LEXINGTON -- Both Lexington and Bellville have contested races for village council.
Members of village council are elected to four-year terms. Village council is a legislative authority. Council members are not responsible for the day-to-day village administration, but village employees do report to council.
Village spending and budgets must be approved by council.
Village of Bellville Council
There are four seats up for election on Bellville village council. Each incumbent is running to retain their seat, alongside one newcomer.
JJ Burkhart, 38, is running for a second term on Bellville Village Council.
"I am running to retain my position because I feel that our current group of councilmen and women have worked well together with a common goal in mind-- evolving our community in a positive direction, while continuing to honor the history and maintain the charm that Bellville is well known for," he said.
Burkhart said the new wastewater treatment plant and Palm Park improvement project are the two improvements he's most proud of during his first term.
"I feel that each of us bring strengths to the table that have aided in efficient decisions made and successful projects completed, especially in the last couple of years," he said. "I hope to see that teamwork continue."
Burkhart holds an associates degree in network engineering from North Central State College. He is the co-owner and service manager of Integrated Systems Technologies.
Burkhart said one of the biggest responsibilities of village council is to maintain Bellville's sense of community and small town pride while still growing and moving toward the future.
"Bellville has incredible opportunity to attract and support residents and businesses, first based off of our central location in the State. We are seeing this in a major way right now as businesses look to plant, grow and thrive in our limits, as well as in the demand for property and real estate," he said. "The challenge we currently face is how to expand and create more business and living opportunities within our village, while keeping hold of the heritage and culture of Bellville. I see it is a welcome challenge that speaks to the many reasons we all are proud to call Bellville home."
During his time on council, Burkhart has served as the chair of the safety committee.
"This is a role that I take very seriously," he said. "I am honored to work in conjunction with our Police Chief and Officers to ensure the safety of our village, it's businesses and residents."
If re-elected, Burkhart said his main priority will be being a voice for village residents while working efficiently alongside other council members and the village administration.
Debra K. Carver
Debra Carver, 56, is running to retain her seat on Bellville Village Council. She was appointed in June to finish Stephen Edward’s term.
Carver said she wants to continue her time on village council so she can continue being a voice for residents.
"I'm proud to say that my family has resided in the Clear Fork Valley community for six generations," she said. "My objective would be to assist in any manner possible to leave a legacy of continuous improvement within our community for a better future for generations to come."
Carver was born and raised in Bellville and is a graduate of Clear Fork High School. She studied human resource management at North Central State College, human resources at Rockhurst University and nursing at the Knox County Career Center.
She has worked at Newman Technology for 34 years. During that time she has held various titles including management and administrative roles.
Carver said her main priorities are safety and maintaining Bellville’s tight-knit family environment.
“As a council person I will continue to work as part of our collective team to keep Bellville thriving. Not necessarily keeping Corporate America out, but keeping them at bay to adhere to our small town commitment,” she said.
“I'd like to be a part of keeping Bellville true to itself. A small town with a heart as big as Texas,” she added. “Our valley has something everybody wants: a beautifully maintained village that has a safe living environment, An ideal place to live, the perfect spot to raise a family.”
Carver wants villagers to know they have a voice and council welcomes their opinions. She said continuing the upkeep of downtown through building maintenance and pipeline repair is also important.
“As a village councilperson it's our responsibility to stretch each hard earned dollar to its fullest potential," she said.
“It's been my honor and privilege to work with and learn from the current councilmen, to witness their commitment to our little town and the respect they have for each individual that has a concern," she added.
Joshua Epperson, 37, is running to retain his seat on Bellville Village Council. Epperson was first elected in the fall of 2017.
"I am running to preserve and enhance this community so that it may remain the place where we all want to raise our families," he said.
Epperson has a background in infrastructure, which he believes has been beneficial to the village with projects like the waste water treatment plan, sidewalk extension projects and new cemetery construction.
Epperson has a bachelor's in civil engineering from the University of Kentukcy. He currently works as the Ohio Transportation Director for a multistate civil engineering firm. He is a licensed professional engineer with a specialty in transportation engineering.
"My professional background has focused on the design and construction of infrastructure including transportation systems, titles, drainage and water and sewer facilities," he said.
Prior to joining council, Epperson spent six years on the board of directors for the American Society of Highway Engineers. He is a past president of its Ohio chapter.
