Editor’s note: The Times-Gazette recently asked the three candidates for Highland County Commissioner in the November election to respond to a questionnaire provided by the newspaper. Candidates were given no word limits but were asked to avoid overly-lengthy answers. In some cases replies have been edited for style and grammar.
Below are the candidates’ answers to the questions that were presented, with their responses presented in rotating fashion between Republican Terry Britton, Democrat Tara Campbell and independent Alex Butler.
In general, why are you seeking this office?
TERRY BRITTON: As a lifelong resident of Highland County, a husband, a father and a grandfather, I want to continue to help make Highland County the best place to live and raise a family. I have positioned myself through my work experience, public office, leadership positions held and my community activities. I feel with this experience I can make a difference in Highland County through hard work and dedication to the community.
I retired from the Hobart Corporation in Hillsboro after 42-plus years, holding various job responsibilities in my tenure including 35 years in management. As the Facility Manager for 25 years, I was responsible for Engineering, Maintenance, IT, Tooling and Safety & Environmental departments. With that responsibility came budgeting and personnel. Under my leadership, Hobart was the Recipient of the Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention in the state of Ohio.
ALEX BUTLER: In essence, Highland County has to make progress on our local challenges and position ourselves to succeed. I believe I have the background to do just that. Highland County is home. It’s the place I care most about and where the people are that I care most about. I’ve lived in a few different large cities while getting my education and starting my career, but the place I want to work hard and invest myself is here in Highland County. We live in challenging times when many say, “Highland County just isn’t what it used to be.”
With my background of working in my family’s small businesses, business education, and volunteerism in the county, I can bring qualities to the board of commissioners that I believe are missing and needed. I understand the county well, have a business education and practical experience, and want to apply those to county government.
TARA CAMPBELL: Last year I remember reading the paper, and thinking about the challenges within our county’s Children Services office, our budget being depleted to be able to support the large amount of children in out-of-home care, as well as the drug abuse and dependency problems in our community. I felt called to serve our community in order to try and find solutions to these challenges due to having experience and education in these areas, as well as continuing to be a part of the team to grow our local economy and workforce.
I have worked with the commissioners’ office often throughout my time at HCCAO, OhioMeansJobs. Through this relationship I know the importance of making sure that we are working hard as a team in order to have opportunities for businesses to come here, grow here and obtain a trained and skilled workforce here in Highland County. I know that through my experiences and by using my skills I will be able to bring something different and beneficial to the commission through my experience in human and social services, being a farmer, and small business owner.
Why are you a better choice for this office than your opponent?
ALEX BUTLER: First, I know and respect the other two candidates in this race. However, my campaign is unique. In a time when the “political establishment” has frustrated and disappointed so many voters across the country through gridlock and negative campaigning, I am offering voters a better alternative. I am running unaffiliated from any political party. My objective is simply to be a commissioner who works for no one except the people. It is my strong conviction that our leaders exist to serve the people.
I know that the average person of our community does not live life preoccupied with politics or ask themselves, “How would a Democrat solve this problem? What would a Republican do in this situation?” The people of Highland County need a leader who is focused on what they talk about around their kitchen tables. I am a solutions-focused candidate. When confronted with the challenges we are facing (drug crisis, foster care costs, shrinking budget, economic development, etc.) we don’t have time for politics. The common Highland County values many of us live by will guide us to success.
Also, Highland County needs some fresh faces in government. I am the youngest candidate in this race. The wisdom, experience, and restraint that comes with age is invaluable, but we must encourage the energy, innovation, and optimism that comes from the younger members of our county. I’m looking to the past for wisdom, but I’m also looking to the future because we need to position Highland County to succeed. Age diversity on the board of commissioners would be a great asset.
TARA CAMPBELL: Through my education and experiences I am able to bring a different perspective and life experience to the office. I am a military veteran who has had extensive leadership and crisis intervention and situational training. I have education and work experience in rehabilitation, criminal justice, and child welfare, all of which are currently challenging areas for us here in Highland County.
