By Ryan Berry
GREENVILLE — The May 2 Primary Election is looming with absentee balloting beginning April 4. The deadline to register to vote is April 3. There is only one contested race in the county in this election. Greenville mayoral candidates John Baumgardner and Jeff Whitaker will be going head-to-head to get the Republican nomination to be on the November General Election ballot. Only City of Greenville residents registered as a Republican will be able to vote for this race.
At this point, that election is uncontested, but there is still time for independent or write-in candidates to file.
The Daily Advocate/The Early Bird invited both candidates to share their positions on issues and what direction they would like to see Greenville go. Both hold similar views, but there are a few issues where they differ or place as a higher priority.
Baumgardner has promoted himself as the local candidate in this race, but Whitaker believes because he has lived in other communities, he has been able to see what has been done elsewhere and can bring back to Greenville.
“I’m not downgrading Jeff’s abilities in this,” said Baumgardner. “I think he’s a great competitor. I just think it gives me an advantage. That’s why I put that on the sign.” He explained that because he grew up in Greenville and because of the businesses he has been a part of over the years, he estimated that he has been in 99 percent of the businesses in Greenville. Baumgardner said he knows the businesses, as well as the “shakers and mover and how to get things done.”
Whitaker countered, “Rather than have a conversation about whose lived here the longest, I want to say I’ve been very visible in the community – taking part in ribbon cutting ceremonies through Main Street Greenville, been very active with events held by the Darke County Chamber, political events, which to me is a strong advantage because I have created many friendships and contacts and know who to talk to regarding getting things done for the city of Greenville.” Whitaker said he has seen many different things in the places he lives and some of those ideas could be of benefit to the downtown area. He also believes his work in government in the administration area is a benefit to Greenville residents.
“I can’t remember a time where Jeff and I had different opinions on a vote on council. We’re both very conservative Republicans. We both want to see this city proceed ahead. I just feel with me being local and all of those contacts that I know…being here my whole life and knowing what the city looked like in the 70s, 80s and 90s… because we need to go back to some of that pride and etcetera,” said Baumgardner.
Both candidates were asked what they would do to overcome the reputation Greenville has as a place where it is hard to do business. Whitaker said, “I don’t know what it’s been in the past. But all I’ve seen is the attitude of our city council is that we want to bring as much to Greenville as possible. That may not have been true in the past. I don’t know, I wasn’t here. But all I know is that my attitude toward it is I want to bring as much business to Greenville and make it as easy as possible for them to do business in Greenville and provide an atmosphere for them to feel welcome.”
Baumgardner shared, “This is probably one of the biggest reasons I’m running for mayor, economic development. It is so hard to do business in Greenville, Darke County.” He shared a couple of stories where individuals gave up because of all the requirements through the health department and other offices and agencies. “Entrepreneurship, if it’s not dead, its dying,” he said. Baumgardner added, “We’ve got to make it easier to do business. I know Jeff is on the same wavelength with me; I’ve just got some experience on doing it. It’s so aggravating.” He explained that half the jobs in Darke County and Greenville are small businesses.
Baumgardner said he wants to form a committee of small businesspeople to list out the obstacles and then go back to the county and the health department and develop a plan to make it easier.
Whitaker and Baumgardner agreed they are on the same page when it comes to the affordable senior housing proposed off of State Route 121. “We’ve got to make most of the land we have in this area and prepare for the future. I’m making a simplistic statement, if we concentrate on nothing but bringing in low-income senior housing where does fit, land use wise, to develop affordable housing for workforce people that are in their 20s and 30s?” He said it’s a very difficult situation to address. “We do have low-income housing here. How much more do we need opposed to thinking about the future and developing housing for workforce people.” Whitaker also called for executive level housing. “If we cater only to seniors. We die off as a community and I don’t think anyone wants that.”
Baumgardner added, “Jeff and I are 100 percent on the same page on the project.” He reaffirmed his belief this project would take good tenants from the current landlords. “To find a good renter is next to impossible,” he said.
Baumgardner said he found 42 empty lots while driving around the city. All of those lots already have infrastructure available. “We can’t keep growing our city outward and emptying out our inner city. We have to pay attention to our older stock.” He called for incentivizing building on the empty lots and said he would like to see tax credits offered.
When asked if some of the responsibility rests on the landlords to make sure their properties are fit for renters, Baumgardner went a different direction with his answers. He called for a part-time zoning enforcement officer. He wants to see an officer go around the city looking for trash violations and junk cars to address those issues. He wants the city to be able to treat the violators with respect and work with them when they can to get the issue cleaned up. He estimated that 90 percent of the problems would be rectified quickly if an officer knocked on the door.
Although he is not for required inspections for rental units, he is not opposed to inspecting trailer courts. “We’ve got to get that addressed,” he said.
Whitaker did not rule out a rental registry program and inspections. He said there are a lot of landlords that don’t live in the community and there needs to be inspections, “when called for.” He stressed that not all need inspections, except for when they become necessary. “You’ve got to stay on top of these,” he said.
Both seemed to be in agreement when it comes to homelessness in the city. Whitaker and Baumgardner agreed there is an abundance of programs available to individuals in the city and county. “The problem with homelessness is it is tied directly, in my estimation, to drug abuse and to those not willing to get help for their drug abuse. The answer to that question, how to deal with that, I don’t know what you do,” Whitaker said. “Those that are living under the bridge, I don’t know, I would think they’ve hit bottom. I don’t know, I can’t judge that person. I can judge their unwillingness to seek help for themselves.” He stressed, “I will say it again, the homelessness problem in the city has a direct tie to drug abuse because those are the people that don’t want to play by the rules and keep doing what they want to do and just shoot up as opposed to getting help.”
Baumgardner recalled a meeting that had many of the organizations that deal with some of these issues. He said there were approximately 45 individuals there representing numerous agencies, including probation, county and local law enforcement, Community Action Partnership, Catholic Social Services and more. He said he was amazed by the help that is available.
He recalled hearing a proposal from the probation department and the requirement that those that are homeless on probation get clean so they can go into a housing program. “They have to complete A-B-C before they can check into housing,” he said. “I think it needs to be part of their probation and we need to hold them accountable. Jeff is spot on. We don’t have a homeless problem we have a drug problem.” Baumgardner suggested using the resource officers and teaming up with the schools and the Elks who have a free drug prevention program. He also said the city needs to work with the county’s judges, prosecutors and probation department to find something that will work.
The entire video can be seen on the Daily Advocate/The Early Bird Facebook page or on its You Tube channel.
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected]