By DENISE GRANT
Findlay’s three at-large councilmen are bidding for re-election in the May 7 Republican primary, but they face competition from a political newcomer.
At-large Councilmen Jeff Wobser, Grant Russel and Tom Shindledecker, and challenger Matthias Leguire are all seeking the GOP nomination for the three council seats.
The top three vote-getters in the primary will advance to the November general election, where they will compete with Democrat Abigail Hefflinger.
Findlay Council members are elected for two-year terms. A council member’s pay this year is $7,209, and members will receive the same pay raise percentage, if any, as other city employees in 2020.
Wobser, 57, of 8418 Lakebrook Drive, is an advanced senior business development representative with Marathon Petroleum Corp.
“We are going to have a new mayor in 2020 and that will put more pressure on council to step up and provide experienced opinions,” Wobser said. “This will help to make sure the city continues on a successful path.”
Seeking the nomination are Holly Frische, who has represented the city’s 1st Ward on City Council since 2014; Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson, who is serving his second term; and Christina Muryn.
In November, the GOP mayoral nominee will face Democrat Chad Benschoter, 501 Edinborough Drive. Benschoter, a small business owner, is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Findlay government will also have at least four new council members, a new council president, and possibly new administrators.
A three-term councilman, Wobser said he still has work to do on council and is interested in forming a strategic planning committee.
“I want to continue to work toward completing that task, as I believe it will also help ensure the future success of the city,” Wobser said.
Wobser said most people are “very happy with the current situation in the city. If there is a concern, it is simply managing the growth of the city. For instance, making sure that we keep the industrial portion of city operating in areas that do not cause problems for residents,” Wobser said.
“Along the same line, making sure that we find ways to increase housing inside the city that adds value to all surrounding properties. These will be the issues that will be front and center over the next two years.”
Russel, 56, of 1200 S. Main St., is an information technology systems analyst for Marathon Petroleum. He is seeking his fourth term as an at-large councilman.
Russel said he still enjoys the job, and is interested in “boring things” such as the city’s five-year capital plan.
“I will work to continue our sound fiscal management practices; protecting our cash balances, because we leverage those dollars to get more work done for less money,” Russel said. “Plus, (the cash balance) provides the city considerable flexibility and insurance when, not if, the next downturn occurs.”
Findlay’s general fund operating revenues totaled $29.2 million in 2018, and expenses were $30.4 million.
City departments returned about $2 million in unspent appropriations, and the city finished 2018 with a total carryover balance of about $13.2 million.
Findlay’s total carryover balance in 2017 was about $12.4 million.
Russel said he will continue to advocate for improved recreational infrastructure, including parks and bike paths.
“Flood mitigation work along the Blanchard River presents exciting opportunities to connect Riverside, Civitan, Anchor, Swale and Rawson parks,” Russel said. “The city, in cooperation with the county and other local organizations, must be purposeful and proactive to develop these areas to their fullest potential.”
He said the city must also continue to work with organizations and developers to increase the city’s availability of affordable housing.
“New, quality, affordable housing will not come one stand-alone house at a time. Single-family houses simply cannot be built at a low enough cost in order to be considered ‘affordable,'” Russel said.
For city government, it’s about “creating an environment where people want to live,” he said.
“That means good infrastructure: streets, utilities and parks. Extend utilities where appropriate when opportunities present themselves.
“Long-range, land-use planning must continue to designate areas where multi-use housing projects might be developed,” Russel said.
“Additionally, it is imperative that the city continue to provide services at the lowest possible cost, while maintaining low tax rates.”
Shindledecker, 77, of 2201 N. Main St., retired as news director at WFIN and WKXA, where he worked for 45 years. His radio name was Tom Sheldon. He is seeking a fourth term as an at-large councilman.
Following his retirement, Shindledecker ran as a candidate for Hancock County commissioner in 2012, but lost the GOP nomination to current Commissioner Mark Gazarek in the primary election.
Shindledecker said he is concerned about the big changes coming to Findlay government.
“This November, voters will elect at least four new members of Findlay’s 10-member City Council. A new council president and a mayor, with little or no experience will also be elected,” Shindledecker said.
“While new ideas are not only welcome, but essential, it is also important that the momentum that has allowed us to become recognized at the state, national and global” levels continues.
Shindledecker said it’s council’s job “to maintain an atmosphere that makes Findlay a community where growth is balanced with the availability of housing, infrastructure demands and the like.”
He said Findlay’s residents seem “cautiously optimistic the current (river) benching project may lead to similar efforts in the future.
“The need for more housing at all economic levels, efforts to achieve higher pay and a stronger work ethic are also important. An increasing dissatisfaction with the current cable system has also become more prevalent in recent months.”
Shindledecker called the city’s suicide and overdose rates, and the overwhelmed foster care system, “tragic.”
“I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. Continued long-term education and awareness efforts are certainly helpful and are being addressed by many of our local agencies, and council should be supportive by whatever means are appropriate.”
Leguire, 42, of 830 E. Sandusky St., is a photographer, and does contract photography work for The Courier. He has never held or sought a public office before.
Leguire said he is unhappy with “the lack of accountability and transparency” among the city’s at-large councilmen. He wants to fill the “void” in representation for many of Findlay’s residents, he said.
“Their actions have proven they will abuse their power to attack citizens with unjust laws. From the unjust street vacations to forcing a narrow-minded view of how private property should be maintained, they are targeting the poorest members of the community,” he said. “Too many laws restrict the freedoms of private property owners under the guise of curb appeal.”
Leguire has been challenging City Council for over a year, at first over a fence he built that didn’t meet city setback requirements. Then he challenged a new rule requiring Findlay property owners to keep their grass mowed below 6 inches. He owns a five-acre property.
In August, council voted to vacate the right of way for Carrol Street and Benton Street, which were never developed. The right of way for the streets connects to Hawthorne Road, north of East Sandusky Street, and abuts the rear of Leguire’s property.
Council’s action came after a citizen’s petition to vacate the streets was denied by the Findlay City Planning & Zoning Committee. The City Planning Commission and the Hancock Regional Planning Commission also opposed the street vacation.
Leguire accused council of vacating the streets to harass him, and taking sides in a neighborhood dispute over use of the right of way.
He then gathered enough signatures to put the street vacation to a citywide referendum vote. The pending ballot issue should have stayed council’s vacation of the streets.
However, Leguire was back in council chambers in January, arguing that the city maps had been altered and the two streets vacated despite the referendum. He threatened the city with legal action if the maps were not corrected.
The entire issue was settled when council agreed to rescind vacation of the streets in mid-January, nullifying the referendum vote, which would have appeared on the November ballot.
“I will not use ordinances as weapons against any citizens, which is what they did to my family. I was successful in fighting city hall by repealing the street vacation. I would like to repeal any laws which cause undue burdens on our citizens,” Leguire said.
Not only does Leguire want to roll back “unnecessary zoning laws that focus on curb appeal rather than protecting the public,” he also wants to end any funding for the Downtown Improvement District and the Downtown Review Board. He said the review board is unconstitutional.
He said Findlay Council needs to listen to the people, “instead of completely ignoring them and doing whatever the wealthy developers want them to do.”
He also wants council to be held more accountable for its decisions, and said he would work to “get rid of new council laws which prohibit accountability.”
During his campaign, Leguire has been very critical of new rules of procedure for council meetings, adopted earlier this year. The rules restrict how the public may address council during its meetings, and include a stipulation that all comments must be directed to the council president, not individual council members.