Through owning and operating our trucking company and farm, I have learned business practices, budgeting, and finding solutions to problems quickly and efficiently. I am familiar with the struggles of farmers, small businesses, veterans, unemployed/underemployed, children in foster care, families in poverty, and those in our community who are facing challenges with mental health and addiction issues. I also will not back down from things I believe in, and doing what is right. Making our community viable and giving our citizens opportunities to succeed is my number one priority.
TERRY BRITTON: My experience sets me apart from my opponents, including working for a multi-million dollar company, managing people and budgeting for over 42 years, and operating a small farm. My life experience of raising a family, sending kids to college, paying off mortgages, keeping up with grandchildren, plus all the activities that I have contributed to over the years have prepared me to be your county commissioner.
I am a graduate of Leesburg Fairfield High School and attended Southern State Community College. I have participated in many instructional seminars as part of continuing education and training for my job performance.
What do you see as the top two or three needs to improve this office and its effectiveness?
TARA CAMPBELL: One of the top needs to improve the office is to take a look at our county budget and ensure that we are transparent and our dollars in the county are being spent wisely and productively to improve opportunities and keep our citizens safe. The county budget is a part of our current challenges, and we need to make sure that we are spending wisely.
Another need of the office to improve effectiveness is to make sure that the commission has a broad understanding of the other county departments. We need to be comfortable with knowing what questions to ask county departments in order to understand their financial needs and requests. Another need is to make sure we have the resources for our community that allows citizens to work and support their families. This would include learning how to provide services such as housing, transportation, and childcare for our families to step out of public assistance and into self-sufficiency.
TERRY BRITTON: If elected I would look forward to working with Shane and Jeff. They along with all county offices have done a tremendous job with the resources available. The economic challenges the county faces would be a priority. The drug abuse epidemic, children services foster care placement and economic development.
I feel confident by working together as a team the improvements needed will be forthcoming. Moving forward together as a team will be my approach.
ALEX BUTLER: First, I pledge to be a fulltime commissioner. To me, fulltime pay re-quires fulltime work. I would find it very difficult to make progress and a disservice to the voters if I did not devote my full attention to this office.
Secondly, I believe there is an opportunity to close some communication gaps between the commissioners’ office and the public at large, and even between county departments and the commissioners. I’ve already met with several department heads and others involved in county government. As commissioner I will be in more frequent communication with departments than commissioners traditionally have. Leaders exist to serve the people and this requires open and frequent communication with the public.
Thirdly, I want to reiterate the importance of non-partisan leadership. I’m focused on solutions, consensus building, and a more inclusive approach to problem solving to make progress for Highland County.
The county is faced with a foster care crisis, usually blamed on the drug abuse crisis. Highland County is also facing the loss of more than $800,000 a year due to a change in the rules about state and local sales taxes and Managed Care Organizations. How does the county best deal with these issues?
TERRY BRITTON: This will take everyone working together. These issues are very real and we will need to think outside the box creating a plan and budget to address all concerns. We must continue to provide necessary services to run the county.
ALEX BUTLER: The potential deficit is actually closer to $2 million ($800,000 from changes to Managed Care Organizations [MCO] and approximately $1.2 million deficit from Children’s Services if Issue 8 does not pass). This deficit would be a huge hit to the county budget and take us back to 2009-10 levels of funding.
There is always room for a better budgeting process. There is no quick or easy fix. This is where my business experience and background come into play. Before austerity measures are taken, we need to find inefficiencies and make corrections. Next, prioritize and make cuts that are non-essential and do not affect the core functions and services of county government. For example, during the last major budget cuts, hours were decreased, contracts were renegotiated, and department heads tightened their budgets. Lastly, if the county budget is still short we will have to make cuts across the board.
TARA CAMPBELL: First, and most importantly, we need to review the budget and see what the MCO tax has been for in the past within our county. The county board of commissioners must work closely with state elected officials to ensure that a solution to the loss of the sales tax revenue from MCO’s benefits the counties. The county budget crisis can best be dealt with by making sure that the county monies are being spent appropriately and in the best interest of Highland County. Children and safety are the most important pieces of any community. It is imperative that we ensure that our budget is used first for the priorities of the people of the county.
