We asked the candidates for Union County Commissioner a series of questions about themselves and their vision for our county. Here are their answers.
Please list your relevant experience that makes you suited to the role you are running for.
Roberts: I am a former social worker, I spent my college years interning in the sex abuse unit of Child Protective Services in both investigations and on-going casework. After college I worked at a shelter for teens on probation working on reunification efforts with families before moving on to special needs adoptions. My work in adoptions was for the abused children who had been removed from their families, I was the case manager, as well as searching for and certifying the adoptive homes and then processing the adoptions. These years as a social worker required me to make difficult decisions looking at multiple viewpoints, many were life altering for the families I worked for.
Since having my daughters I have been a stay at home mom which has allowed me to be a community volunteer in many different areas. I have also worked as a substitute teacher, both short term and long term, when my daughters’ school was in need of additional help. I am the current PTO president of Dublin Jerome High School and was the president of my girls’ middle school PTO prior to that.
Being a stay at home mom has allowed me to regularly attend commissioner meetings, chamber of commerce meetings and sub committee meetings, as well as many other community events, programs, and meetings. This also will allow me to be a full time commissioner in the fastest growing county in Ohio, a county that needs and deserves full time representation.
Schmenk: My experience in the private sector working as VP of External Relations and Corporate Counsel for The ScottsMiracle-Gro Company and Wendy’s International helped me understand the importance of public-private partnerships. My experiences in the public sector (serving as Marysville Mayor from 2008-2011 and on Governor Kasich’s Cabinet as the Director of the Development Services Agency) helped me understand public finance, safety services, public transportation projects and the importance of working with stakeholders and constituents. I have served as Board Chair or Vice-Chair for several nonprofit entities and as President of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, and those roles will help me work with two other Commissioners on the Union County Board of Commissioners.
In what part of Union County do you live?
Roberts: I live in the southeastern corner of Union County, in Jerome Township.
What issues in your particular area of residence are of most concern to you and how do they affect your view of Union County?
Roberts: The rapid growth and lack of representation in my part of Union County is the issue that inspired me to run for commissioner for many reasons. I want to make sure that the growth that I see every day is responsible and beneficial for the entire county. The rapid growth is a strain on traffic, I actually make my daughter leave Union County to drive a different route through Delaware County and then back into Union County to get to school because it is less congested and safer. During certain times of the day, stop signs and roundabouts have very long waiting times.
Another issue I see where I live is a disconnect from Union County. I would love to see Union County residents in Dublin, Jerome Township, and Plain City have pride in the fact that they are Union County residents. Connecting the communities through bike paths and walking trails would help with county cohesiveness. Additionally we need better connectivity to help our small business community continue to grow and thrive.
Schmenk: Growth is the major issue facing Union County. I have experience managing growth and engaging in strategic planning. I will apply that experience as County Commissioner and work with our neighbors and residents to ensure that smart growth occurs.
I will also collaborate with other local officials to ensure we improve congested intersections, widen roads and maintain current roads so our high quality of life continues and our transportation is safe and efficient. Maintaining our strong economy is another important issue. While serving as Director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, I managed a large state agency. While serving as Marysville Mayor, I helped restore the City’s financial stability. If elected as County Commissioner, I will serve as a watchdog of county taxpayer dollars, maintaining our fiscal conservatism.
I will also apply my experience in economic development to attract and retain businesses in our County and will keep Union County business-friendly. Finally, I believe we need to maintain our agricultural heritage. That heritage has helped us become hard-working, honest citizens. I will work to keep our county friendly to agricultural while maintaining our balance of residential and industrial life.
Union County is the fastest-growing county in Ohio. However, many of our smaller cities —Richwood, Raymond, Magnetic Springs, Unionville Center, Milford Center — are suffering budget problems and loss of business. How do you plan to help?
Roberts: Hands-on, personal touch collaboration and connectivity is the way to help. Applying for and utilizing state and federal grants as well as collaborating with public, non-profit, and private companies. Increasing the county wide connectivity would make residents of other cities want to visit those that need help. Connecting the communities through the bike paths and walking trails. Working with other community leaders towards common sense solutions. In person meetings to emphasize all the positive attributes Union County can offer to small businesses. The rural internet absolutely must be improved to help these communities thrive.
Schmenk: Each of our communities has a unique identity and unique assets to attract and retain businesses. As county commissioner, I will work with our county economic development office as well as township trustees and officials in each of our communities to put together strategic plans for economic growth. I will also work with them, as appropriate and as they desire, to develop strong budgets and to seek grants and funding for community improvement projects.
The Ohio Quarter Horse Association recently left Richwood after over 50 years. Many residents feel that not enough was done by Union County leaders to retain the Association and other businesses that have left our county. How do you plan to help our county retain businesses and attract new ones?
