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Dayton City Council Candidates State their Case

There will be at least one new face on Dayton City Council in January. First-term incumbent Joey Tucker is not running again.

Five other incumbents are running: Ben Baker, Bill Burns, Jerry Gifford, Denny Lynn, and Joe Neary. They face four challengers: Jeff Haas, Alex Kraemer, Bret Neuspickle, and Jeff Volter.

All nine candidates competing for the six seats appeared at a forum on Thursday night hosted by Catherine Hicks and Beth Nyman at Lincoln Elementary School. 

Candidates were invited to offer a five-minute pitch about their positions, and then were asked one question - some of which were written by Dayton High School students.

Kraemer, a first-time candidate, spoke first. The public affairs manager at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce touted his Campbell County roots and his education (a master's degree from Northern Kentucky University in public administration with an emphasis on Main Street revitalization), and his experience working with elected officials such as U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). He and his wife, have volunteered at city events and attend all city council meetings.

"It has been wonderful to meet so many of you walking door-to-door over the past three and a half months," Kraemer said. "My wife and I have met a lot of great people with great stories, but we have also heard about some serious issues that we must address as a community through out city council." The five "major issues" Dayton is facing, according to Kraemer, are: a lack of a vibrant Main Street, too many vacant and abandoned properties, drug issues, lack of adequate parks, and a lack of communication from the city. Those are the areas that he would focus on.

Kraemer received a question about growing the city's economy with cultural opportunities. "It is important to have some economic growth on our Main Street but what's important is to bring the community together. We're going to have Riverfront Commons and we need to do a good job promoting that and making the whole community comfortable in using that and to make it our gather spot and a place where people can go play, and all the fun stuff we need to be doing."

Joe Neary, who is serving his first term, emphasized Main Street improvements. Following the recent resignation of current Main Street manager Tina Neyer, Dayton will be looking for its third such director in less than a year. "I will work with the administration to make sure there are replacement plans in place so that there is a smooth transition in place," said Neary, who has been an active member of the Main Street board. "We have achieved some good results even while doing this part-time. What we need are, more ambassadors for the city. I believe the Main Street board can be the most productive citizen catalyst for economic development.

"Council needs to revise the Main Street ordinance to expand the role to include economic development throughout the city."

Neary called for the hiring of "another go-getter" to replace Neyer.

His question was about increasing recycling in Dayton, which reports a 4 percent participation rate. "I think it's a problem. Our kids tell us it's a problem," Neary said, referencing the author's question. "I tried to get recycling included in the new trash contract. I think we need to start with a voluntary recycling program. Kids will make their parents recycle. Our kids, in this respect, are a lot smarter than us."

The new trash contract is good for five years, he said, but recycling can be increased in the community in the meantime.

Jeff Haas, who missed a spot on council in 2014 when he finished in seventh place by just six votes, moved to Dayton five years ago. To learn about the city he now calls home, he and his wife, Layne, visited neighbors' homes, "and talked about the past and what it was like growing up here." 

Haas said the new development is important, and so are those stories from the past. "I think (Dayton) has a bright future and a very special past to it, too." 

"I came up a few votes short last time I ran but it got me really involved in the community and Layne and I feel like we've become a part of that community," he said. Haas was appointed to the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Board and works in commercial restaurant supply. In that industry, he said, he deals with a lot of different personalities and situations. "I'm involved as working with a team and what we do is identify the problem and we come up with a solution and we execute it." He believes the same skill would translate well to city council.

Haas received a question about how to bring new business to the city, other than by using the Commercial Community Advantage Program (CCAP). He said the city has to follow up on the successes from the CCAP program and to use funds to promote other assets that the city has, too.

Denny Lynn is finishing his first term on the city council. He has lived in Dayton for more than fifty years and served as chief of the Dayton Fire Department and the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Department. He has been married for 39 years and all his kids went to Dayton High School.

He noted that the city came in under budget this year and that he is chair of council's finance committee. "The past 22 months have been really great to work with the group we have presently," Lynn said. "We have been able to start the CCAP program to bring business into the central business district. In the police department we got some new cruisers and body cams.

"Yes, businesses are starting to come in but the main thing about the business is, I want to see business come in and clean up that avenue and make those buildings more presentable, so when you come into Dayton you see something really nice."

Lynn complimented the city's increased code enforcement efforts and said there needs to be an increased focus on residents who live south of the new riverfront development. "We have a lot of construction going on on the north side of the flood wall and the south side of the flood wall. This we can't forget are the people on the south side of the flood wall."

Lynn noted his opposition to moving a park. "I think we got robbed," he said, saying the new park would be much smaller. "We can't keep losing the parks for our kids." He also questioned the plans for a new city building which were expected to be part of the first phase of the Manhattan Harbour development, but has been pushed back. The city has been holding its meetings at the Board of Education. "I think we need a place to call home."

Lynn's question was related to fighting the heroin crisis. "It's not just a city problem, it's a national problem," he said. "We need to get our legislators involved in this. We as a city, I don't think, can handle that on our own because we are small and it does take a lot of money."

