NORTON – The 2013 election is a big contest here, with several challenges for all four ward seats.
In Ward 1, Wadsworth Road resident Rick Rodgers is facing off against former city service director Ted Weinsheimer.
Rodgers, 67, has lived in Norton for 31 years, raising six children who gave him 14 grandchildren. He graduated Buchtel High School in Akron in 1964 and earned certification as a firefighter, EMT and paramedic. He retired from the Akron Fire Department after 25 years as a lieutenant and owned Rodgers Home Improvements for 35.
“I am running for council to try to repair the damage caused by the current administration over the hotly debated sewer issue,” Rodgers said. “Eight out of 10 people that I speak with while campaigning either do not trust the current administration, think they are corrupt or at best, incompetent. I hope to change that impression by keeping residents’ rights first while working for a measured growth for our city. We must find ways to fund our necessary infrastructure needs without increasing the financial burden of our residents. We need to bring in new business to help shore up our tax base by focusing on the most obvious areas of our city to develop. The current administration’s plan to force the installation of sewers where there are perfectly good septic systems in place at a time when residents are struggling with a difficult economy is simply out of touch with reality and shows a total lack of regard for their constituents.”
Rodgers outlines three top priorities if he’s elected:
• Sewer Issue – “This is currently the most divisive issue our city faces,” Rodgers said. “With falling wages and decreased home values, saddling homeowners with high-dollar assessments is irresponsible. Thorough research, into existing external grants and funding that will offset or totally relieve the cost must be a top priority. The current administration has not been diligent in seeking out these available resources.”
• Infrastructure – “Norton roads are in sad shape,” Rodgers said. “We were advised by the current administration that there wasn’t a road program in 2012 because the planning was ‘not done in a timely manner.’ The 2013 road program’s budget isn’t sufficient to cover the needs of the current year, let alone what didn’t get done in 2012. Norton’s Service Department is operating at 50 percent capacity. Additional people should be hired to provide the needed services; services which have already been paid for by the residents and are long overdue.”
• Fiscal Responsibility – “Elected officials have a legal and moral responsibility as they manage the tax dollars of their constituents,” Rodgers said. “Each and every expenditure needs to be necessary and cost-effective.”
Rodgers outlined why he believes he is a better choice than Weinsheimer.
“The biggest obstacle between the current Norton administration and the residents is trust,” Rodgers said. “My opponent has very recently left his position as Norton service director to work in another community. That is a good thing. We need new visions and new ideas to responsibly and accurately address the many problems facing our city. Through my varied work experiences, I have developed the ability to bring people together to work on issues, a skill which is needed more than ever in Norton. When I am elected, I will listen and be responsive to the wishes and concerns of the people. I can and will earn the trust of the people through appropriate assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation in every situation.”
Weinsheimer has been married to his wife, Lisa, for 28 years. They have two children. He was hired on as Norton’s service director after 21 years in private industry and spent 11 years on the job before moving to Springfield, where he serves as road superintendent.
“I want to continue some things that began during my tenure over five different administrations,” Weinsheimer said.
Weinsheimer believes his experience with the city administration would be an asset to council.
“I have a working knowledge of the needs of the city,” Weinsheimer said. “It’s a big pie and we need to look at it as a whole. So many people outside come in with an agenda.”
He said he wants to continue to support and collaborate with the school system.
“Good schools make a good community,” Weinsheimer said.
He supports the administration’s efforts to install sewers and to buy the county lines in the city.
“I support the growth of new and continued expansion of sanitary sewers,” Weinsheimer said. “We need to control how that expansion takes place.”
In Ward 2, Shellhart Road resident Steven Fannin vies with incumbent Council President Don Nicolard and Nicolard’s Brookfield Drive neighbor, Danny Grether.
“I’m a local attorney and a young family man who’s lived here for five years,” Fannin said. “I’m something new and different for the city.”