Roberts: Retaining and attracting new businesses is vital to the county, we have so much to offer such as quality of life, proximity to a large city and an international airport, and Union County could easily be marketed to businesses and companies at trade shows. We need connectivity and collaboration. Applying for and utilizing state and federal grants as well as working with public, non-profit, and private companies. Working with other community leaders towards common sense solutions. In person meetings to emphasize all the positive attributes Union County can offer. The exceptional high schools and vocational schools which service our county ensures a highly skilled workforce is available to new businesses. The rural internet absolutely must be improved to attract new businesses to those areas.
Schmenk: I am an attorney and have worked in both the public and private sectors. I currently work as an economic development attorney for Bricker & Eckler LLP, working with counties and municipalities all over Ohio using tools to attract and retain businesses. I will apply that experience as Union County Commissioner to work with our county economic development office and our townships and municipalities to ensure we have the necessary tools, resources and business-friendly approach to retain our businesses and attract new ones.
Relations between Union County officials and leaders of the county’s municipalities have deteriorated significantly over the last few years, e.g. Plain City, Jerome Township, Richwood. If elected, how do you plan to mend fences?
Roberts: My experience as a social worker has taught me to listen and understand multiple, sometimes conflicting, viewpoints and work on solutions that help everyone and make tough decisions. Being PTO president at multiple schools has fine-tuned that skill.
I feel that meeting with the municipalities in a comfortable environment to work directly with the local leaders in a non combative manner and truly listen to what they have to say will make huge strides forward. I also think that increasing the transparency and accessibility to the commissioners and their business will alleviate many misunderstanding and misconceptions.
While I am a Union County native, I have a lot to learn about issues facing our municipalities and townships. In the last 5 months, I have attended board of trustee meetings in 12 of our 14 townships and will attend the final two this month.
I have also reached out to leaders in our municipalities. If elected, I will immediately meet with these leaders again to learn their needs, gather their input and begin working on solutions. If they desire, we can work on strategic plans for the county together and chart a course forward together. Good communication will be the key to good relationships, so I will work with these leaders to establish a regular meeting schedule so that we keep the lines of communication open and develop solutions to issues together.
Which of the following issues do you feel are most important for the Union County Commission to focus on?
Roberts: Economic development, Opioid issues, Traffic, Utility repairs, State budget support for Union County, 33 Corridor, Conservation of agricultural interests, Rural internet
Schmenk: Economic development, Opioid issues, Traffic, Utility repairs, State budget support for Union County, 33 Corridor, Conservation of agricultural interests.
The County needs to focus on all of the above issues. They are all critical to our health and well-being. If I am elected, I will work with the other two Commissioners and other leaders on all of these issues.
The Village of Plain City, after long and difficult negotiations with Marysville, decided to pursue utilities from Columbus. Do you support that decision?
Roberts: I do not know enough about the negotiations to form an educated opinion on the decision.
Schmenk: I respect the right of the Village of Plain City to make that decision. I believe their leaders did a good job in balancing cost and the needs of their residents. However, I wish that the City of Marysville had been able to work out an acceptable agreement with Plain City to provide the utilities. It appears that Marysville’s water and sewer systems could benefit from additional users, and it seems that it would have been beneficial for all parties to find resolution of the issues.
Regarding Plain City’s decision to pursue utilities from Columbus: Would you have made a more public effort to retain utilities and monies in our county if you were on the Commission at that time? Please explain if/how you would have approached the situation differently.
Roberts: I am sure that it was a difficult decision for Plain City and I am confident that they made the best choice for their community at that time. I firmly believe in transparency and public access to information. As elected officials representing all voters, the actions, information, and conversations that happen making these decisions should be readily available to those who have put elected officials into office. If I were on the Commission at the time I might have encouraged additional public involvement and access to information – while it might not have changed the final decision, it could have led to less questioning of that decision.
Schmenk: I respect the positions taken on this issue by the County Commissioners, the City of Marysville and the Village of Plain City. I do not know all of the facts, but if I had been a Commissioner during that time, I would have looked into the situation, learned all the facts, asked to meet with all parties and tried to help mediate and broker a solution that included the provision of utilities by the City of Marysville.
In your opinion, what specific opportunities, initiatives and/or planning have NOT been properly addressed in the past by our county government, and how will you act differently if elected?
Roberts: I feel that this biggest opportunity missed by the county government up to this point is the lack of a cohesive, county-wide inclusion of all parts of the county. With Dublin, Jerome Township, and Plain City often referred to as “down county” and Richwood “up there” it does not feel true to the origin of the name Union County, when portions of Franklin, Delaware, Logan, and Madison counties all came together to form our great county in 1820. I feel that if we live by this history of all parts coming together we can seize more opportunities and initiative and planning will be easier with a whole county team approach.
I also feel that additional access to the commissioners and the business the commissioners do will help with all aspects of the office and the county. I would love to see the agendas for the meetings released earlier (current practice is by 5:00 pm the day before) so that residents could make arrangements to attend meetings if there is something on the agenda that directly affects them. I would also like to see the meetings recorded or live streamed so that those who can not attend the meetings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings could still watch what happened at their convenience. I would also like to see an evening townhall with the commissioners attempted, again to give accessibility and opportunity to participate to those who can not attend weekday meetings. If this was successful I would suggest these being done quarterly.
