By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Eight candidates for two at-large seats on Bowling Green City Council tried to convince voters Tuesday evening that they were the best pick for the job.
People of Engagement Bowling Green held a candidate forum at the library for candidates from the Democratic, Green and Independent parties.
The primary election on May 2 will narrow down the at-large race to a maximum of two candidates from each party. Since only one Republican filed, voters will be given the choice of ballots for the Democratic Party, the Green Party, or for issues only.
Filing for the two available at-large city council seats are the following candidates:
- Democrats: Holly Cipriani, Mark Hollenbaugh, Robert Piasecki and Sandy Rowland.
- Green Party: Helen Kay Dukes, Beverly Ann Elwazani, Carolyn S. Kawecka and Rosamond L. McCallister.
- Independent: Nathan Eberly.
- Republican: Gregory W. Robinette.
The candidates at the forum were asked four questions, the first being why they want the four-year commitment of serving on council.
Rowland, a Realtor who is beginning her sixth year on council, said the job requires a lot of juggling. Earlier this week, council dealt with labor negotiations, a resolution for immigrants, and city finances. “I have become deeply involved in many aspects of City Council,” she said. “I want to continue with the knowledge I have.”
Cipriani, an academic advisor at Bowling Green State University, came here to get her college degrees, then “I fell in love with Bowling Green.” Her jobs have always been in the realm of public service, some requiring her to seek out citizen concerns.
Dukes, a retired minister, would like to help citizens have a bigger voice. “I have loved Bowling Green since the 1940s. I’m the old lady in this group,” she said. “I would like to be a part of something important in Bowling Green.” She also pushed the benefit of having another party represented on council, and more women, since Rowland is currently the only female member.
Eberly, a financial representative and advisor for Modern Woodmen, said he is running as an Independent because as a council member he would be serving all city residents. “I don’t see local issues as partisan,” he said. “We’re not representing a political affiliation. We’re representing all the citizens of Bowling Green.”
Elwazani, a parent who previously worked in behavioral health services, said she was horrified at the thought of moving to a cornfield when she came to Bowling Green 25 years ago. “I’ve really grown to love Bowling Green,” she said. “I want to give back to it.” One of her main skills is the ability to listen. “I listen, then I try to do the best I can.”
Hollenbaugh, a high school government teacher, previously served on city council and is now on the city planning commission. “I’ve become increasingly frustrated over the last 10 years as a government teacher,” trying to explain to students how government should work. “I can do something about that on the local level.”
“I really just have a desire to have a positive impact on my community,” Hollenbaugh said.
Kawecka, a former in-home child care provider, said she also wants to make positive changes. “We do have the chance to influence government here,” she said. “We can work together.”
Piasecki, who works for Dr. Pepper/Snapple, also has experience on city council. “I like serving. I like listening to people,” he said. “I want to make this place better, not only for my family.”
The candidates were then asked to identify the major challenges faced by the city in the next few years.
Dukes said the city needs ingenuity and creativity to solve financial problems and work cooperatively. “The challenge of coming together as a community is going to be very important.”
Eberly, who frequently attends council meetings, said shortfalls in the city budget are serious and may be recurring. Those must be dealt with, “to make sure we have the city services we all enjoy and love.”
The city’s tax base is not helped by the fact that a high number of BGSU employees live in Perrysburg or Findlay, Eberly said. And economic growth should be diversified even more to help retain the brightest graduates, he said.
Elwazani also listed city finances as a top challenge, and said that the options of cutting police, fire and trash pickup services are not the best way to cut costs. She suggested efforts attracting small businesses, creating jobs and housing for young people, and “embracing each and every member of the community.”
Hollenbaugh said he believes the purpose of local government is to preserve, plan and protect. The city needs to focus on planning – not only on the new land use plan implementation but also on handling the budget shortfall. “There are going to be some difficult decisions coming,” he said.
Hollenbaugh also suggested diversification of industry and forming partnerships between the city and neighborhoods. “Good jobs equal good neighborhoods,” he said.
Kawecka said the city’s energy choices are the biggest challenges it faces. “We are really rare. Most cities don’t have windmills.” She warned that while the city needs businesses, it must make sure that companies are environmentally responsible.
Piasecki said finances have become a problem because of state and federal cuts. “It’s not going to get any better,” he said. Piasecki suggested the city become a better cheerleader for itself. “We need to make people aware of what a great city this is. We need to sell this city.”