He said he’s running because he doesn’t believe Nicolard is properly representing the ward.
“I think over the years, everything he’s wanted to do he’s had a chance to do,” Fannin said.
He said he wants to look for new solutions to the city’s infrastructure problems, including sewer.
“I want to seek new solutions through the county and more regional solutions,” Fannin said.
Widely attributed as the author of failed Issue 1, Fannin said he was not and that he actually disagrees with that approach.
“I don’t think the right way is a charter amendment,” Fannin said. “I don’t necessarily agree with the amendment but I agree with the principle. We’ve got to work with the county, not buy their sewer pipes or kick the problem down the road.”
He promises to take a “head-on” approach to the city’s problems.
“We’ve been letting them go on too long,” Fannin said. “We need to address the issues we have, not continue to kick them down the road.”
He also promised to listen to the constituents of his ward and let them have a say in seeking solutions.
Fannin thinks he’s the best choice, despite Nicolard being a longtime councilman serving in two different decades and Grether being a board and commission member for several years.
“They’ve been in office how long and they haven’t fixed it yet?” he asked.
Grether is a lifelong Norton-area resident, married with one daughter.
“I want the community to grow and prosper,” Grether said.
He styles himself as a conciliator open to multiple opinions.
“I like to hear both sides of an opinion, listen and to the right thing,” Grether said.
He says he has two decades of experience in business, which he will bring to bear on the city’s challenges.
“My major goals are planned economic development,” Grether said. “We lack economic growth and we don’t really have an industrial growth area.”
He said he wants to work with the community and “get their vision.”
While he sees sanitary sewer as a necessity, he thinks the city has gone about it the wrong way.
“Their approach has been ‘You’re gonna get it and you’re gonna like it!’” Grether said.
He proposes to use his business management degree and conflict management skills to reach an equitable solution to the sewer problem.
Nicolard, a 53-year resident of Norton, Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, city council veteran, businessman and property owner, said he’s running again because he’s “not quite through.”
“I want to see a comprehensive sewer plan in place and installed before I leave office,” Nicolard said.
He said his experience both on council and on assorted boards and commissions is what sets him apart from his opponents. Grether, he said, lacks the experience and Fannin “does not represent the values and principles of the Second Ward.”
“They voted down (Issue 1) immeasurably on Aug. 6,” Nicolard said.
He added that he feels he owes Norton something.
“When I was 15, I had just completed my freshman year at Central High School in Akron,” Nicolard said. “I was a rebel and cigarette-smoking juvenile delinquent. My parents moved us here. Norton probably saved my life. I want to give something back.”
In the Third Ward, incumbent Bill Mowery faces off against former mayor and councilman Joe Kernan and citizen-activist Dennis Pierson.
“I’m basically a meat-and-potatoes, working class guy,” Mowery, of Pleasant Drive, said. “I’m a straight arrow, an ‘Average Bill.’”
Mowery, on council since 1999, said Norton and its people are his “heart and soul” and he wants to preserve its historic, small-town identity.
“It’s a great place to live,” Mowery said. “We have the best of both worlds.”
He said he wants to keep the city moving forward but not the way the administration has been doing it.
“We need to do this in an affordable manner that the citizens can count on,” he said. “The people need to be able to enjoy what they have and what they’ve worked for.”
Mowery said he supports a common sense approach to life.
“You hear people say they want to push the envelope,” Mowery said. “I say don’t overstuff the envelope.”
Kernan is an attorney at the Summit County Juvenile Court who just married in May and is seeking a return to office after a break of about seven years. Now a resident of Glenbrook Drive, he had previously served on council, acting several years as president, and as Norton’s mayor.
“Norton still has a lot of the same issues it’s had for 30, 40, 50 years,” Kernan said. “When I was in office before, we started making progress. Over the last few years, some of that has evaporated. I want to get back on council to facilitate that progress again.”
