Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth is running for re-election in the May 7 Republican primary election. The News Journal asked both candidates to answer an identical set of questions. Mr. Stanforth provided the following response, which is published verbatim below:
John M. Stanforth
Age: 74, with scars and broken bones to prove it.
Education: Wilmington High School
Family/Wilmington background: I was born on the family farm on Prairie Road. I am married to Nancy (Seyfried), I have two daughters, Tracey Runk and Ann Rodman, a step daughter, Stephanie Hughes, and stepson, Capt. Aaron Seyfried. I have nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Business and/or public experience: I owned and operated a construction/remodeling company for 37 years. I have been the Mayor of Wilmington since January 2016. Among others, a few of my other business and public experience are below:
President, Miami Valley Chapter, National Board of National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)
Member, National Board, NARI
4H Advisor for 30 years
District Chair, Robert E. Hadley District, Boy Scouts of America
Board of Directors, Ohio Mayors Association
Volunteer, Wilmington City Parks
Attend Wilmington Assembly of God Church
What progress has the city made under your stewardship as mayor? What are your priorities for a second term and how do you plan to achieve them? (Note: Some specific topics may be addressed in more detail in several of the below questions)
Effective leadership is about making good choices and confronting tough issues without fear or favor. When I took office in 2016, our city was facing a significant budget shortfall, reductions in public safety personnel, and loss of city services. The approximately $6 million in savings built up by the city at the time of DHL’s pullout was nearly exhausted. With the persistent opioid crisis facing our community, reducing police and EMS presence was not an option. On top of that, we had a major backlog of street maintenance and repaving projects, deferred maintenance on critical components in our water & wastewater utilities, a requirement for new and reliable police and fire equipment, and a growing number of abandoned homes.
As much as it pained me to do so, we asked citizens for help in November 2016 and they responded positively. The result of our rebuilding efforts is evident: miles of new street paving and curb work in our residential areas, with more to come; new sidewalks using city, state and federal matching grant funds with more planned; and the introduction of new reliable emergency response equipment. I am committed to bringing our police department to full strength as the investigations are completed and personnel are replaced. Additionally, I’ve stepped up enforcement of existing property maintenance codes including demolition of twelve condemned houses in partnership with the Clinton County Land Bank. We have processed over 1,700 property code violations. The rate of homeownership in the city is growing after decades of falling and construction of new homes is at a 10-year high.
As for the future, we must continue to focus on economic development and encourage growth of good jobs. At the same time, we must resolve important quality of life issues to keep more of our young adults from wanting or needing to leave Wilmington for fulfillment elsewhere. We will soon bring onboard an economic development program managed by the Clinton County Port Authority. This five-year initiative will focus more narrowly on county and city priorities, including workforce development opportunities and is the result of an investment by the city, county, Wilmington CIC and the Visitors and Convention Bureau. While we’ve been buoyed by the recent expansion at numerous commercial and industrial businesses, we must always strive to stay current with changing trends, so that we may assist our existing employers to grow, while attracting new opportunities for job and wage growth. With regard to our city infrastructure, we will unveil plans this year for a multi-million-dollar rebuilding of Rombach Avenue slated for construction in 2020. More paving is in our five-year plan to resurface more of the city’s streets. Next month, hundreds of community volunteers will join together in rebuilding our Castle Playground new and better than ever. We are also completing a 25-year master plan for the wastewater treatment plant and modernizing our water treatment system to handle increased prevalence of algae blooms in Caesar Creek Lake, our source of untreated water. I will also continue to play a constructive role in community discussions to advance the goal of building a recreation & fitness center in Wilmington. Following a decade of painful readjustment for many, we are a city on the move.
What are your thoughts on the issues between the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over billing for water and other Caesar Creek park-related services/items, and how the issue has been handled on the city end and the Army Corps end? What can be done going forward?
Twenty-eight years ago, the leaders of the city, county, state and federal governments reached a landmark 50-year deal to supply Wilmington’s treatment plant with water from Caesars Creek Lake. In recent years, the Army Corps of Engineers has demanded significantly higher fees for the operation and maintenance at Caesar Creek Lake. Previously, the city paid the bill with no itemization of costs. This administration, affirming its responsibility to our citizens, demanded a full accounting of itemized costs billed to the city. Ever mindful of our obligation and commitment to pay the maintenance and operation bill, we successfully sought and received information that confirmed numerous cases of what I believe are inappropriate costs apportioned to our annual bill. We continue to work with Ohio Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Representative Steve Stivers, and our legal team to resolve the exact issues and achieve a beneficial result for the city.
