The race for a Clark County commission seat features an incumbent with nearly four years experience and a newcomer who if elected would change the balance of political power on the board.
Republican incumbent Rick Lohnes, who is a former commander at the Springfield Air National Guard Base, was elected in 2010 and is in the majority on the board along with fellow Republican Commissioner John Detrick.
Democrat David Herier, an attorney, seeks to oust Lohnes and join fellow Democrat David Hartley on the board. If elected, Democrats would become the majority on the commission board.
Lohnes is seeking re-election at a time when he is working with leaders throughout the county to establish a joint, countywide 9-1-1 dispatch center.
The dispatch center, which would likely be at the U.S. Army Downs Center, is expected to cost more than $3 million and the renovation of the center could cost millions more.
Lohnes said forming the dispatch center and finding a funding model all entities can agree to is one of his top priorities.
“I’ve seen the need. All the players have agreed that we need to do it and they all agree it should have been done 10 or 20 years ago … It’s time to fix a whole bunch of stuff with this combined dispatch project,” Lohnes said.
A combined dispatch center will result in quicker response times, he said, and better service to residents seeking help during an emergency.
“Things will be faster and more efficient and safer once we are combined because now the dispatcher will have all of the fire and EMS and law enforcement data in their sector on their screen and they won’t have to pass phone calls back and forth,” Lohnes said.
The city, which also dispatches for New Carlisle, spends about $1.4 million per year and the county spends $1.5 million annually to run separate 9-1-1 centers.
Currently, the two 9-1-1 centers have a total of 35 full-time dispatchers and two communications directors, and have a combined call volume of more than 854,000 calls annually, according to a recent report.
The county and city are both tasked with providing dispatching service, Lohnes said. But he said he can foresee the county assuming “a little more” of the cost for the dispatch center than the city, but “it can’t be completely out of balance or I don’t think anybody would vote for it.”’
Voters should re-elect Lohnes, Detrick said.
Lohnes has been innovative, Detrick said, and brought new ideas to county commission.
That includes being a leader in efforts to establish a combined dispatch center, putting deputies in schools, Detrick said, and hiring five new deputies to reduce overtime cost with the sheriff’s office.
Lohnes has also been invaluable working with County Administrator Nathan Kennedy on cost savings, Detrick said.
“They plan things out. We’re going to be (renovating) the A.B. Graham Building and the courthouse are two examples. We haven’t had the money or the planning to repair those buildings,” he said.
Lohnes is a a graduate of Shawnee High School and spent 34 years in the U.S. Air Force. He was an Ohio Air National Guard fighter pilot and retired as a colonel.
His military background and leadership experience has helped him as a county commissioner, he said.
At Lohnes’ urging, the county last year agreed to pay for the Educational Support Officers program that allowed the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to hire two new deputies to boost school security.
The idea came from Lohnes in response to the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings.
The county also developed capital improvement plans detailing construction and renovation projects, as well as the replacement of county vehicles, technology and other equipment.
“That’s been a tremendous lift. We can look down the pike and know fairly certain what big items we’re going to have to come up with money for,” Lohnes said.
The top priority for the county, however, is jobs, he said.
“Jobs are the key to lots of good health in the county and the city,” Lohnes said. “It’s just like a marriage. The stronger you are financially and economically the stronger you are in everything … Jobs is the key to bring people to the community to live and stabilize the population loss.”
He applauded the work of the Community Improvement Corp. of Clark County, which he credited with bringing jobs to the area. Lohnes sits on the CIC board.
He said he would also like to cut the county’s half percent sales tax by a quarter percent to bring jobs to the area.
But the reduction, he said, hinges at least in part on the funding model for the 9-1-1 center.
“I would have to have a lot of buy-in of a lot of elected officials,” Lohnes said.
Herier is a graduate of Shawnee High School and graduated from the University of Dayton School of Law.
He is an attorney and partner in the firm Geyer, Herier and Frizzell.
In 2012, he ran against Ross McGregor in the 79th Ohio House District race and was defeated.
Herier is a life-long Clark County resident and is seeking political office to get involved.
“I see that there are challenges that we’re facing and would like to help the county move forward in some important ways,” Herier said.
His top priorities are creating and maintaining jobs, stopping population loss, and supporting county workers to make sure they feel valued with the work they are doing.