"I have been glad to leverage my professional knowledge to assist the Village of Bellville in many infrastructure improvements that have taken place in the past few years," he said. "We have several projects in the design stages and I hope to continue to add value to these projects by protecting the Village interests and providing another level or review as these projects progress."
Epperson has spent the last two years as village council president. He also chairs the streets committee, serves on various other committees and serves as the council representative to the Bellville Cemetery board.
In addition to supporting further infrastructure development in the village, Epperson said he intends to continue reviewing legislation and ordinances to protect the interests of residents and businesses. He said one of council's primary responsibilities is to make educated and effective decisions regarding the spending of taxpayer dollars.
"By spending these moneys effectively, leveraging immunity assets for larger state and federal funding, Bellville can achieve significant opportunities to maintain, rehabilitate and enhance our quality of life," he said.
Epperson asked voters to support not only him, but the other incumbents on council.
"Our Council has accomplished so much in the past several years," he said. "The current council is uniformly committed to enhancing opportunities for our citizens and protecting the interests of our small businesses."
Jason Guilliams, 43, was appointed to Bellville Village Council in February 2017 and elected to a four-year term the following November. He is running to retain his seat on council.
“Serving and leading others is both a calling and a passion of mine that I strive to demonstrate throughout all facets of my life,” Guilliams said. “I will continue to be a champion for increased transparency to the public and encourage resident involvement. Our greatest impact for change doesn’t begin at the Statehouse or White House, it begins with each one of us.”
Guilliams is a Lexington High School graduate. He earned his bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in management from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. He has a master’s in administration with a concentration in human resources administration from Central Michigan University. He’s also a licensed financial consultant.
Guilliams is a field sales leader at State Farm, with professional experience in financial planning, risk management, leadership development, coaching and consulting.
Guilliams has served as the chair of the village council's finance and human resources committee since January 2018. He also serves on the streets and sidewalks committee and community development committee.
He believes one of the biggest responsibilities facing Bellville is maintaining its rich heritage and quaint small town feel while also managing fiscally responsible growth.
“Under my leadership as Finance and Human Resources Committee Chair, the Village has moved from a self-preservation model that focused on building account balances toward a model designed for long-term sustainability that provides for a people-first strategy,” he said.
Part of that goal is making village employment competitive.
“Having appropriate expertise in all facets of Village business is critical to preserving the community we all enjoy,” Guilliams said. “My top priority will be to continue to identify ways to reduce non-essential spending to provide a competitive compensation package to Village employees. These employees, including our officers, work relentlessly to serve and protect our Village for pennies on the dollar; especially when compared to similarly-sized businesses and governments in our area.
“Any future priorities will be pursued with financial sustainability and continued assessment on reducing potential wasteful spending,” he added.
Guilliams credits a “people-first fiscal policy” with various improvements to the village over the last four years, including better sidewalks and parks and the collaboration with Butler to develop a wastewater treatment plant.
In addition to serving on Bellville Village Council, Guilliams is the chairman of the Little Buckeye Children’s Museum Board and current president of the Mansfield Chirstian School board.
Charles E. Kvochick
Charles Kvochick, 59, said he is running for council because he enjoys volunteering and giving back.
“I feel, if people are able, they have a responsibility to try to give back to their community,” he said. “I have no personalized agenda. My only priority would be to listen to the residents of Bellville and work for them.”
Kvochick is a retired employee of the City of Mansfield. During his tenure there, he worked as the E9-1-1 operations supervisor, then the information technology division manager and finally as the utility collections manager.
He graduated from Clear Fork High School and served in the U.S. Navy from 1980 to 1988. He was a former trustee with the Clear Fork Valley Foundation and has served on the Richland County American Red Cross Board of Directors.
Kvochick feels the biggest responsibility facing the village is properly spending funds from the American Rescue Plan. If elected, he hopes to take an active role on the village finance committee.
Village of Lexington Council
There are six candidates running for four seats on Lexington Village Council.
Joshua Delp, 41, is running for village council because he is passionate about the community.
"I feel like as a council member I need to be involved and community outreach would be one of my focuses," he said. "I also have a passion for supporting our first responders (Police, Fire, EMS). I would want to make sure they continue to get whatever they need (training, equipment, community support) to be prepared to do the amazing jobs that they do."
Delp is a graduate of Ontario High School. He has taken classes at North Central State College and Penn Foster.
