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Candidates for Dayton City Council Make Case to Voters

Ten of the eleven candidates that will appear on the November ballot in the race for Dayton City Council answered questions Tuesday night,

The forum was held the VFW and moderated by The River City News's Michael Monks.

OPENING STATEMENTS

Joe Neary: "I don't need time to learn on the job." The candidate said that he would be able to bring others up to speed and on the right track to move the city forward. "We need a council who will cooperate and work with all our city employees and the mayor with respect for all our priorities."

Ben Baker: The candidate has been a volunteer for the past four years, serving on the Main Street Board, the planning & zoning board, and in youth sports. He is a founding member of the Riverfront Committee that is working to bring a pier to the riverfront. "I want to continue to market to current and new residents," he said, adding that he also wants more collaboration between the schools and the city. "When the schools succeed, we succeed." He looks forward to raising a family in Dayton and sending his kids to public school.

Jeff Haas: He has lived in Campbell County all his life and moved to Dayton three years ago. "Although we haven't spent our first forty years in Dayton, we plan on spending our next forty years here," he said. He decided to run for council because his skills and work experience. "Our current city council is a divided council. While I am in favor of having a diversity of opinions, the debates are often overshadowed by personal differences," he said. "We need a council that can set things aside and do what's right."

Jerry Gifford: The incumbent explained that he has been a Dayton resident his whole life, was married there, went through the school system, and so did his children. "I consider myself a senior citizen though I still rock and roll," he joked. "My job is to make sure our community is safe and take care of and sometimes we don't agree. Sometimes people can't agree on everything."

Joe Tucker: The candidate is a graduate of Dayton High School and majored in business administration at Northern Kentucky University. He is self employed as a real estate investor. "I feel like we've laid our roots here. I've always been here, but I don't plan on leaving either," he said. "The hard work I can provide will also help better the community as a whole."

Bill Burns: The incumbent shared stories of his long history in Dayton, including a story about being the last of seventeen children in his family and how a local shoe salesman worked out a deal with his mother to pay fifty cents a week for a new pair of shoes.

Leslie Carr: "My vision for the City of Dayton is to develop a strategic approach to further establish a community where people want to live, work, play, and learn," the candidate said. "We have the opportunity to enhance our public spaces and quality gathering places that engage our residents and stakeholders. And yes, public art is a large part of creating vibrant places." She said preserving historic structures and creating safe, welcoming green spaces would be a priority. She serves on the historic preservation committee and volunteers at Lincoln Elementary.

Cathy Volter: "If reelected, my number one priority will be to focus on working to provide police and fire with necessary resources, finances, and personnel to keep our community safe," the incumbent said. She said she has been networking with organizations outside the city to promote the city's best interests, and wants to be a liaison between the schools and the city. "I am researching and implementing new and innovative ways to attack blight in our city." ... "I love this town and my pledge to you is to make informed decisions with your input."

Jennifer Sierra: "I believe in and I am passionate about our community and I work hard for our community," the candidate said. She has over 20 years experience in running a business, which she says gives her the necessary experience to make good financial decisions for the city without having to raise taxes. She has been an active volunteer for many years, on the Main Street association, board of architectural review. She said she is approachable and respects the opinions of others. "But I am not a pushover. I am not running against the other candidates."

Denny Lynn: The candidate worked for the city's fire department for 38 years, retiring as chief of the merged Bellevue-Dayton Fire Department. "I will work to keep the fire and police departments to high standards and find ways to increase manpower," he said. "I will keep an eye on th ebudget and find ways to cut the taces and find ways to work with the council to do that." He also wants to focus on building up the business district and combating blight.

HOW TO ATTRACT BUSINESSES TO THE OLD BUSINESS DISTRICT

Lynn said that the owners of the businesses on Sixth Avenue need to come together and "get on the same page and make sure they can these buildings looking nicer to draw businesses to Dayton". He said the city should find "some type of carrot we can dangle to these people to try to lure them into Dayton".

Sierra agreed that blight in the district needs to be addressed. "Otherwise, businesses aren't going to want to come in and set up shop," she said.

Volter said the city could identify more grants available for business development on the main street. "We also need to think about incentives to entice business to Dayton," she said. She added that a branding campaign should also be undertaken.

Carr said that the old business district is a great opportunity for galleries to display their work in open windows. "We need to look for what fits for us," she said, noting that smaller boutiques are what would likely fit there. New jobs would likely be skilled-based. "I would rather see that than a multi-million dollar corporation come in and give low-paying wages."

Burns said that starting on January 1, the Main Street manager's only job would be to focus on developing the old business district. "That sounds a little harsh," he said, "but everybody wants to build the main street up and he's doing everything and anything." Burns suggested tax incentives and small loans that could be forgivable for new businesses.
 
"History has shown that we cannot continue to bring in one shop at a time," Tucker said. "It seems we get one shop and one restaurant and they do well for a while but they can't build on anything. You have to bring everybody in at once." He suggested working with real estate agents to bring people in and show that the city is open.
 
"I think the walk-in trade in the Main Street area is not the way to go," Gifford said. "I would like to see telemarketing places open up that don't depend on walk-in trade." He said he would love to see more traditional businesses but is unsure that they would work. "We need to kiss the butts of all the people who have businesses in the city right now and make sure they stay. We can't afford to lose one more business."
 
"I think what would help our Main Street is to have business come in our industrial park," Haas said. He said he would work with the city administrator and main street manager to create incentive packages for companies to move in. 
 
