Three Tuscarawas County residents are running in the Nov. 6 general election for an open seat on the board of commissioners.
Seeking the post are Lawrence Township Trustee Don Ackerman of Bolivar, an independent; State Rep. Al Landis, R-Dover; and Democrat Sharon Buckley-Mirhaidari, a Dover attorney. They would be replacing Commissioner Kerry Metzger of New Philadelphia, who chose not to seek reelection this year.
All three have vowed to be a full-time commissioner if elected.
Ackerman believes that he should be elected because he views himself as closer to the people.
"I have a pretty good relationship all over the county with the townships," he said. "Although Dover and New Philadelphia are important to Tuscarawas County, I feel like the outer edges get neglected. They need representation all over the county and not just Dover and New Philadelphia."
As a trustee and president of the county's township trustee association, his big focus is on roads. He supports more funding for the county engineer's office.
"(Engineer Joe Bachman) does well with the money that he has, and I always tell people, Joe Bachman is very frugal with his money," Ackerman said.
Another important issue facing the county is the opiate epidemic, he said.
"I think that anybody in the public sector should be drug-tested, whether it's commissioner, state representatives or superintendents of schools," he said. "You go all through school and be taught by teachers who are not drug-tested. You could be arrested by a sheriff's deputy who's not drug-tested. Judges aren't drug-tested, commissioners aren't drug-tested."
He said the problem with drugs isn't being solved and a different direction is needed.
Ackerman doesn't support state Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would convert low-level drug use and possession felonies to misdemeanors carrying no prison time and devote state savings to drug treatment.
"I think the quickest way to fix it is family values and people going to church and acting as a family," he said.
He also favors restoring Local Government Funds to cities, counties and townships that were cut by the state.
Ackerman noted that poorer townships in the county, such as Perry, Bucks and Washington, are struggling because of the cuts.
"Township government by far is the most cost-efficient government," he said.
Ackerman works for his family construction company, Ackerman Construction.
Landis, who has served eight years in the Ohio General Assembly, says that his experience in both the private sector and the public sector would make him a good commissioner.
He worked 33 years in the steel industry at Greer Steel in Dover, where his goal was keeping people employed. As a legislator, he has been involved in handling state finances.
Landis views the addiction crisis as one of the worst challenges facing Ohio and Tuscarawas County. As a commissioner, he would focus on prevention, work with the sheriff's office on enforcement of drug laws and lobby the state to work with officials on the local level.
As a lawmaker, he started the "Got Your Back" Ohio Drug-Free Initiative and brought Attorney General Mike DeWine and his heroin task force to New Philadelphia.
He opposes Issue 1. "There are so many things wrong with that," he said.
When laws are enacted by the Legislature, a lot of vetting takes place. If there are unintended consequences in the law, they can be corrected. But it is difficult to make changes to a constitutional amendment.
He also said Issue 1 takes judges out of the picture by restricting what sentences they can hand down.
In the case of the loss of Local Government Funds, he explained why that decision was made in Columbus. State officials were looking at an $8 billion budget deficit at that time.
"There were some decisions that had to be made," Landis said. "It wasn't just local government. There were cuts across the board, and they weren't easy."
He noted that even with the cuts, no townships or counties have filed for bankruptcy.
Landis said he would continue to have a good working relationship with Columbus, which would benefit the people of Tuscarawas County.
He would like to see more manufacturing in the county. He said he would work with companies that are already in Tuscarawas County to remain here and continue to attract new companies.
Buckley-Mirhaidari noted that she is not a career politician.
"This is something very new to me," she said. "I've been out of my comfort zone, but if the residents of Tuscarawas County vote for me I can assure them that I will listen to them, that everybody's voice will matter and that I do not care what political affiliation they are. If they are Republican, independent or Democrat, I would be their commissioner and I would be concerned about representing all of them, and I would work very hard to make our county the best county that it could be. And I think it already is a pretty good county."
Like the other two candidates, she is concerned about the opiate epidemic.
She said it's important to teach children about the dangers of drug abuse. For those who are already addicted, rehabilitation is the key. Locking people up isn't the answer, she said, based on her years working as a lawyer representing children and families in the Tuscarawas County juvenile court system. Drugs have always been a problem, but now Ohio is seeing much older people who are addicted — parents and grandparents.
If drug use leads someone to commit a crime, law enforcement and the courts have to be tough on those people, she said.
She supports Issue 1. She said it isn't perfect, and there are some things in the amendment that will need to be tweaked in the future.
"I just do know from 30-plus years of experience of working one-on-one with people that just incarcerating people who are abusers doesn't work," she said.
Buckley-Mirhaidari would work to bring Local Government Funds back to Tuscarawas County. Each year, county departments face rising costs and need more money, but there is not enough money to go around.
She also would be supportive of Bachman and the county engineer's office. She said his budget has not increased in many years. But she added, "I know the commissioners' hands are tied somewhat."