Delp has worked for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections for 16 years. He is currently a corrections officer and the chief hostage negotiator and crisis intervention team coordinator. He also serves on the state tactical team as a tactical operator. He was named Corrections Officer of the year for Mansfield Correctional Institution in 2016.
Delp said he does not have any issues with current Lexington council members or the mayor, but negative interactions with elected officials outside of the village prompted him to run.
"I have had many unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails regarding many different issues and that is what planted the seed for me to get involved with politics," he said.
Delp said that he feels elected officials do little to represent their constituents.
"We need to make sure that we place people in these positions that are willing to stand up and fight for our rights," he said. "I am an unashamed Christian who believes in Servant style leadership and I believe that puts me in a great position to represent everyone in this village."
Delp said he would like to see the village keep its website up-to-date or have an official social media page in order to better communicate with residents.
Delp said he believes communication and downtown development are among the biggest challenges facing the village.
"Something needs to be done to attract people downtown and to support our already existing business," he said. "Another gas station, like is currently being proposed, would definitely cripple them and not help to support them. Maybe a patron reward program could help support and having a place to host community events (farmers markets and those types of things) would attract more people and business and add value to our downtown area."
Lastly, Delp said the village needs to replace and repair downtown sidewalks to make the area more accessible and wheelchair-friendly.
Adam M. Gongwer
Adam Gongwer, 48, is running to retain his seat on village council. Gongwer was appointed to finish an unexpired term in November 2013 and was elected to retain the seat during the following two election cycles.
Gongwer was also appointed to serve on village council from 1996 to 1997. He was later elected to serve on council from 2000 to 2003.
Gongwer said he is running so he can continue to keep income taxes lower than several surrounding communities, keep property values high, support the police department with funds for staff, training and equipment, participate in the Leverage Lexington 2035 planning committee and communicate with village residents about issues that might affect them.
Gongwer is a retired law enforcement officer. He currently works as the marketing and technology manager at Haring Realty.
When asked about the biggest responsibilities and challenges facing Lexington, Gongwer mentioned balancing private property rights with the benefit to the community as a whole.
"We have several vacant pieces of privately-owned property that need to be improved and planning commission needs to address the proposed gas station in downtown Lexington," he said. "We are also monitoring the County's traffic studies on Lexington-Springmill Rd and St Rt 546 and what impacts traffic may have through the square due to the new school consolidation on St. Rt. 546/Clever Lane."
"We also have aging main water lines that will need to be replaced in the near future," he said. "How we can complete that without raising income tax levels or how much that will affect water and sewer rates within the village?"
Gongwer said his priority as a city council member is to keep property values high and keep Lexington a destination for families, seniors and first-time home buyers.
"I want to make businesses feel welcome with planned development to minimize impact on residential neighborhoods," he added. "I want to be able to keep village services like snow plowing, leaf pick-up and clean water a top-funded priority. I want to increase the use of the B&O Bike trail and make more connections to our multiple parks within the village."
Kim R. Little
Kim Little, 75, has been a Lexington village council member for 40 years.
“I enjoy serving the people," he said. "I just like being able to look out for them.”
Little is a Shelby High School graduate and holds a bachelor's degree in industrial design from Ohio University. He is retired from the housing and condo construction industries.
Little said his priorities if re-elected are to keep the village safe and keeping the village's water and sewer systems in line with state requirements.
"We have a good police department. I want to make sure that is still running strong. We have a really good street crew," he said.
Little also wants to see some improvements to the village's parks. Another important priority is attracting businesses back to town due to the pandemic.
While council can't do that directly, Little said council members can be vocally supportive of those efforts and assist incoming businesses with zoning.
Little wants voters to know that Lexington operates under a charter government. Council members each serve on various committees and must work together to bring about change.
Jeff O'Brien said he's running for village council because he feels it's time to serve his community.
"I’ve retired twice and I have a part-time job but I feel I've got the time and experience to service my community the best I can," he said. "I think being on council is the best way to do that.”
O'Brien is a graduate of River Valley High School. He studied at various colleges but is six credit hours short of a bachelor's in business.
O'Brien went through the General Motors apprenticeship program, where he trained as an electrician. He's the former owner of Alright Pest Solutions. He currently works on an "as needed" basis for Avita Health System's plant operations department.
O'Brien also served for eight years on the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.
