Republican primary candidates seeking to become Franklin County’s next Second District commissioner for the most part agree that their priorities for the county center on it successfully managing its finances.
Five men are vying for the position being vacated by Democrat Ann Schroeder, who decided to not seek re-election and instead is running for a seat as a state representative in the 109th District. The five GOP candidates are Ted Diez, 43, of Union, Mark Falloon, 56, of Sullivan, Jerry Landing, 78, of Sullivan, Michael Schatz, 53, of Sullivan and Gary Young, 45, of Union.
The winner of the Aug. 7 primary will face Democrat Teresa Connelly, who is running unopposed, in the November general election.
When asked what priorities are for the county during the next couple of years, all five candidates mentioned the economy and/or being fiscally responsible.
“I want to make a stand for sound budgeting within our county government. This means keeping our expenditures less than our income and not going into debt,” said Diez, who works nuclear security for the Callaway Nuclear Energy Center. “The first priority for our county is managing the county’s debt situation. Resources that are being used currently and in the future to pay principal and interest on this debt can be put to better use once we eliminate that debt.”
Falloon, who owns New Rock Countertops, agreed.
“(Priorities are) financial management and a balanced budget,” he said. “Establishing priorities to implement the budget requires identifying goals and objectives and then making the difficult choices in prioritizing those needs.”
Schatz, a lieutenant with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, also mentioned the county’s debt.
“First and foremost is managing Franklin County’s debt,” he said about priorities. “I have never seen the county amass such long-term debt.”
Young, a production engineer at University Medical Resources Inc., mentioned three priorities all related to fiscal responsibility.
“(The county’s priorities are) getting the fiscal issues in check and staying on task with the budget, enhancing current economic development to create jobs and grow local businesses (and) making good use of all our local dollars using sound judgment and conservative-minded values.”
Landing, who is a farmer and contractor, said the county’s priority should be “jobs, the shrinking economy and the rising cost to taxpayers.”
And how would the five candidates implement their financial priorities for the county?
“Managing our county’s debt requires attention in several areas,” Diez said. “First, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Our county should not borrow any more money. Second, the commission needs to regularly evaluate its options on refinancing and on early payment of the loan’s principal. Third, we need to keep enough margin in the budget to make funds available for those early payments.”
Falloon said that a budget never will contain all the revenues and expenditures desired, “so efforts are needed to insure that expenditures do not exceed revenues in operation and maintenance activities.
“Capital projects such as upgrading county roads from gravel to a hard surface should be completed based upon annual revenues. Borrowing money should be done sparingly and infrequently. Establishing priorities to implement the budget requires identifying goals and objectives and then making the difficult choices in prioritizing those needs.”
Landing said that “we need to get a better handle on spending and try to make it easier for the small business owners to participate in the bidding process for the county.”
Schatz mentioned seeking options.
“Regarding the debt, the next county commission should explore all options that are available and not focus on one or two options,” he said. “Refinancing will continue to be an issue for the commission and one that will prove a challenge for them in this struggling economy. If elected, I will explore any viable option to decrease our current indebtedness.”
Young also mentioned looking into options.
“I would work with other leaders and listen and review all the options available to make the best decision for the betterment of Franklin County,” he said.
The five candidates also weighed in on other issues.
•What should county residents expect from their government and leadership?
Diez: “Our residents should expect and deserve leadership that is responsible enough to remember that the county’s resources are the people’s resources. These resources are to be spent conservatively and never for projects that are for building one’s own legacy.”
Falloon: “Government and leadership need to be responsive to the needs of residents. That is the sole purpose of local government and should be accomplished in a timely and the most efficient manner possible. Leadership must remain focused on the core principle that is for the benefit of the residents for which all efforts are undertaken.”
Landing: “A fair and honest conservative county.”
Schatz: “Good stewardship, after all you work for the best interest of the people. When it comes to county finance, I’ve heard it said ‘You should run it like your own business.’ I agree to a point. If you mean fair and honest, then absolutely. The fact remains that you’re dealing with the money of others, tax dollars to be exact. The people who voted you into office expect you to make sound decisions since they placed their trust in you. I don’t think they expect perfection, just common sense.”