Bill Burns is seeking another term on council and has lived in Dayton for more than 60 years. He was married 46 years ago at the First Presbyterian Church, which he still attends. His son went to Dayton High and so did his grandchildren. "I have a vested interest in this town," he said.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force - where he received a commendation medal - he began a 38-year career with Cincinnati Gas & Electric. And he also began volunteering in Dayton. "When I came home to this town, I sought out some old-timers," he said, naming some of his mentors. "I am an original member of the Dayton Civic League, which I am proud to say came back. He served on the Dayton housing board, the neighborhood council, and Dayton youth services. "One of the things I'm most proud of in the last ten years is, we started a scholarship program for Dayton High School students."

Burns called for continued support for the CCAP and for more aggressive marketing of the city's industrial park. "We must put business down in the industrial park where will get payroll tax. That's how we grow," he said.
 
His question was about the city's relationship with the school district and how it can help keep the schools moving in a positive direction. "I will continue to do everything I can for every student down here," he said.
 
Ben Baker was the top vote-getter in 2014, his first time running for office. He is seeking his second term. "When I moved to Dayton seven years ago, I found my dream home on the Avenue, and felt part of the community," he said. Baker joined the Main Street Board and the civic club. He was appointed to the city's planning and zoning committee. "Dayton was hopping and I got to hop with it," he said.
 
He said he wore out a pair of shoes campaigning in 2014 and talking issues with voters. "Earning a seat in 2014 was one of the biggest joys of my life and it has been an honor to represent you," he said.
 
"We have seen great change in our city with many diverse events - Homefest, Dayton Kite Fest, Beyond the Curb," he said.Baker sits on the economic development and personnel boards at the city building, and the Bellevue-Dayton Fire Board. He said he campaigned originally on a plan to bring a renaissance to the central business district. 
 
"I immediately came to city staff and the Main Street board to come up with a tool set to bring and market Main Street. I went door to door to ask business owners about the CCAP program," Baker said. "It has been nothing short of a huge success. We are rebuilding our historic storefronts and telling (people), Dayton's Main Street is once again open for business."
 
Baker also noted that council did not raise property taxes "for the first time in many years".
 
His question was about the biggest issue facing Dayton, to which Baker replied, increasing the property values. "The more property value we have, the more tax dollars we have for our schools," he said.
 
Incumbent Jerry Gifford said the city should remember its past. "I believe you never lose the heritage," he said. "I believe you should look into the past because we built this city.
 
"I think you should move forward but not at the expense of your heritage."
 
Gifford lamented the move of the park. "It always seems like we have to give up our life for the business going in and I don't see that much being offered by them," he said.
 
He complimented the CCAP and that he would like to be returned to council for a sixth term.
 
Gifford's question was about how to keep the community informed about issues facing Dayton. "I think we need to do a better job on our website. We've been through so many people that quite frankly, it's hard to keep up with right now," he said.
 
Bret Neuspickle is making his first run for office and has lived in Dayton for over six years and his children attend the public schools. He has more than 20 years experience in business support, he said. Neuspickle serves on the Main Street board and is a member of NKY Hates Heroin.
 
"I'm an ambassador for Dayton," he said.
 
He called for more transparency, better information, and improved lines of communication at the city building.
 
"While growth continues to trend in all the River Cities, I feel like Dayton is left behind and that bothers me," he said. "I feel like CCAP has been a big plus and we've got a lot of boosts in new media, but from that boost, I don't feel like we've carried the momentum forward to remind people that CCAP is still going on and that we are still that up and coming city.
 
"At the same time, while we progress forward, I would caution us not to forget about the business and organizations that already have roots here. I think we can do something to help them out as well," he said.
 
"I think our greatest possibility is what is going on in our schools right now. We need to form a partnership with them."
 
Jeff Volter has served as chairman of Dayton's planning & zoning committee and has been elected to the Board of Education, and served on the YMCA board. His career in education - as a teacher and principal in Dayton, and now as a consultant in Covington - has spanned twenty years. "My experiences and ability to connect with people and desire to improve our city make me a strong candidate," he said.
 
His number-one priority? "To effectively market, promote, and brand our city." He called for a standing committee at the city building to focus on such an initiative. "It needs collaboration and to work hand in hand with the Main Street board, and to become a think tank for economic development ideas and strategies," he said.
 
Volter said the city's website should be professionalized and feature the city's diverse housing stock and free ads for local businesses. 
 
"Everybody knows we have a riverfront project going on," he said. "I would like to become part of a city government team at quarterly meetings with the developers and the marina to discuss and document the state of progress. We must partner with the developers of our riverfront."
 
Volter also called for increased blight remedies and incentives for home buyers. His question was related to vacant and abandoned properties. "I believe we need to find a way to have people purchase these foreclosed or bank-owned properties, to buy them or put them up for resale," he said. "We want families in those homes. We don't want anymore rental property."

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher