Millennials step up: City looks to next generation of leaders

City looks to next-gen leaders

By John Hamilton, - Gary Huffenberger - and Tom Barr - News Journal

From left are Kelsey Swindler, Tyler Williams, Jonathan McKay and Michael Allbright. Swindler and McKay are returning Wilmington City Council members, while Williams and Allbright will begin their first terms on council.

From left are Kelsey Swindler, Tyler Williams, Jonathan McKay and Michael Allbright. Swindler and McKay are returning Wilmington City Council members, while Williams and Allbright will begin their first terms on council.

John Hamilton | News Journal

WILMINGTON — The Millennials have arrived in Wilmington — although they never really left, and those who did have returned to the city they love, and will serve on city council.

By some definitions, the term “millennial” defines people currently between the ages of 17 t0 39; others set the marks a bit differently.

Four of those council millennials to be sworn in Thursday evening recently gathered at the News Journal. Below are their brief bios, followed by their own words answering questions posed by the News Journal.

• Kelsey Swindler, 27, incumbent At-large council member. Wilmington native. Wilmington High School graduate, Class of 2008. Studied at Wittenberg University. She was excited to move back to Wilmington and start her career. Worked at Orange Frazer Press and now works at CMH Regional Health System. Very active in the community. She has loved what she’s been able to do in her first term and looks forward to the next term.

• Jonathan McKay, 30, incumbent 1st Ward council member. Birthright Quaker, lifelong Clinton County resident. Wilmington High School graduate, Class of 2005. Went to Ohio Dominican and studied political science and history. Came back to Wilmington, got into real estate with Halderman Real Estate, worked with Gary Kersey doing auction work and real estate, and is now the business development officer for Wilmington Savings Bank. He is very involved with the community, and sits on several committees in Wilmington and with Ohio Dominican.

• Tyler Williams, 30, incoming At-large council member. Born and reared in Wilmington. Wilmington High School graduate, Class of 2005. Went to Ohio State, came back after graduating and worked at Wilmington College, then left for four years to attend graduate school in Arizona and worked as a school counselor. Now he works as a school counselor at Wilmington High School and does volunteering around the area.

• Michael Allbright, 38, incoming 2nd ward council member. “I’m the carpetbagger,” he said — born in Eaton, Ohio, a city comparable to Wilmington. Graduated from Eaton High School in 1998, went to Wilmington College with a secondary education emphasis in history. He wanted to become a guidance counselor but during his senior year, he decided to go into residence life. Got his Master’s at Wright State where he became a full-time hall director. He accepted a promotion at the University of Mississippi to be an area coordinator in 2008. He worked there for two years. He then became assistant dean of students at Wilmington College in 2010 and will become associate vice president for student affairs in January.

What’s it like to see a majority of the incoming Wilmington City Council members be of a younger demographic?

SWINDLER: I think it’s a reflection of our generation stepping up. We’ve had such great examples from our parents’ generation. Especially in my case. I really look to my grandmother (Patricia Swindler) and a lot of the work she and her generation did in Wilmington. That’s been very inspiring to me. So I think it’s pretty remarkable that our generation is ready to jump in and be involved and take leadership roles. I think this is a testament to that.

WILLIAMS: I’d echo what Kelsey said. It’s definitely a time where our generation feels like we need to be the ones stepping up now. The baby boomers had a lot of time in there and have done a lot of great things but I think it speaks to the idea of them looking to us to step up, to fill roles. I think in a lot of communities you have no one to step up, you don’t have younger people stepping up, but here we do. Not only in roles for elected officials but also throughout the community you’re seeing younger people stepping up into leadership positions and doing a lot of really good things. I think it speaks to as much of a generational thing as something really special that’s happening in Wilmington.

SWINDLER: I think it’s also pretty remarkable how welcoming and open this community is to new people and ideas. In that, I have never once had anybody suggest that my age would be a limiting factor, never in going door-to-door. That’s always really exciting. That it was always seen as a positive thing whenever I’d talk to people they were so excited to see young people on the ballot and see young people stepping up. I think that’s just pretty remarkable. Wilmington is very special in that way.

McKAY: I’ll echo that. I think when DHL pulled out we understood as a community that we’re going to have to pull together and everybody’s input needed to have value. So they turned to some of the younger people to sit on some of the committees to say, “Hey, what do you see that we’re going to need going forward?” Not only to attract business but also attract younger people. I think that has opened the community up as saying, “Well, we can no longer be complacent with this.” We absolutely had to open up to new ideas and new ways of thinking. I think that has helped the Millennial Generation get on board and be more accepted. Because if we hadn’t have had the terrible, terrible pull-out from DHL and what happened in this community I’m not sure it would’ve been as easy.

Did you face any doubt or raised eyebrows from voters simply because of your age?

ALLBRIGHT: I think coming to people’s doors was a little earth-shattering. At least in my ward. People seemed like they hadn’t been spoken to in several cycles. That was a trend in general. Seeing anyone come to their door, let alone at that point a 37-year-old male. I think there was just minimal interaction. A lot the residents who talked to me said they hadn’t spoken to anyone (with the city) since Randy (Riley) came by three or four years ago. They mentioned specifically they hadn’t seen people.

SWINDLER: I never got anything age-related, I don’t know if you guys did?


SWINDLER: Only excitement.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, exactly. It was more, “Oh, I’m so excited to see young people stepping up.” Which is both surprising and really nice to see.

McKAY: I think I’m a little different than the other three as far as I’ve been in politics most of my life. I’ve done door-to-door and I campaigned for others. I’m not saying you guys haven’t but I’m going clear back to Rick Stanforth, Randy Riley, Dave Stewart and all these people you know who were in the ‘90s. Then as far as the 2000s like the Jason Walt campaign and things like that. I think people expected it of me at some point to run and hold office myself. Even though I got beat the first go-around by Bob (Mead), then I came back and this will be my second term on city council.

What do you think you did to win over the voter’s confidence?

SWINDLER: Just listening.

ALLBRIGHT: Just listening. Positivity was a huge component. I think it was not attacking the opposition. It was talking about our ideas. I think it was talking about our positions. I think our ideas were over any party affiliation. This is the unified message that we have. I think a huge component was things like signage and consistent fonts, consistent messaging. I think that had a major factor. If you look at our three public correspondences and the others’ correspondence it was night and day. The messaging, the presentation of our messaging. I think it was just dramatically different.

WILLIAMS: I think the emphasis was on us to show that we knew what we were talking about. That was very important, to get ahead of that messaging. A lot of times sometimes before we were even at people’s doors they may have seen Facebook posts, our websites, or what we were handing out to people. It really showed that we’re paying attention and like Kelsey said, we’re not going to tell you what we think we know what you’re thinking, we’re really going to ask a lot of questions.

McKAY: I think showing engagement has been a major factor in this and showing that we do know what we’re talking about. We do care and if you’ve got questions we’re going to get the answers to them. If we don’t know the answers we’re going to do everything in our power to talk to the right people and make sure that everything in answered correctly and to the point that you’re asking. Because that’s what we’re elected to do. We’re elected to not only run the city but take care of its citizens. Here’s a funny story, one time when I was out going door-to-door, a person asked me “Well, are you married?” I said no. “Do you have children?” No. “So the city’s kind of like your wife and the citizens are like your children?” I said, “That’s exactly right. I’m here to take care of the city and take care of the people.” I think that’s a very important attribute. That we do care and we should.

Can you recall the moment, or reason why, that made you run for public office?

McKAY: It was in the News Journal and Nick Eveland and Davy Raizk were going to run against each other, it was in February that they filed and they each made the front page of the paper filing their petitions. It was a side-by-side shot. I remember my mom and dad saying as they were reading the News Journal, “This is going to be a heck of a race.” I started following stuff at that time, this was in ‘99 and I think that mayoral race really propelled me into politics. It was so widely followed and everybody was talking about it. There were other races involved. I believe Kevin Snarr had a race with Danny Mongold and my dad was a part of that. Then there was a 2nd Ward city council race between Connie Hardie and Eleanor Harris. There were several races and that was a true political moment for me, I knew I wanted to be involved and do something because of all the hype and how important it was. Because you had these two titans of the political campaigns going at it from each party. Whose party was going to survive this thing? Who was more popular? Nick Eveland was going through a lot of changes with his business and Davy was the “Steady Eddy.” You had the Republican versus the Democrat. And I’m going on and on and getting excited. That race really put me into it.

WILLIAMS: I can’t believe you didn’t say the class president election of 2004.

McKAY: That too. I also ran for office in 2004 for my senior year class presidency and Tyler was in my class. There were five of us and everybody wanted me to run. I won in a five-way race by quite a few numbers, I found out years later. It was a fun campaign.

ALLBRIGHT: I was a history buff as a kid. I learned about the presidents early and memorized where they were from. I saw that many of them were from Ohio. I wanted to be a history teacher. I remember my dad running for the school board in 1992, not being successful and how hard he had worked, how much messaging he had done, and just this other positive stuff. I remember him putting the school colors on the campaign and I thought that was cool, that makes a lot of sense. I remember going around asking farmers if I could put a sign there. When I was in high school I did the same thing. I was a class rep working my butt off and our president wasn’t doing much so I ran for class president and I beat her out. In college, did the same thing. I’m frankly surprised I waited this long to run. But life got busy, I had some health issues and other things. This is the tail end of this rampant transformation period for me.