Also, the board of commissioners must stay informed on the projects, coalitions and councils that take place in the county. Between the Healthier Buckeye Council, Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition, Rocky Fork Lake project and others, we can answer budget problems by implementing best practices for community sustainability and use other sources of funding, such as grants, to continue to implement resources to fight our drug abuse crisis and children in out-of-home care.
Both Children’s Services and ADAMH (Paint Valley) have new tax levies on the ballot this November to deal with the foster care issue and to further address substance abuse issues. Do you support or oppose these levies (or one or the other) and why?
ALEX BUTLER: It is difficult for me to support actions that take more money out of the pockets of taxpayers. I do not support Issue 7. I understand their services are beneficial to many, but ADAMH is not in the same financial situation as our local Children Services and their budget shortfalls do not have to be made up with Highland County tax dollars. Also, ADAMH serves four other counties so not all of the money stays local. Additionally, the proposed levy is for 10 years. I believe this is too long.
I do support Issue 8. The current operations of the Children’s Services, under the existing funding, is unsustainable due to communication gaps between the agency and the commissioners’office combined with the escalating drug situation in Highland County.
When Children’s Services was merged with Job and Family Services in 2011, fewer eyes were on the budget followed by less accountability. The presence of drugs in our community has put more and more children in dangerous situations and increased the necessity for intervention of Children Services. For example, just last year we had approximately 140 children in care, as opposed to less than 100 a few years ago.
I support Issue 8 with the condition that we must make the operational expenses sustainable through better management and accountability, implement cost reducing practices that still meet the needs of the children, and reduce the need for children to be placed in foster care. We have to meet the needs of our kids, but do this in a fiscally responsible way.
I understand why many feel opposition to this levy. I will not settle for more funding with the same service and no solutions. If the levy does not pass we will be required to divert budget monies to address this shortfall. This would leave us with substantially less money to properly address our drug situation, invest in economic development, and provide a well-functioning county government. I’ve discussed this issue extensively with JFS Director Katie Adams and am of the understanding that aggressive efforts are being made to rein in costs, improve services, and make the department solvent.
TARA CAMPBELL: I support the Children Services levy. I believe it is our responsibility as adults and a community to care for our children. We need to make sure that all children in Highland County have the opportunity to succeed. That includes children being raised in out-of-home care. As Highland County commissioner I would also work with Highland County Children Services on implementing best practices to ensure that with good procedures, aligned with the tax, we are serving the needs of our children.
I have a hard time with my decision on the ADAMH Board levy. I had a great discussion with the director of FRS Counseling, and came down to thinking, how would Highland County citizens be served with the levy, and how would we do without the levy? Throughout my job at HCCAO I have learned to look at the big picture. I feel that with the challenges we are facing with our children being placed in foster care, if we do not have the resources to help parents with drug treatment, it decreases the chances of these children being reunified with their families.
With this levy we are able to offer more crisis care, prevention, infrastructure and treatment for the current challenges facing our county. If we are going to work hard to find solutions to the drug epidemic, we have to be able to provide quality treatment right here in Highland County.
I do find comfort in the fact that we have two very qualified people serving on the board, representing Highland County, working to ensure our tax dollars are coming back to our county and advocating for our county treatment and rehabilitation needs. For these reasons, I am for the ADAMH Board levy.
TERRY BRITTON: Highland County needs to educate themselves on these issues. All county departments are financially affected by these problems. We have an obligation to the children of Highland County and the need for mental health services. This is a touchy subject, hard and controversial. No one wants another tax increase. I may feel that I can afford the additional tax, there are others who feel they cannot. Ultimately the decision will be left up to the voters.
What accomplishments are you most proud of, either in public service, the private sector, or your personal life?
