job creation and developing the city. “We are working hard to bring back good paying jobs,” Krasienko said.
He defended his administration’s handling of the economy.
Krasienko said for the first time in 9 years the city has a balanced budget. He said they brought in or retained over 1,000 jobs including the U.S. Steel that has invested over $90 million into their facility and created nearly 100 jobs. Krasienko said the Veteran's Affairs Clinic at St. Joe’s was kept open, and the city has continued to renovate Lakeview Park, Pearl Avenue, and Oberlin Avenue.
But his contender Mitchell Fallis said Lorain's economy is “lifeless,”citing the city’s unemployment rate at 11 percent.
“We can’t wait another minute witnessing Lorain's decline without taking action,” Fallis said, adding nearly 17,000 residents have descended into the poverty level.
Lorain Councilman-at-Large Fallis said his business background will help him in his first goal: attracting high paying jobs.
He said he plans to create an economic development council made up of “passionate people from our city” that will identify the fastest growing industries and attract them to the city.
Fallis said his priorities also include keeping Lorain safe and fixing its roads and parks, and suggested the city partner with the Lorain County Metroparks to build a recreation center in Lorain.
In 2009, the city began talks of a 10-year ambitious, strategic development plan with the Public Service Institute at Lorain County Community College. Talks included possibly constructing a one-stop complex that would include one high school, library, an LCCC branch, and recreation center in central Lorain serving the entire city.
Contender Chase Ritenauer, also running for mayor of Lorain, said if elected he will work on Lorain’s strategic plan, but said many similar plans have been suggested by previous administrations in Lorain only to be left collecting dust on shelves.
“The problem is not that we lack a plan, if you will, in writing,” Ritenauer said “the problem is who is going to be driving the bus? Who is going to make sure that that plan gets implemented?”
Ritenauer, an LCCC teacher and former North Olmsted safety-service director, said he was motivated to run for mayor because he was fed up with the city's state of “mediocrity.”
“In the past several decades you hear about plans, you hear about what Lorain is going to do and it doesn't get done,” Ritenauer said “this campaign season you will hear much rhetoric about budgets, crime, jobs, but look around, the rhetoric rings hollow as Lorain continues to decline.”
If elected, Ritenauer said he will focus on safety, housing and infrastructure issues that will boost the city and allow it to attract jobs.
Incumbent Elyria Mayor Bill Grace said his city has been forced to make many cuts and provide services with fewer resources, and defended his administration's handling of the local economy.
Grace said they were able to balance 11 consecutive budgets and received $43 million in grants, “proving that in a difficult economy, a government can still live within its means.”
His Democratic opponent, Holy Brinda, did not attend the debate. Also seeking the position for Elyria mayor, Republicans Ray Noble and David Ursi did not attend the debate.
Grace said downtown Elyria benefited from $250 million for construction since he’s been in office, and over $76 million was invested for water, sewer and street repairs in the last 3 years.
This year, $33 million will be invested for those repairs, he said.
Grace said they have consolidated their dispatch for their fire department with the Lorain County 9-1-1, and they could be consolidating their police dispatch and health department with surrounding cities to save costs.
He said the city is also planning to renovate Cascade Park by including revenue generating improvements.
Ohio Senate Bill 5
The recently passed Ohio Senate Bill 5 would save the state roughly $1.3 billion (according to the Ohio Office of Collective bargaining) because it cuts pay increases for public workers and requires them to pay more for health insurance. But the bill has been called “anti-union” or “anti-labor” and “unfair” by opponents because it would limit collective bargaining rights for public workers including teachers, police and firefighters. The role of an arbitrator in the bargaining process would be removed and city council or the school district, for example, would have the final say.
A measure to repeal the bill could be placed on this November ballot if enough signatures are gathered.
And early this week, Akron city council passed measures to oppose the bill and support repealing it. Other Ohio communities including Toledo, Columbus, and Cleveland have passed similar measures.
We Are Ohio, a group of opponents to SB5, are hoping to get 500,000 signatures by June 30 to place a measure on the ballot.
Republicans that supported the measure plan to fight the referendum.
“There’s no doubt Senate Bill 5 will negatively impact the quality of service in the city of Lorain,” Krasienko said.
Ritenauer said he is also opposed to the bill.
“It's overreaching,” Ritenauer said “The collective bargaining process is a good process because what it does is it allows the unions to bring their A-game to the table, it allows management to bring their A-game to the table, you hash it out and you come up with an agreement.”
Grace said the bill will provide financial benefits because it will cap longevity and sick time pay, but he too expressed his opposition to the bill.
“I’m confident the turmoil it will create and the level of unfairness. It will have more negative consequences than positives,” he said.
Grace said it will create a vast disparity between the school districts throughout the state and create incentives for people who have the means to flee districts that have lesser funds.
But he said he is confident the bill will not become law because a measure to rescind the bill will be placed on the ballot in November, or if passed, it will be fought in the courts.
The CHIP Candidates forum also hosted contended candidates running for the Lorain City Council president, at-large, 2nd, 5th, and 7th ward seats, and Lorain auditor seat.
The debate will be televised during the weeks running up to the May 3 primary on the Lorain City Schools Channel 20 and Lorain County Community College Channel 19.