Clark County’s population has been shrinking for the past 40 years.
Figures released in March by the U.S. Census Bureau show Clark County’s population is estimated to be 136,167. That dropped by an estimated about 2,700 people — or about 1.5 percent — in the past three years.
“Our population over the past several decades has just slid so far that we need to do something different to try to get people to want to come here and locate businesses here and also stay here,” Herier said.
Jobs are important to addressing the population loss, he said, but officials need to better sell the county to business owners.
Making Clark County streets and parks attractive to families and investing in police and fire departments are key, Herier also said. Commissioners should provide more funding to the parks district, he said.
“All of these things will help make people want to be here and help businesses say this is a good place to be, our employees will be happy in that area,” Herier said.
Commissioners also need to revisit how they fund economic development, he said. The county should have an employee directly involved in economic development, he said, and increase funding to the Springfield-Clark County Chamber of Commerce and the Community Improvement Corp.
The county could either hire an economic development director or shift responsibilities of someone already on staff to spend a portion of their time with the chamber and the CIC, Herier said.
“I would rather spend more money there and have more people here to pay taxes to fund the stuff we want to do better,” he said.
Hartley said Herier would be a great addition to county commission, is intelligent and can lead the county.
“He’s young and he’s charismatic and he’s a really good guy. He would represent the citizens well,” Hartley said.
If Herier is elected, Hartley said the board would be more fiscally responsible.
“The county would be much better represented and I think the taxpayers would be much better represented. There’s a real need for fiscal responsibility and I don’t see that with the present commission,” Hartley said.
Herier said he is also concerned about the treatment of county employees.
County commissioners should invest in their staff members and make sure that county employees feel valued by county leadership, he said. Herier specifically mentioned Lohnes’ support of Senate Bill 5 in 2011.
Lohnes told the Springfield News-Sun in 2011 that public sector workers didn’t cause the problems, but elected officials did when in better years they gave more and more benefits to workers.
Lohnes said then that Senate Bill 5 was a needed tool to control government costs and fill vacant positions in the sheriff’s office.
Herier said he was concerned about the support of the bill and his discussion with county employees who don’t feel appreciated.
“I’m a little worried when I talk to some county employees about the notion that they have that they’re not valued. If we have a bunch of employees who are willing to work for the county, they should think that their job is important and that they are valued by the leadership,” Herier said.
Lohnes said he values county employees and added that Herier comments were politically motivated.
“They’re not underappreciated and what he’s saying is nonsense,” Lohnes said. “I understand his rhetoric, but he doesn’t get the whole picture.”
Lohnes said during discussions about SB5 employers were laying off workers and giving away free health care. He said since he’s been in office, the county has kept health care costs down, instituted wellness programs while also remaining in good financial shape.
Commissioners need to invest in the talented employees they have, Herier said, and invest in new talent.
Herier said he’s talked to employees who were offended by statements made by Lohnes in support of SB5 that implied the county would be able to have more money but pay less benefits.
“That’s people you are talking about specifically and speaking about people in that manner just made them see that’s where that person’s mind is,” Herier said. “The most important thing about the county are the people that work in the offices.”
Herier said if elected, he would want citizens and businesses to be treated fairly with contracts.
“I don’t like special deals for friends and things of that nature. I would much rather see the best people win and what’s best for the county to happen,” Herier said.
A combined 9-1-1 dispatch center would benefit the county, Herier said, because other counties have seen better response times and better coordination of services.
But he worries about how the center will be funded.
“The county shouldn’t be the one to foot the lion share of the bill just because it is the entity that covers all of the places. They all need to do cost sharing so we don’t end up having to cut other things out of the budget,” Herier said.
Rick Lohnes: Republican
Education: Shawnee High School graduate, Bachelor’s Capital University Air Command and Staff College (U.S. Air Force), Air War College (U.S. Air Force)
Experience: 34 years in Air Force and Ohio Air National Guard fighter pilot, including as commander of the 178th Fighter Wing, local school teacher and college football coach, union and management at Navistar, County Commissioner since 2011
Web Site: www.lohnesforcommissioner.com
David Herier: Democrat
Education: Shawnee High School graduate; Bachelor’s from Wright State University; law degree from University of Dayton School of Law
Experience: 17 years private practice attorney and title agent
Web Site: committeetoelectherier.com