WILLIAMS: I think it was the tax campaign last year for me. Before we were really running the campaign, going in and started to learn about local politics, blog about local politics and really realizing that we were running towards what was going to be a leadership void at the city level. Seeing that there had been several years where it was kind of slowly moving towards something but we weren’t really sure what. And then just getting to know the people involved in local government and realizing there are a lot of good people trying to work towards a better future for Wilmington. I think that was what kind of inspired me that maybe this wasn’t so scary, that this was something I could do, and making some good connections with people who I was able to ask questions who made it a lot less scary.

SWINDLER: I had an opportunity to work at the city building when I was in college. That was huge because I got to see the inside-out of what city government looked like. I remember prepping council packets and doing all the photocopying. That was huge and seeing an administration when it’s effective can really be a huge asset to community members.

Were you others involved with student council or government during school?

WILLIAMS: I think I did in fourth grade. I was unsuccessful.

McKAY: You did because I ran against you (laughs).

WILLIAMS: I did not win. Despite my promise of bringing pop machines to the school or whatever it was. That was probably the last time. I didn’t run for any type of office until now.

SWINDLER: I don’t think I ever ran for student body president.

What are some common goals you think you have?

McKAY: Definitely making sure that the city functions as a whole. Making it the best city that it can possibly be. Making sure that we do have good roads to drive on. Making sure the water is the best it can be. Also making sure that the citizens have what they need in their everyday life to where they don’t even have to think about it. They just know it’s going to happen and they know they can depend on the city to do it.

SWINDLER: We’re asked to be faithful stewards of the taxpayers’ money. That to me is often the highest priority simply because we’ve been entrusted with their money to work on their behalf. We have a lot ahead of us with a couple more years in our street repaving project, looking at infrastructure that needs a significant upgrade, embarking on sidewalks and things like that over the next couple of months. It’s really important that we are being transparent, we’re being proactive, and that we understand context when we’re making financial decisions, that we’re asking good questions. Because at the end of the day, we’re stewards.

WILLIAMS: I think certainly looking at the long-term physical health of Wilmington and just the long-term overall future for Wilmington. I think we’re all willing to talk about what we think that future is, actually work towards it, and to make some pretty concrete steps. Like Kelsey was saying, what are we doing with the finances? Making sure that, like Jonathan said, we’re following up the streets plan. Making sure that we have money for the future to pave streets and maintain streets. I think all of us are pretty forward-thinking and people really wanted us to look forward to the future.

ALLBRIGHT: Complex and permanent problems can have temporary and simple solutions.

McKAY: Well said.

What are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

SWINDLER: This is a phenomenal group. I don’t just mean the group sitting here, I mean the entire council. I couldn’t be more excited for the council we have starting in 2018. I can’t wait to get to work. We’ve started being briefed on committee assignments and things like that. It gets you revved up for another cycle because we’ve got so much we can accomplish over the next two years and we’ve got the right people to do it. I mean having Kristi (Fickert) in the 3rd Ward is going to be fantastic. I’m really excited to serve with Kristi and with a number of others who are stepping up. I’ve loved serving with Matt (Purkey). It’s just all around a really cohesive group. I think we have a lot in common in our vision for Wilmington and how we want to work together. There’s a lot of support. There’s so little I think among this group that’s party directed. We are all so passionate about Wilmington and want to do good.

McKAY: I would echo that. I’m the lone-duck Republican of this group (of four). I’m proud to be the Republican and I will always be proud to be that. That’s not important when we’re talking about local government. Paving a street is not a bipartisan issue. It is, “OK, how are we going to make this happen” and “What is best for the citizens?” I think that’s what this group is all about. We set aside differences on a national and state level and we do what’s right. That is what is most exciting about everything for the group. We’ve got a great leader in Mark McKay, he’ll do fine. He’s got a lot of leadership experience, he’s the longest-serving person on council and he really cares about the community. That will help guide us as we go along in this.

WILLIAMS: Definitely a group of people that have a lot of tough conversations but do the research, do the homework and come to council meetings ready to make some tough decision and what will hopefully be the right decisions. Always thinking about what’s best for the city of Wilmington.

SWINDLER: We’re fortunate to have an excellent administration too. I really look forward to continuing close work with them because they’ve been incredibly resourceful while getting more done than we could ever imagine over the last two years.

ALLBRIGHT: As busy as they’ve been open. I’ve met with three of the five superintendents and the people on the administration. They’re open and willing to explain systems and how they work. They’re very enthusiastic and helpful.

