The Springfield City Commission will have at least one new member next year, the first change to the five-person governing body in eight years.
Four Springfield residents — including two incumbents and two political newcomers — will vie for three seats on the city commission. Incumbent Commissioners Joyce Chilton and Dan Martin will compete against challengers Rob Rue and David Estrop at the polls on Nov. 7.
Commissioners earn an annual salary of $10,750. They oversee a city of about 59,000 people with a $38 million annual budget and about 570 employees.
Early in-person voting in Ohio began Oct. 11.
Local government is where the rubber meets the road in terms of service delivery, said Wittenberg University political science Professor Rob Baker, who ran for city commission in 2009.
“It’s what affects you the most,” he said. “Having a say in who represents you is fundamental to quality of life for all citizens.”
Current Springfield City Commissioner Karen Duncan isn’t seeking re-election and plans to end her 12-year political career. She was the leading vote-getter when the three seats were last on the ballot in 2013. All three then incumbents — Duncan, Chilton and Martin — were re-elected that year, beating out challenger Dan Harkins, a local attorney.
With Duncan stepping down, at least one new commissioner will be elected for the first time in eight years when Chilton replaced Commissioner Orphus Taylor.
The winners in November will also be in office to see through the recently passed income tax increase. The city will also see several other changes soon, including new police and fire chiefs.
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“With local government, it’s a matter of making sure the budget’s there and making sure that services are provided,” Baker said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of significant policy change that would occur, regardless of who’s (on the commission).”
Longtime Mayor Warren Copeland and City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill will be up for re-election in 2019.
Martin, a local attorney, is seeking his sixth consecutive four-year term on the commission. Chilton, a freelance paralegal who retired from the Clark County Public Library, is vying for her third consecutive term.
Rue is co-owner of Littleton and Rue Funeral Home. Estrop is the former superintendent for the Springfield City School District. Both are first-time political candidates.
A possible change to the commission could also re-ignite the debate about adding sexual orientation to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, Baker said. Both Rue and Estrop have said they would vote in favor of the ordinance, while Martin and Chilton have voted against the issue in the past.
“That’ll be something that will be important to watch,” Baker said.
Voter turnout in Clark County was about 46 percent in November of 2015 and 32 percent in November of 2013, compared to about 70 percent last November during the presidential election, according to the Clark County Board of Elections.
A low turnout could be a factor in this election, Baker said. It’s possible some voters could vote for just one or two candidates, he said, rather than three.
“That’s something to factor in,” Baker said.
The neighborhoods want more police officers and firefighters to battle the opioid crisis in Springfield, as well as better equipment for those safety services, said Mike Robbins, the president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. Commissioners must also deliver on the promises made during the recent income tax increase campaign, he said.
“Unfortunately, us taxpayers are the ones who are paying for the bill (for the drug epidemic),” Robbins said. “We need commissioners who will spend the money wisely like they said they were going to.”
If voters don’t turn out to the polls, he said they have no reason to gripe about the way the city is being governed.
“One vote can make a difference,” Robbins said. “That vote is your voice and your opinion.”
3 QUICK NEWS-SUN READS
The Springfield New-Sun provides balanced and in-depth election coverage, including stories digging into political races and tax issues. For our Online Voters Guide, go to vote.springfieldnewssun.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
$10,750: Annual salary of a Springfield City Commissioner.
59,000: Springfield’s population.
4: Candidates running for commission.
3: Seats open on the commission.