WILMINGTON — Two Republicans — one a write-in, the other the victor of the Republican primary — will face off in the Nov. 3 primary.
John Stanforth ran a home improvement business in Wilmington that he said was very successful, even making the top 500 list for sales volume in the nation in its industry. He continues to run David’s Drive Store and Lock but has mostly left the home improvement work behind.
He still owns the family farm, where his daughter makes the sixth generation to live in the building, and he has volunteered for the city parks and New Life Clinic.
Paul Fear is serving his second term as Wilmington Treasurer.
A Mahoning County native, he has 30 years of experience in banking and was a U.S. Navy lieutenant and aviator who served during Vietnam, where he was in charge of a flight crew.
He said he didn’t want to make the Republican primary a three-way race and, at the same time, wanted to give non-Republican voters an opportunity to vote for a mayor. As a write-in candidate, voters who want to elect Fear will have to physically write his name on the ballot.
Fear believes his administrative, management and financial experience qualifies him to be mayor.
“I have a passion for working with people,” he said. “The citizens of Wilmington deserve somebody who’s got the experience that I have.”
Stanforth said he had more than 35 years’ experience running the many aspects of a small business that once had 22 full-time employees and less than a dozen subcontractors.
“I also saw it as my chance to give back to the community,” he said. “When I was in business, I did not take political stance. … Now that I’m retired, I can take a political stance and be more involved and give back to this town that I so dearly love.”
The goals of office
Stanforth said he wants to continue the work that Lori Kersey Williams, the city’s parks director, has done and “have the best parks system around” as well as keep taxes at current levels and build the city’s tax base to fund services.
He said parks can help catch the eye of travelers, and he wants people to experience that in Wilmington.
“I want to have a safe community,” he said. “And I want to pave the streets and pick up the trash.”
Fear would prioritize safety services, quality of life and balancing the city’s budget.
“I want to have a police department and fire department and EMS squad that’s there in numbers, that’s adequately staffed,” he said.
He said Williams has developed a good system of city parks, and said other quality of life improvements could come from working on city streets, housing and economic development and having continuing dialogue with the county and other entities.
“It’s a more broader scope than the city can handle, but we need to make sure we have jobs for everybody and housing for everybody,” Fear said. “We need to make sure we’re able to handle the needs of all the people.”
What the city can do, he said, is ensure that current and prospective businesses know Wilmington is a business-friendly environment.
Fear said the city’s four enterprise funds – water, waste, sewer and cemetery – have to be self-sufficient.
He said raising water rates handled a short-term problem but won’t raise enough revenue to meet the department’s goals in three to five years, and he’d like to see the wastewater department create an aggressive wastewater improvement plan.
“Under my watch, we’re not going to sell the landfill,” Fear said. “There are other revenue sources we need to look at because we need to look at the next cell. We need to make sure we have enough revenue to continue this landfill.”
The cemetery fund, he said, had enough money and was selling enough plots that it could upgrade enough to remain profitable.
Fear said the city should also look into expanding a juvenile-offender work program.
“You meet with each department,” Fear said. “I have a relationship with all the department heads already. I don’t have the learning that any new person’s going to have.”
Stanforth said he’s met with many of the department’s heads since the May primary and has been impressed with their efficiency.
Stanforth said a few directors – the city’s service director and the human resources director – were nearing retirement and would need new directors.
He said he believed it was necessary to keep taxes low to make Wilmington attractive to businesses, adding that a mayor is a kind of salesman for a city.
“What you want to have is a place that a business wants to develop in, where you’ve got those basic city services that are economical for the business,” Stanforth said. “And where employees want to live.”
Balancing safety and finances
Looking at the city’s general fund budget, one of the city’s biggest expense, as it is in many cities, is public safety.
Stanforth said the police department was appropriately run and promised not to cut funding.
“We’re not going to be cutting police funding,” Stanforth said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Stanforth said that Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand ran such an efficient operation that it impressed Stanforth.
“Duane’s going to make my job easy,” Stanforth said.
Fear said that there are people who can figure out how many lost homes are acceptable compared to how many firefighters a city employees, “but I don’t think the residents want to hear that.”
At the same time, he said, residents probably don’t want to pay for an 80-person police department.
“We need to let the citizens be involved in the process and decide the outcome,” he said. “So if they say that they want more police officers, then we’ll tell them, ‘Yeah, we’ll give you more police officers, but this is the cost.’”
Fear also suggested mixing part-time and full-time firefighters, for instance, to save on costs while providing services but stressed that ultimately, the city needs to find out what residents want.
Leadership and commitment
Fear described his leadership style as one that didn’t micromanage and managed department heads who were, in turn, entrusted to manage their departments. He also said it was important to him to get citizens’ input.
He wants a work environment where people do the things he asks them not because he’s the boss but because they want to succeed.
“I don’t want to supervise their people for them,” he said. “I wouldn’t put them in the job if I didn’t think they could manage it.”
Stanforth described himself as an introvert in an extrovert world, but said he would do what he needs to do.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to gather information,” he said. “I like to have professional people give me their opinions.
As an example, he said most candidates don’t like knocking on doors. He soon found it was like selling home improvement products, only the product is himself.
Stanforth said he wanted to keep up current mayor Randy Riley’s cheerleading for Wilmington, to turn from selling himself to selling the community.
Both Fear and Stanforth said that, as retirees, they would be able to put in the time needed to oversee city operations.
“I’m expecting in the beginning to be there all day, every day,” Stanforth said.
Fear said he can spend as much time as he wants on city business and won’t be tied up by a full-time job elsewhere.
“I’ve been so blessed to live in this community,” Stanforth said. “It’s still the best small town in Ohio. … And I want my great-grandchildren to be able to stay here and prosper.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.