Young: “Local government leadership should be accessible. Leaders need to understand the challenges and opportunities from the perspective of citizens at all economic levels and all areas of Franklin County. Those leaders need to use this input and simple common sense to guide their decisions.”
•How important is it for all individuals and arms of county government to work together, including the three commissioners?
Diez: “While it is important for each branch of the county government to work together, we should not forget we are separate branches for a reason. They are to serve as checks and balances to each other. The same can be said for the individual members of the commission. Had our county’s framers expected total agreement, they would have not set up a system of three commissioners, but rather a single executive and no council. We do not always have to agree, but we should always strive for what is best for the people of Franklin County.”
Falloon: “It is essential that officials work together. The commissioners do not have to agree on everything but they must work together to be effective and to be worthy of holding that position of trust.”
Landing: “It’s very important because to have unity, all arms of government have to work together for the taxpayers of the county.”
Schatz: “It’s extremely important. Franklin County must have the right combination of first, second and presiding commissioners to get anything done. A commissioner must listen to the concerns of the county residents and be receptive to those concerns. Likewise, individuals must realize that the commission serves the entire county and should not be offended when decisions are made in the best interest of the county. They must remember that some decisions made may not be a reflection of the commissioners’ personal viewpoint but nonetheless are in the best interest of county government.”
Young: “Communication, respect and the willingness to listen to opposing points of view are critical to the success of any organizational leadership, and especially in government.”
•How would you ensure that Second District communities would get included in county decisions at all levels?
Diez: “I would ensure that communities in the Second District would be included in county decisions at all levels by getting the necessary information to their local newspapers, city governments, civic groups and any other outlets that I could find. I would keep them informed on upcoming public meetings and also let them know that I am available to speak with the residents of the Second District during regular business hours. If those hours do not work for those individuals, they are welcome to call me. I would also welcome invitations from organizations within the Second District to address their concerns.”
Falloon: “One of my stated priorities is intergovernmental cooperation. Efforts to include communities in the decision-making process is part of that priority. Having worked with communities for 24 years, I believe this is a doable effort and can be accomplished with emails, coordinating meetings and personal visits.”
Landing: “I am very hands-on and very determined to be accountable to the taxpayers of Franklin County. I always look for the facts and feel like I can bring my ideas to the table and support them.”
Schatz: “As Second District commissioner, I will listen and communicate with those who have elected me their representative. I welcome their perspective on issues in Franklin County. I may not always agree with someone on a particular issue but I will strive to do what’s best for Franklin County. As a rural resident of Franklin County also, I do not want anyone to feel left out.”
Young: “Through involvement with every community at some level on a continuous basis such as chambers of commerce meetings and activities, having town hall discussions and/or local radio programs for question-and-answer sessions, working diligently to ensure open avenues of two-way communication so that citizens can communicate with the commission and seeking out experts from each area to provide input on major decisions and learn how it will most positively or most negatively affect that community.”
•What are your personal strengths?
Diez: “The biggest personal strengths that I bring to the commission are my commitment to the issues and that I have lived in many different areas of the county both in and out of town in the areas of Gerald, Union and Washington.”
Falloon: “Ability to listen, understand and absorb the comments of others, formulate an action plan and stay focused on the plan during implementation. (And) less talk and more action.”
Landing: “I have been in business in Franklin County for over 40 years. I use a commonsense approach to solve problems, and I get along with people and will listen to their concerns.”
Schatz: “I have a great deal of compassion for others and have always strived to work for the betterment of Franklin County and its citizens. I serve in leadership roles both at work and through other affiliations such as Spring Bluff school board and Franklin County Crisis Intervention Team and feel these two traits will serve me well as commissioner.”
Young: “My decision-making involves listening first. Without understanding various perspectives, how can someone accurately represent others? I’ve also proven that I can see things through to resolution, no matter how long it takes. I enjoy talking to people and welcome those opportunities.”