He said he absolutely supports extending the sewers and that with the EPA order, they are going to happen no matter what.
“The sewers are going to happen,” Kernan said. “They need to happen. But we need to take a little more time to find out how to help the residents pay for it.”
He also said the roads would be a priority.
“The roads are in terrible shape,” Kernan said. “We need to have a plan, not be reactive.”
Dennis Pierson, of Easton Road, a frequent critic of council from the rail, had run before for one of the at-large seats. He is a lifelong resident of the city and a 1978 graduate of Norton High School.
He has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University and is self-employed as a manufacturers’ representative, selling safety service equipment to various communities. Before that, he spent 20 years as a driver for the F.W. Albrecht Co., owner of the Acme stores.
“I’ve been a lifelong resident of this city and believe I understand why people enjoy this community,” Pierson said. “And that is the tradition of Norton’s local government, to take care of the basics while leaving the residents to enjoy the space and atmosphere this community affords us.”
He said he would offer the residents a voice from their point of view, not the administration’s.
“I will be prepared and informed to conduct the city’s business,” Pierson said. “I have extensive experience in the municipal business process and have visited over 800 towns in Ohio, from small townships to large municipalities. My opponents lack this experience.”
He said he would offer a more open approach with prudent spending.
“I will not place any additional financial burden on my fellow residents, which is a troubling trend by the current elected officials,” Pierson said.
He said he is running because the current council is “mostly dismissive” of the city charter and the residents.
“This was evident in how this council allowed three ballot issues passed by the residents to be manipulated by this administration,” Pierson said. “This is not right.”
He said the charter calls for the council to work for the residents and oversee the administration.
“Currently the reverse is occurring,” Pierson said. “This is one trend I will fight to reverse and restore integrity in the application of Norton’s charter. I care about this community and the residents and feel I can better represent the individual than my opponents’ past records.”
In Ward 4, council veteran John Conklin, of Bliss Drive, faces off against Paul Tousley of Garret Drive. Conklin was appointed last year to fill the unexpired term of Ken Braman, who resigned during summer recess last year. Tousley had been favored for the seat by several vocal residents who frequent the council gallery.
Tousley is the father of six and moved with his family to Norton 10 years ago.
“I fell in love with the community,” Tousley said. “I decided to get involved.”
He said he decided to run for office because as he attended council meetings he became upset with what he perceived as a lack of care for the citizens and their wishes from the elected officials.
“I decided to get involved and I met with other good people, citizens and cared more and more about the issues,” Tousley said. “The decision was either to leave Norton or make a difference.”
He said his first plan is to slow down the sewer project as much as possible.
“We need to look at alternatives and find out what the people want and what they can afford,” Tousley said.
He added that a major goal would be to try and improve the relationship between the city officials and the people they serve.
“I have no illusions that that will be easy,” Tousley said. “The biggest thing is to bring the government back into the hands of the people and bring a servant role to the representative of Ward 4.”
He said he wants to actually represent the people of the ward.
“My opponent said he was appointed to represent the city,” Tousley said. “I will be elected to represent the citizens to the city.”
On the sewer issue, he is skeptical that buying the county system is a good idea.
“They said they want to keep the money in Norton,” Tousley said. “But Norton’s fees will be double what Norton would pay to Summit County.”
Conklin is proud to be a lifetime resident of Norton, attending Sherman School and graduating Norton High in 1975.
“I went to art school in Pittsburgh and then lived in Akron briefly before returning to Norton and building a home not far from my parents,” Conklin said.
Conklin works for the Norton City Schools in shipping and receiving and also drives a school bus. He’s active at Johnson United Methodist Church and several organizations, including the Boy Scouts. He has served on many boards and commissions in the city and was on council previously, serving a time as council president.
“I think my ability to think outside the box is what sets me apart from my opponent,” Conklin said. “My opponent thinks that we can ignore the EPA. The (sewer) problem exists and it needs to be dealt with.”