If elected, O'Brien said fiscal responsibility and maintaining the village's high quality police department would be among his top priorities.
"I would like this village to always be a safe place for anybody that lives here," he said. "We’ve got a good protective force right now. We’ve got a good squad and fire department through the township.”
O'Brien sees the village's potential change to city status as one of its biggest challenges.
“Becoming a city is always going to be looming in front of us. That is going to be a monumental change if that happens," he said. "I’m not wild about that happening but I’m not sure how the village can prevent that.”
“I’m not against growth, I”m just torn between losing this nice little village to become a city.”
O'Brien said his "dream project" would be installing a pedestrian bridge across Lexington Springmill Road that connects Patriot Park and Lexington Community Park. O'Brien said such a bridge could eliminate potential unsafe crossings during times when the parks are heavily populated, such as during soccer tournaments and the Lexington Blueberry Festival.
O'Brien declined to state his age, but said he's "as old as his tongue but older than his teeth."
He said he can make only one promise to the voters.
“If the people of the village would put me on the council, the only promise I'll make is I'll not serve more than two terms," he said. "I think everybody should get a chance to serve on village council and I don’t want to hog up anyone's time.”
Darrell Starr-Jude, 64, is running to retain his seat on Lexington Village Council. Starr-Jude was elected to join council four years ago.
Starr-Jude said he wants to give back to the village that has been there for him and his family in the past.
"Losing a wife into the third month of living in Lexington with three children, the teachers were wonderful," he said. "Then our aging parents with Dad having dementia… the aid of the police and fire department fantastic. I am very proud to call Lexington home for 22 years."
Starr-Jude attended DeVry University and Ivy Technical College. He currently works as a driver for All American Ambulette Services. In the past, he worked as an electrician and electrical technician for General Motors, where he served as the co-chairman of reliability and preventative maintenance.
He also worked as an employment instructor for North Central State College, helping provide Industrial Readiness Training (IRT) to those with compromised backgrounds.
Starr-Jude is a member of the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, a court appointed volunteer guardian, lecture and eucharistic minister and former Lexington soccer coach.
Starr-Jude said the biggest challenge the village is facing is developing a vision for its future.
"We are going to be a city. What type will be upon us the residents?" he said. "As in any political point, to please everyone is impossible, the individual must be respected while the majority uses their voice. I believe in synergy – when two or more people or corporations come together there is a better outcome."
Starr-Jude said his priority is to be an advocate for the people of Lexington and to listen to the public.
"I as an individual will never be able to supply all the solutions, but working together with others hopefully can succeed in meeting the established goal or an acceptable solution," he said.
Todd T. Wise
Todd Wise, 50, was appointed to finish the term of former council member Brian White after he became mayor. Now he's running to retain that seat for another four years.
Wise and his family have lived in the village since 2002.
"I am an ordinary resident that is running because I feel it is a civic responsibility to take care of the place you live, to be involved so you can be part of the solution," he said.
Wise has worked at The Gorman Rupp Company for 19 years as the international programs manager. He said that experience has helped him understand water and wastewater infrastructure and appreciate the well-functioning systems in Lexington.
"This and other services in the village work extremely well and we have the luxury to take it for granted," he said ."Keeping that level of service; Water, roads, parks, police, public facilities; requires that the members of Council fund these areas and listen to the needs of the village staff. We must look for improvements that address what the residents want."
If elected, Wise said his interests are maintaining the village's many assets and keeping things running smoothly by supporting the village staff and safety services departments.
"There is room for improvement and my feeling is we can accomplish many things without losing the small town charm," he said. "My top concerns are to address the traffic congestion, address dilapidated properties, and support the existing businesses."
Wise currently serves as the co-chair of the steering committee that is developing the village's comprehensive plan, Leverage Lexington 2035. Wise said the plan is designed to reflect the vision for what village residents say they want.
"My job on Council if elected to continue to serve is to help make sure decisions are made that reflect these goals," he said. "This includes helping small businesses by making the central business district attractive with streetscaping, strengthen the codes and regulations to ensure new business growth is correct for the area, find room (land to expand the village boundaries) for growth to attract new business and housing development, expand the parks to provide new services."
Wise said his priorities would be to implement the goals of the comprehensive plan by setting budgets that use taxpayer money wisely, being fiscally responsible and responding to resident's needs.