The Ohio Checkbook is an online program that shows where every dollar comes from and goes to. Over half the counties in Ohio currently use it, many cities, townships and school districts in Union County use it. I think having the county use it would help significantly.
In addition to these ideas I am also making the commitment to hosting coffees with the commissioner around the county on a regular basis once I am elected.
Schmenk: I respect our current and past county leaders, so I will not criticize their work. In looking forward to what I will do if elected, I will do my best to maintain open lines of communication with leaders of all our county’s townships and municipalities. I will also work with them, if they desire, on growth and development plans for the entire county. Finally, I believe there is a need, in some of our townships, to focus more attention on safety services and how to pay for proper fire and EMS services, so I will work with those townships to develop plans to address the concerns.
Opioid abuse has hit Union County exceptionally hard. What ideas do you have to help reduce this epidemic?
Roberts: We must increase treatment and rehabilitation options and access which offer comprehensive treatment plans. We need to support the first responders who deal with this issue every day. While Union County is being hit hard, all of Ohio is as well, we need to work with other counties, the state, and the federal government to utilize every tool and opportunity available. Other states have recently started turning around their statistics, we need to follow their lead and utilize the resources they have to help save our residents. Education and research is extremely important.
Schmenk: Across our state, County Commissioners should increase education efforts for our young people on the dangers of opioid use. They should also make more treatment available for reasonable cost and address mental illness linked with addictions. Increased resources for law enforcement will be necessary. Finally, Commissioners should increase their county child protective services and provide foster caseworkers and parents with the resources they need to care for our children affected by parents with addictions. To pay for these efforts, Commissioners will have to strengthen their advocacy for increased federal and state funding.
In Union County, all of these efforts are necessary. While we have not experienced as much opioid addiction as some counties, our location between Columbus and Springfield has allowed us to become a pipeline for opioid distribution. We need to raise our voices and increase our efforts to help those with addictions in our county and to prevent further addiction.
Union County officials recently demanded that developers in the Southeast portion of Union County pay millions of dollars in fees for road improvements, in some cases holding up development or discouraging it altogether. At the same time, tax abatements are regularly given to encourage businesses to come to certain parts of Union County. What do you think should be done to ensure the county is being fair overall without giving up revenue?
Roberts: Transparency is key. When the public and developers can see what is happening they can understand it better it will hold all parties accountable. Making the meetings available to watch at a convenient time, utilizing Ohio Checkbook, and having easy access to ask questions of the commissioners will all help this situation.
Schmenk: I believe that lack of communication and failure to involve stakeholders in planning and decision-making can cause a lot of problems. If elected, I will do my best to maintain open lines of communication with leaders of all our county’s townships and municipalities. I will also work with them, if they desire, on growth and development plans for the entire county. If we can all get on the same page as to how our county should develop, it will help. If we all become aware of costs of development and work together on ways to pay for it, we can avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Union County Commissioners recently voted again to allow the City of Dublin to annex more land from Union County—causing utilities and tax revenues to profit other cities. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?
Roberts: For the particular projects involved I support the annexation to Dublin but I would like to see the discussion of future annexation happen with more input from the townships, residents, and other affected parties involved.
Schmenk: I do not know all the facts of this situation. From a general standpoint, if elected, my initial position will be to try to maintain the integrity of Union County by resisting other entities’ attempts to annex land. However, there are always many competing interests to be balanced. These include the rights of landowners to develop their land as they see fit, within the boundaries of the law; the rights of neighbors to enjoy their own land without noise or nuisances; which entity is best equipped to provide utilities and other services, and an examination of what is the highest and best use of the land in question. If elected, I pledge to meet with all entities involved in annexation issues, gather as much information available, work hard to find compromises acceptable to the most parties possible and do my best to represent the interests of the residents of Union County.
Do you believe the Smart Corridor/US 33 has the potential to lead growth in our area for this century?
Would you ride in a driverless car from Dublin to Honda?
Anything you’d like to add?
Roberts: I ask for your vote on November 6. I will work hard for Union County and no one will be more committed to serving the entire community, full time, with the best interests of the county as my only motivation. I will be available and I will be transparent. Your vote matters to me, vote Tiffanie Roberts for Union County Commissioner and let me get the job done for you!
Schmenk: I’m running for Union County Commissioner because I want to be involved in its issues, challenges and most importantly, its solutions! I’m a Union County native, and my husband and I’ve raised our family here. I care deeply about our issues and will help take our County into the next decade. Our County has a proud agricultural heritage and is home to major industry. It is also on the cutting edge of new technologies related to smart mobility. This combination has provided our residents with a high quality of life. As the next County Commissioner, I intend to work hard to preserve that quality of life. I will ensure that our residents continue to receive high quality county services and ensure that Union County continues to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.