TARA CAMPBELL: I am proud to have grown up, and still be involved, in the agriculture industry from raising hogs, growing crops, working in the tobacco fields, and being taught the importance of hard work and good values. I am also very proud to be a military veteran. Learning discipline, respect for all people, putting faith in God, Country and Community is something that will never be taken away from me. I encourage all the folks in Highland County to serve their community and country through volunteer service. Highland County has a large veteran population, and we need to make sure we have the proper resources to support and care for them.
One of my proudest accomplishments is to have served as a 4-H advisor for 10 years and working in social services, to include workforce and child welfare. The youth in this county are our most important assets, and we need to ensure we are giving them opportunities to succeed in the future by role modeling positive behavior and offering constant support of all children.
TERRY BRITTON: My first accomplishment is very easy, my family. I met and married my wife, Bonnie, 45 years ago. We had two children, Misty and TJ. We now have 6 grandchildren ages 3 to 14. What a joy.
My next accomplishment is that I am proud of my work experience. Retiring after 42 years at Hobart Corporation, working hard to better myself for my family, 35 years management experience and 25 years as Facility Manager.
My next accomplishment is my service to Hillsboro City Schools. Twenty years Hillsboro City School Business and Education advisory council. Serving my 2nd term on Hillsboro City School Board. And being a mentor for middle school students with a need.
My next and last accomplishment is my community involvement activities including: YMCA board of directors, Southern Hills Vocational School Manufacturing Council, Hillsboro Rotary Club member, Leadership Highland, Hillsboro Athletic Boosters, Hillsboro High School Football chain gang volunteer for 42 years, Youth Baseball/Softball coaching 20 years and attending Hillsboro First United Methodist Church.
ALEX BUTLER: I’ve had many great opportunities in my life. One in particular that was most impactful was serving as a congressional intern in Washington, DC when I was 17 years old.
Of all the responsibilities of an intern, giving tours of the Capitol building was my favorite. I love American history so it never got old. In fact, it deepened my patriotism and value of our distinct American way of life. I’m grateful for our democratic process that allows me to run for office and make a difference and contribute to our community. In a day when public figures choose to kneel during the national anthem, I can only cringe. The American way of life I’ve grown to love is worthy of the highest respect.
I always get more out of volunteering than those I serve. Playing the piano in local nursing homes and churches has always been fun and I’m glad to be able to serve in that capacity.
The candidates were given the opportunity to make final additional comments of their choice.
TERRY BRITTON: In the 5 years that I have been on the school board I am proud of the accomplishments we as a board have been able to do for the students of Hillsboro. Being proactive we have built a new track and soccer complex, a new weight/wrestling facility called the Sam Barnhouse Center, and revitalized the football complex with new upgrades.
We just started on making new practice fields for soccer and football at the high school site and we have plans for tennis, baseball/softball. Also we have planned to build a multi-purpose room for all extracurricular activities.
If elected I will bring these same strengths to help the entire county grow and prosper. My vision is to work with all county agencies and the communities to move Highland County forward together, working with local manufacturing, ODNR, law enforcement and all other aspects of the county. I will look for new development opportunities and finding ways to strengthen the county budget to sustain current and future programs.
ALEX BUTLER: My vision for Highland County is simple; I am focused on the challenges at hand to create a community of opportunity, prosperity, and stability. My candidacy has drawn support across political, age, income, and race differences because I have been focused on solutions. The time has come for new and fresh leadership in Highland County outside of the political establishment. The entire nation is weary of more of the same. This November, you the voter will have the opportunity to vote for a young and innovative candidate who is prepared for the job. I appreciate your consideration and would appreciate your vote.
It’s difficult to communicate and explain all my ideas and values in a few short answers. I would encourage anyone interested in hearing more to reach out to me. I’d be happy to hear from you.
TARA CAMPBELL: I will be proud to work with the current elected officials at all levels of government to ensure that our citizens in Highland County have the opportunities to get a good education, have a good job, be able to raise their family and ensure our tax dollars are being properly spent with integrity.
I am proud to have been raised in this great community, and I will be proud to serve you, my neighbors, as your next Highland County commissioner.