What do you have to say about the current state of the police department in the wake of the recent resignations/ongoing investigations?
We have a police force of committed, hardworking officers, detectives and support personnel. Because of police resignations that followed announcement of investigations, the city is moving to hire several patrol officers. We have both the determination and the resources to return to a full force.
When I was made aware of alleged misconduct in our police department, I made the decision to seek outside assistance from the Clinton County Prosecutor’s Office, which led to investigators from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to review the allegations. My responsibility is to protect the integrity of our police force and give confidence to our citizens that, despite allegations and rumors, I am committed to a timely and fair resolution of all inquiries, and a speedy return to a full force of patrol officers.
Current police department staff and leadership are working closing with my administration to implement better policies and directives. We have updated and continue to update numerous policies regarding public records, evidence handling procedures, hiring processes, and use of force notifications. We are engaged with the Community Policing Committee, which provides community insight and communicates feedback back to the department. I remain confident in our police department and the constructive progress we are making.
What can you as mayor and leader of the city do to help attract more businesses/revenue both downtown and to the city as a whole?
After decades of back and forth about revitalizing our downtown, ideas are coming into better focus. We are working with the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission and Main Street Wilmington on a number of pedestrian and lighting improvements to enhance safety. As the Murphy Theater assumes a greater role for downtown development, the city has taken heightened interest in expanding partnerships with Main Street Wilmington, Chamber of Commerce and CVB to reimage downtown as a regional overnight destination for entertainment and dining. We will continue to focus on Sugartree and South Mulberry streets for blight removal and redevelopment. The opening of TinCap Winery on a Sugartree Street property purchased from Downtown Wilmington CIC and redeveloped using a UDAG/Revolving loan illustrates one example of how we can attract private investment in the years ahead. Other redevelopment projects are in various stages of planning and implementation. Our work to re-envision and re-build Rombach Avenue scheduled for next year will help to improve access to a regional commercial and industrial destination. The annexation into the city of more than 200 acres of land known as Williams Farm and expected completion of a new privately-financed road linking Carrie Drive to Davids Drive will open up significant land for commercial and industrial development. We look forward to strengthening already good economic ties with the Port Authority and county as we begin a five-year joint effort to focus on job growth outside the perimeter fence of the airpark. Construction is also slated to begin in 2020 on a nearly 4-mile extension of the Luther Warren Peace Path from Nelson Avenue to Ogden using state and federal grant dollars, donated property and a city-owned right of way through the landfill. The trail offers further evidence of the city’s commitment to support efforts to link us to a regional system of trails, particularly the Little Miami Trail at Morrow.
Why should you be elected/re-elected?
With the help of so many great citizens and our city employees, we have built a track record of substantial improvement during my first three years. We see greater accountability in city government, a focus on improved safety services, and better maintenance of residential neighborhood streets, sewers, and water utilities that make everything in Wilmington possible. Expect even more in the next four years. Our safety service employees, police, fire and EMS, are working on the front lines in response to our opioid and meth crisis. I will continue to support them as long as I have the honor of serving as your mayor. We are establishing a county-wide effort of developing business and job opportunities to diversify our economy. For the first time, we are bringing people together in collaboration in many areas of civic life and forming partnerships that will help us better understand new and expanding opportunities to live and work in Wilmington. We have significant community assets on which to build and grow, including Wilmington College, which has completed a $25 million expansion of laboratories, classrooms, and a remarkable state-of-the-art physical therapy center. The Wilmington Airpark is alive with construction preparing for Amazon’s return in July. While I claim no direct credit for any of these great projects, well-run cities are attractive places to invest and do business. I believe great leadership creates well-run cities, and we are that truth. Wilmington is a great place and I need your vote to keep moving forward.
What else would you like to say to the people of Wilmington?
The confidence and trust the citizens have already placed in me has never been and will never be taken frivolously. Thoughtful decisions and judgement are taken in every aspect of my tenure and within my administration and I’m grateful for the hands-on opportunity to lead the city. Wilmington is already great. I am honored to be trusted to make it even better. The momentum is moving forward and it is positive. I care deeply about the future of our community. My commitment drives me to make decisions to protect and preserve the future of Wilmington. I’m driven to not fail you, my family, or Wilmington. I need, want, and hope I have earned your vote on May 7th.