Baker agreed that the old business district may not be suitable for traditional businesses but could be an ideal spot for marketing and other service industries. "The Business Courier is saying there is a shortage of space for marketing companies," he said. "We can see Downtown Cincinnati from our front yard. We are an extremely viable community for such businesses."
 
"We can't subsidize business," Neary said. "We can't give away rent. We have to build a demand and when somebody opens a shop, as citizens you've got to patronize it." He estimated that 95% of Buona Vita Pizzeria's business comes from outside the city. He also said the city needs to push the landlords to improve the buildings.
 
DO YOU SUPPORT PUBLIC ART SUCH AS MURALS?
 
"Absolutely," Sierra said. She used to make a living as a painter and was greatly disappointed that an ArtWorks mural designated for Dayton instead went to neighboring cities after the city council rejected the design. "They all have these great murals. We don't have that here."
 
Volter also supported the mural project and thinks art is a good resource for children in the community. "That would be so much more for them to take pride in their city," she said. "It's a growing trend. When there is art on buildings there is less blight, less of people doing graffiti and so forth. It is a good feeling to have."
 
Carr is also a supporter. "I can envision things happening like when developing our trails, a safe route to school, to have a sculpture garden to go along with that," she said. Art, she said, "creates a connectivity between our citizens".
 
Burns said he loves art and has donated to the Fine Arts Fund for thirty years and that he would like to see murals but, "We gotta pay for it". "If we can't afford (road) salt, how can we afford other things?"
 
Tucker said everything has to be prioritized, though he also supports public art. "Include the schools, the students. That may be a cheaper option," he said.
 
Gifford said that he would like to see a mural completed, but one in which the entire community is involved in its creation.
 
Haas said murals should be supported but that the money for them should come from grants. 
 
"I do support ArtWorks. I'm a big fan of art," Baker said. "I want to see more of it in our community." He agreed that grants should be pursued before taking money from the general fund, though. "It builds a community and lets our imagination run wild."
 
Neary said that artists are attracted to Dayton because of the low rent and that the city could better capitalize on that.
 
"Before you go putting a mural on the side of the building, you need to have a building worthy of having a mural on the side of it," Lynn said. He added that buildings need to be brought up to standards and that money for art should be prioritized appropriately.
 
IS DAYTON AN IMMIGRANT-FRIENDLY CITY?
 
All the candidates agreed that Dayton is a friendly, welcoming place and that they would work to keep it that way.
 
HOW TO IMPROVE CIVILITY ON THE CITY COUNCIL?
 
"One of the things we have to look for on future councils is that they understand the main duties are to enact and enforce ordinances and ratify the budget," Carr said. Teamwork is what is needed, she said. She suggested putting people in small teams to begin a review process of all city ordinances.
 
"My slogan is, I'm a voice, not an advocate," Burns said. "I will not bow down if a citizen has contacted me and they have a concern. I will back every citizen. That's not being testy. I will continue to listen to citizens. I'm not an echo. I'm a voice."
 
"You put a bunch of strong minded people, passionate about a city in the same room and you're going to have those arguments," Tucker said. "I think you have to realize that everyone there is there for the same goal. You just have to remember that that one goal is to make our community a better place."
 
"Sometimes we get combative," Gifford said. "I think if you care about your city, you try to think things through." He said it would be terrible if the whole council agreed on everything all the time. "That's how teams are successful. There are passive people. There are aggressive people."
 
"I've been to these meetings and seen how contentious they get," Haas said. "What I notice is when these debates get contentious, like where to hold council meetings, there is a lack of a compromise." He said he would work at fostering those compromises. 
 
"I haven't missed a council meeting since I move to Dayton and I think I've seen as many fights as meetings," Baker said. He said it is good that there are many passionate people in the city but as a councilman, "I plan to take any agenda in front of me and vote for what's best for the people who voted us in."
 
Neary referenced a headline in The River City News that referred to "chaos in Dayton". "I never want to see a headline like that again," he said. "I don't want to see our council become an attraction. ... We should fight for what's best for the citizens and not the next election." He called for a mutual respect among members.
 
Lynn said that better communication between council members and the mayor could help improve the situation. "So much is hashed out on that council floor," he said. "I'm not saying this year is any worse than any other year."
 
Sierra plans on being patient. "I'm packing a lot of patience in my bag if I'm elected to council," she said. "We're all adults. We should act like adults. Bullying is never accepted. It should not be accepted. I think we can agree or agree to disagree civilly."
 
"I have had quite a few sleepless nights on the first Tuesday of the month," Volter said. "The bottom line is, I think everybody is there to represent their constituents and doing what they think is best for the people they represent. Sometimes I think we all need to stop and take a breath and think about a compromise before we get to the point where we have chaos in Dayton."
 
FIGHTING BLIGHT
 
"We can't do it with one person," Burns said. "We've got one person on the streets trying to control blight. You've got to be strict with every ordinance." He also said the city should be more aggressive with absentee landlords.
 
Tucker also called for better code enforcement. Gifford agreed that one person is not enough and said that they would try to get more people to help.
 
Haas joined them in calling for manpower to address blight. Baker agreed.
 
Neary suggested a targeted approach that aims to improve a bad house on a nice block. "You get that house taken care of and the rest of the block comes up," he said. Lynn said one man cannot do the job. 
 
Sierra said that the city could again look like it did, as seen in historic photos, with better enforcement.
 
Volter said the city could have two or three blight inspectors and still not fix the problem. She suggested an exploration of the new program adopted by Covington in which blighted properties can be foreclosed on and sold to a developer.
 
Carr said it is obvious that there are no funds for an addition code enforcement officer but that more tools could be given to the one the city has.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News