Rowland said council saw the financial problems approaching, and said now is the time to respond before a crisis occurs. Rowland said another challenge facing the city is the fact that so many homes are now rentals. “Our neighborhoods have disintegrated.” The East Side needs improvements, the downtown needs revitalized, and schools need to remain strong. “People choose housing based on schools.”
Cipriani said Bowling Green is in the difficult position of maintaining its small town feel while looking for economic growth. Both are needed in order to attract young professionals “who are going to stay” once they move here, she said.
The next question posed dealt with how the candidates plan to engage young people in politics.
Eberly said he has started an organization for young professionals to get them involved and connected to the community. He suggested events like planned lunches for young people with council members. “If we aren’t engaging them, they are going to move,” he said.
Elwazani said efforts need to start early in the schools. She suggested coffee chats, similar to those held now by Superintendent Francis Scruci, where young people might be more comfortable approaching council members.
Hollenbaugh said young people are often interested in aspects of government, but need to be shown how to funnel that passion into the community. “We have to provide a conduit for them,” he said.
Kawecka said young people need to be asked for their ideas, not just regarding problems, but “what they see as the solutions.”
Piasecki said many youth found their voices during the last election. “They see that their voice will be heard. They are the ones who are going to take BG to the next level.”
Rowland said she wants to serve as a role model for youth. There are many ways for students to serve the community and many ways council members could get involved in the schools. “We have to turn things around and be someone they aspire to be.”
Cipriani speaks to youth groups and proposed using internships to make the most of young talent. “We need to meet them where they are,” she said, so they have an opportunity to voice their passions and get involved.
Dukes suggested that efforts start even earlier – perhaps in kindergarten, “so kids learn what it means to be part of a community.”
The final question focused on the downtown, and how candidates would support small business development, expansion and success.
Piasecki said the city has a vibrant downtown with “some wonderful family businesses.” He suggested that more emphasis be placed on shopping at locally owned stores rather than big box stores.
Rowland disagreed that downtown is thriving. “It’s not robust if you talk to the business owners,” she said. “What can we as a city do to help?” City officials need to face the fact that the downtown is not flourishing, she said. Business owners need to be consulted prior to decisions such as the change to parking kiosks in one lot downtown. “The parking lot is a tragedy,” Rowland said, noting several upset business owners.
Cipriani suggested the Buy BG initiative that she helped create in 2013 be revitalized. She said interns could be used to promote businesses, and the university be used to research other small city downtowns. “What do we need to be successful?” she said.
Dukes said many residents aren’t aware of the businesses downtown, besides the bars and restaurants. “Our small businesses downtown are really struggling.” She suggested that resources at BGSU could help, and the new downtown green space may benefit businesses.
Eberly said several entities are already in place to provide assistance, such as the chamber of commerce, the economic development commission, and the visitors and conventions bureau. “There are resources there to help,” he said.
Elwazani said success in other communities should be studied. She also mentioned that while at a restaurant recently she heard some men talking about the downtown parking issue. They did not know how to use the kiosks and said the time limits did not allow for shopping by their spouses.
Hollenbaugh said council needs to realize the impact of its actions, and consult with business owners prior to making those decisions. He added that the downtown could also benefit from the Community Action Plan, which is intended to revitalize the East Side and connect the campus to the downtown.
Kawecka suggested more promotion of Bowling Green as an interesting place to visit regionally and statewide.
In conclusion, the candidates offered additional thoughts.
Kawecka promised to stay true to the principles of the Green Party.
Piasecki said, “I’m just a regular guy. I get up every morning and I work hard.” He coaches and volunteers. “I care about the city.”
Rowland said that if she is re-elected, she will continue doing “the best for you I know how to do.”
Cipriani focused on her perspective as a student, community member and BGSU employee. “I don’t shy away from challenges,” she said. “I want to be a public servant.”
Dukes said, “Of all the towns I’ve lived in, Bowling Green is my favorite.”
Eberly spoke of his financial and business skills, and his commitment to work in a bipartisan manner.
Elwazani said, “I’m here to listen. I would love to be your voice on City Council.”
And Hollenbaugh talked about his commitment to the city. “I stay engaged. I attend council meetings, even though I don’t have to,” he said. “Let’s face it, people don’t serve on city council because they get a lot of money.” They want to make a difference, he said.
McCallister did not attend the candidate forum.