GREENVILLE — The public got an opportunity to hear from three GOP candidates seeking a seat on the Darke County Board of Commissioners during a League of Women Voters “Candidates Night” held Monday.
Matt Aultman, Fred Dean and Joe LeMaster are hoping to be the Republican nominee for the position, currently held by Commissioner Diane Delaplane, who is not running for reelection November 8.
Ohio’s primary election is March 15.
The event, staged at the American Legion Hall in Greenville by the Darke County chapter of the League of Women Voters, gave voters the opportunity to hear from other candidates, both those running uncontested and those campaigning in contested races.
Incumbent candidates running uncontested for county offices include Prosecutor Kelly Ormsby, Auditor Cindy Pike, Commissioner Mike Rhoades, Sheriff Toby Spencer, and Treasurer Scott Zumbrink.
Also there was Greenville City Councilman Leon Rogers, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Darke County Commission, and will face off against Aultman, Dean or LeMaster in the general election.
Others in attendance who introduced themselves to voters included candidates for the open 8th District U.S. House seat. These were Ohio Sen. Bill Beagle, Warren Davidson, Scott George, Eric Haemmerle, Edward Meer, John Robbins, Jim Spurlino, Kevin White, J.D. Winteregg and George Wooley. Cindy Pike read a statement on behalf of State Rep. Tim Derickson, who was not able to attend.
Matt Huffman, seeking Ohio’s 12th District Senate seat, also spoke briefly on behalf of his campaign.
The three commission hopefuls were asked questions submitted by the audience. Each was given one minute to respond, and 30 seconds for rebuttals. The questions posed involved topics of a local nature which they would likely need to address if elected as a commissioner.
When asked how they felt regarding the sale of the county’s farm properties south of Greenville, Dean and LeMaster expressed general agreement with the current board’s decision to sell.
Aultman responded, however, with what he termed “a resounding ‘No.’”
“We should have not sold our farm ground,” he said. “There’s plenty of land to develop in Darke County. Why did it have to be our Darke County farm?”
“It goes back to management. There’s plenty of things you can do agriculturally to turn a profit,” he added.
LeMaster rebutted, saying, “Just because we’ve done something the same way for a hundred years doesn’t mean we should continue down that path.”
“We have to balance budgets. We have to have money to do things. And if that’s the easiest way for the county to benefit, by selling the property, it’s a decision we shouldn’t even be discussing because it wasn’t our decision,” he said.
The three were also questioned regarding a report that the current commission had withheld local funds from county and township roads and bridges for the past 23 years.
When asked if they support the practice, LeMaster responded, “It sounds like a [Darke County Engineer] Jim Surber question,” which induced a burst of laughter from the audience.
“I would say it needs to be looked at,” he said. “It’s easy to say if you don’t have the records in front of you. If you elect me, I will definitely take a look at that when I get into office.”
Aultman agreed, saying, “I’d have to agree with Joe, I’d have to look into that,” and added that it was important for the county roads to be maintained to allow business to expand.
Dean, however, took a different track, saying, “I’ve looked into the budget, I’ve been going over some of it, and in defense of Mr. Surber, I’ve found nothing to indicate that that’s ever happened, to be honest about it. So, if it has, definitely, it shouldn’t be. I believe it should be spent where it’s supposed to be spent.”
The candidates were also asked their opinion to a number of hog farms being planned northwest of Greenville, which has brought a negative response from some local residents.
Saying he had been posed the same question multiple times as president of the Darke County Farm Bureau, Aultman said, “I believe that’s been remedied. Just by talking with people, getting it fixed, I believe that’s the best way to approach that, instead of just building something without having a conversation.”
Dean said, “We’re in farm country. If you want to live out in the country, you have to deal with the farm country. I live out there, had chicken farms behind me, and it’s something you can’t ever do anything with.”
“At the same time, I feel for the people, and I do think, like Matt says, that you’ve got to work with everybody and try to work out a good solution,” he added, noting that he didn’t think it was right for people to sneak in “under the cover of the law.”
LeMaster, though, disagreed, saying, “I would say ‘No,’ because of the water runoff and all of the problems that that incurs.”
“Farming is good, livestock farming is great, but if you have too much urine and waste from the cattle or swine or whatever the animal is, you’re going to find out that it’s going to cause more problems than help,” he added.
The county’s problems dealing with those suffering from heroin addiction was another topic broached during the debate, with all three candidates praising the work of Darke County law enforcement and agreeing that welfare recipients should be tested for drugs to continue receiving benefits.
In response to a question regarding how, as a commissioner, they would deal with a recent shooting incident at a Dayton-area school, the three agreed that there has a been a shift in culture in America, and that children are not being taught respect and responsibility in the home.
When asked what is the number one problem facing Darke County, Aultman responded, “Drugs is one of those things that’s affecting business, it’s also affecting families, it’s something that we need to get back to our roots.”
He added, “Drugs is something that branches out like the limbs on a tree, that touches everyone.”
Dean agreed, saying “Drugs are probably the biggest problem and headache. We got to work with the drugs, we’ve got to work with everybody, the families all the way up, to solve the drug problem — that’s all there is to it. It’s going to get to all of us if we don’t do something with it, and do it pretty quick.”
LeMaster said, “I agree that drugs is a problem, but I think the biggest problem is our finances.”
“We need to get the budget in line,” he said. “Once we get the budget in line, we can start spending more money in the areas that we deem necessary. We’re never going to fix the drug problem because it’s so much deeper and most of it’s coming from out of the county into the county, and if we have patrols that can stop them, because of funding, we can do much better.”