MANSFIELD -- The choice for the next Mansfield City Council president could not be more clearly defined.
Cliff Mears said his professional experience in business and industry, and seven years as an At-Large member of Mansfield City Council, have prepared him to be the next council president.
Political newcomer Aurelio Diaz, with a strong background in social services, advocacy and community development, said he presents a new voice and is asking voters to "embrace the shift."
Mansfield residents will make their choice on Nov. 5 when Mears takes on Diaz. The winner replaces current council President Phil Scott, who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
The elected position pays $7,536 annually. The council president presides over meetings, but doesn't vote on legislation unless there is a tie.
A Republican, Mears was appointed to the At-Large seat in 2012, was elected to the same position in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. The 66-year-old resident of 641 Bigelow Road said his experience on council will be crucial as the president.
"I have represented all six wards for the past seven years. My opponent has no prior council experience, nor (has he held) any elective or public sector office. The residents of Mansfield deserve someone experienced. This is an important position and should not be a 'starting point' for any novice to public service," Mears said.
"President of council plays a crucial role in the the running of city council caucus and council meetings and should be handled by someone with council experience," Mears said.
"The move to President of Council requires council experience, great familiarity with Robert's Rules of Order and the ability to represent the great city of Mansfield when the current mayor is unavailable. I believe it is a natural step for me to assume this role," Mears said.
A Democrat, the 43-year-old Diaz, 32 N. Walnut St., said he chose to run for office to put people first.
"My background is social services so when I decided to run for Mansfield City Council president, it was important that I stay true to pursuing a different scale of leadership on behalf of people who are typically overlooked or not included in citywide decisions," Diaz said.
"During my 20 years of working closely with different populations of underrepresented individuals (individuals with disabilities, at-risk youth, seniors, and individuals who are homeless) and especially after my involvement with the Mansfield Rising Plan, I am confident that my ferocious work ethic, expertise, and empathy will propel Mansfield City Council to a direction of 'people first,' " Diaz said.
Mears, who earned a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Toledo before participating in MBA programs at Toledo and Ashland University, retired from full-time work in 2015, a career spent primarily in manufacturing. He said he has also taught in several colleges as an adjunct faculty member, including North Central State College, where he taught part-time for 22 years.
Mears said his key issues include support for the Mansfield Rising Plan, something he calls "curb appeal" and improving the city's parks.
"Much planning and preliminary work has been poured into (Mansfield Rising) to move Mansfield forward, and I support it wholeheartedly. As each measure of the plan is presented to council, I will insure that full consideration is given and that funding is available and appropriate," Mears said.
"The city has come a long way in demolishing abandoned and dilapidated structures, but much more can be done to beautify it. I cite this as a priority because newcomers to Mansfield need a positive first impression of our city as that leads to future investment, development, and generally a good feeling about where each of us residents live. It’s easier to be proud of a town that looks nice. My part in this is to support and participate in all efforts towards this goal, be it neighborhood cleanups, sourcing revenue for demolitions, or identifying city resources to this end," Mears said.
In terms of parks, Mears said the $150,000 council has appropriated recently for upgrading our parks is a good start.
"But we need to do more … much more. Parks are a real asset to the city and a place where residents can go to relax. Enhanced maintenance and resources should be diverted to the parks department where prudent and available to make them more attractive, safer, and more inclusive," Mears said.
Diaz said his campaign has focused on diversity inclusion, mental health issues and the morale of the city.
"(Diversity inclusion) is a topic that many leaders say they will change but it’s not happening. This is one of my primary concerns. If elected I will continue to actively ensure that people, despite race, gender, faith, abilities, sexual orientation and age, are engaged in citywide conversations and planning by coordinating events and public forums with these individuals to further highlight them in the eyes of Mansfield.
"Through that process, we as a collective will determine which organizations, businesses, institutions, and leaders are receptive and needed to ensure that all needs are met and that all people have the same opportunities," Diaz said.
In terms of mental health, Diaz said people are unable to successfully and happily function if their mental health needs are not met and/or treated.
"This issue is crucial because it impacts every aspect of our city, whether it’s an individual sleeping on the gazebo every night or a CEO on the verge of a breakdown due to stress. In any case, mental health truly does help shape our personal lives and our community so it’s imperative that we address it more openly without embarrassment.
"That is something I pride myself in doing and I plan to continue those efforts on a larger scale. Discussing and bringing mental health to light is only the beginning. I will continue to help identify, with the collaboration of individuals and organizations, what supports are necessary for those who are in dire need of treatment," Diaz said.
Diaz, a Mansfield Senior High School graduate now working as a legal assistant in a local law firm and a contracted dance instructor for adults with disabilities, was part of the group that helped to develop the Mansfield Rising plan.
"In the early stages of developing the Mansfield Rising Plan, several people that we interviewed in the community expressed an evident dislike for living in Mansfield or just Mansfield in general. As we continued to interact and embark on our talk tours, we realized that being unhappy about Mansfield stemmed from multiple factors: not being included in citywide changes, not being aware of the programs, events, and businesses that exist, and comparing Mansfield to its past rather than its future," he said.
"I will continue to work relentlessly to prove to everyone that Mansfield is full of culture and opportunity by once again, 'including' them in every aspect of citywide involvement. A very effective method is the use of social media, but nothing is more effective than face to face interactions.
"I also plan to step further outside of the Mansfield City Council president responsibilities by being that interactive leader who goes out and encourages people to regularly attend city council meetings so that they are informed and included," Diaz said.
Mears said his experience on council and in the private sector differentiate he and his opponent.
"I have held leadership positions in some of the largest and most successful organizations in the country. I have worked in the health care, manufacturing, and educational industries, giving me a diverse and well-rounded understanding of businesses that could potentially expand or relocate here. I can speak the language. When serving as Acting Mayor, I believe this background will serve me well in representing the interests of our residents," he said.
Diaz said his community connections and leadership skills will serve him well as council president.
"I feel that my well-rounded professional and personal experience in social services, community development, advocacy, and involvement with the Mansfield Rising Plan has been vital in encouraging and inspiring people from all walks of life to take active steps in being a part of Mansfield’s social, entrepreneurial, educational, and creative transformation.
"My huge strength is accomplishing citywide shifts by working in the trenches with people, side by side, rather than in front. Identifying concerns, ideas, and then creating action steps to execute a broad spectrum of opportunities for everyone by actually including them in the process," Diaz said.
(Thursday: It's Tim Theaker vs. Don Bryant in the battle for Mansfield mayor.)