SWINDLER: With as much as they’ve taken on and working to accomplish, they’ve also raised the bar on transparency. So I think the culture of this incoming council and working with this administration is strong.

What advice do the incumbents have for the newer members?

McKAY: Don’t be scared to ask questions. No question is stupid and you’re not going to know unless you ask. I asked a ton of questions to Mary Kay (Vance), I think she really got sick and tired of me. You have to know things to be able to answer questions of constituents and you need to know the inner workings of council. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

SWINDLER: Don’t assume anything. When you’re presented with legislation or finance requests, whatever it might be, that has been the biggest lesson for me. That and always ask questions even if you’re 99 percent sure you understand the context or intention, you should always ask because you could always be surprised. That is our responsibility. And don’t be intimidated, use the knowledge based at the city because there are so many people who have this incredible base of knowledge and love sharing that. And there’s no such thing as “housekeeping.” Everything is important. I encourage people to pay attention to everything that comes across your desk. Because I think sometimes, at this level, there’s this tendency to say “Oh, this is routine. We do this all the time, it’s nothing we need to worry about.” But you should ask questions of everything because that’s what community members have asked you to do.

When there are times of doubt or uncertainty, who do you go to for advice?

McKAY: I’ve had a lot in my life. D.M. Fife, Nick Eveland, my parents, and Mark McKay. Those folks really led to this moment and I’ve had a lot of people I looked up to, to me get where I am today and they all deserve a thank you. Also, Jeremiah Guappone, he and I were elected to student government in college.

SWINDLER: My grandmother. It’s so wonderful to talk to people who have had a lot more years in it than you’ve had and have seen the ups and downs. Especially being a leader in a small community, that can be really scary. To have someone in your life that you can look to who weathered those storms before, and has seen difficult situations, knows you, knows your intentions and can speak to that.

WILLIAMS: For me, it’s probably my parents, especially my mom. She spent five years working in the city, seeing a lot of what was going on, doing public meetings and meeting a lot of people and trying to learn more about what they wanted out of the parks. I’d something go to her and ask, “How can I engage this question more?” She was helpful, knowing, and said, “Remember why you’re doing this.” Also, Kelsey sometimes as well. Jonathan, too, who I’ve known for about 25 years now.

ALLBRIGHT: It would’ve been my parents and that was trying this fall with what happened with Dad, and my mom she’s my rock. People on campus, the president (James Reynolds), the current council and this administration. I’ve been asking them so many questions, I’ve been stalking these people.

SWINDLER: I think you’ve been to every single full council meeting.

McKAY: That’s a testament too.

ALLBRIGHT: I think the biggest, outside of Neil Snarr, would have to be Kelsey. And that’s interesting, a mentor being 11 years younger than you.

Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert kind of got the groundwork started for younger people in the area. Any comments about them?

SWINDLER: I feel like they broke down the barriers so we can bask. Their leadership and their willingness to take the heat was necessary and to have difficult conversations and not shy away from them has been an excellent example for all of us. They’re the reason in short why I moved back to Wilmington. Had I not had examples of young people starting careers in my small town, I don’t I would’ve assumed it was possible. With Mark, I remember when I was running for the first time and I was unsure if this was the right thing to do or the right time. I made a passing remark to him like, “I’ll try.” He said, “If you’re trying we’re going to do this.” He was so supportive from day one of everybody, party not important. Mark has been such a believer in young people getting involved.

WILLIAMS: For me, they are the reason that I’m back. I talked to Mark every day for sure during the campaign. He moved to Boston but his heart is still very much in this city. Any conversation with him and Taylor about Wilmington is about how can we make it better and who is doing that, how can we connect. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned from them is that sometimes you’ll take the heat for different things and do things not everyone is going to love. For me, that’s a really important lesson.

McKAY: They are kind of the brainchild of a lot of things that spawned. The Manufacturing Alliance, the Connectors was spawned from them. I’m going to say this, the Chamber of Commerce has really benefited from them. They truly helped save the chamber during those dark days of the DHL pullout. Now we have to continue that work.

ALLBRIGHT: I knew them the least before this year. I mean I was aware of them and their names but getting to know them has been phenomenal.

From left are Kelsey Swindler, Tyler Williams, Jonathan McKay and Michael Allbright. Swindler and McKay are returning Wilmington City Council members, while Williams and Allbright will begin their first terms on council. left are Kelsey Swindler, Tyler Williams, Jonathan McKay and Michael Allbright. Swindler and McKay are returning Wilmington City Council members, while Williams and Allbright will begin their first terms on council. John Hamilton | News Journal Huffenberger | News Journal Huffenberger | News Journal Huffenberger | News Journal
City looks to next-gen leaders

By John Hamilton,

Gary Huffenberger

and Tom Barr

News Journal