2013 IN REVIEW: Former state legislator heads one of Ohio’s best hometowns

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Aurora — The election of the third female mayor in the city’s history, the city being named one of Ohio’s “best hometowns,” the two-time defeat of a levy to enhance police protection and a nearly yearlong labor dispute were among the top local stories of 2013.
The Advocate will review several other major local stories in its January editions.

THE GENERAL ELECTION
In November, Ann Womer Benjamin survived what she described as “a difficult campaign” against five other candidates to become the city’s mayor. She assumed the office the evening of Dec. 30.
Womer Benjamin, an at-large City Councilwoman, collected 1,541 votes, according to the Portage County Board of Elections. John Monroe finished second with 1,156 votes, followed by Tom Plunkett with 807, John J. Kudley Jr. with 712, Delbert D. Dunbar with 121 and Mark J. Demyan with 119.
“There were candidates that worked very hard and brought some merit to the race,” Womer Benjamin said. “I redoubled my efforts because of that. They certainly presented a worthy challenge.”
A former state representative, Womer Benjamin served in the Ohio House from 1995 to 2003.
For one at-large Council seat, Amy McDougald was a winner over incumbent Joe Kastelic, Scott Wolf and former Mayor Lynn McGill.
In Ward 1, James L. Vaca Sr. defeated Richard Duncan. In Ward 3, Reva Barner was unopposed as former Ward 3 Councilman Carl Rausch did not seek re-election. In Ward 5, Kathi Grandillo topped Jim Tasker.
For the Aurora Board of Education, Gerald Kohanski, Pam Mehallis and Beverly Kuch retained their seats after running unopposed.
Prior to her taking office, Womer Benjamin announced that she would replace former Law Director Alan Shorr with Dean DePiero, who had served with her in the Ohio Legislature. She also announced Planning-Zoning-Building Director Rich Wehrenberg would not return as of Jan. 1. She has not yet selected Wehrenberg’s replacement.

A  BEST  HOMETOWN
Ohio Magazine selected Aurora in November as one of five “Ohio’s Best Hometowns.” The accolades were revealed in the November edition.
“The Chamber [of Commerce] is obviously thrilled that the city of Aurora has been selected for this well-deserved honor,” said Executive Director Laura Holman. “We have so much to be proud of, and we are excited to share our town with the larger audience provided by Ohio Magazine.”
Ohio Magazine editors said they selected Aurora because of its “impressive community spirit and extraordinary cooperation between its local government, outstanding school district and thriving business community.
“Aurora balances the fact that it’s a popular regional destination with a steady focus on maintaining the community as a desirable place to live. Residents are particularly adamant about maintaining a superb quality of life for families and preserving the city’s green space for all to enjoy.”
The other communities receiving 2013 honors were Gahanna, Logan, Loveland and Vermilion.

POLICE  LEVY FAILS
For several years, the Aurora Fire Department has received voter-approved tax revenue to enhance its operations. The police department wanted to do likewise, but two attempts failed in May and November.
In May, voters rejected Issue 3, a 1.2-mill safety levy that would have generated about $689,000 annually. The vote was 667 against and 361 for. The mayor and City Council decided to try a second time to pass the same millage, but the issue was again defeated 3,012 to 1,438.
“It’s tough to get people to raise their taxes right now,” former Mayor James Fisher concluded. The levy would have cost the owner of a $100,000 property an additional $37 per year.
The police levy would have supported the hiring of two patrol officers, one detective and another school resource officer, as well as “the technology support that improves the effectiveness of our officers,” according to Fisher.
The new funding also would have enabled police to reinstate a community enhancement team, which allows certain officers to focus on more serious crimes and incidents.

ROTEK  LABOR  DISPUTE
A labor dispute involving more than 120 members of United Steelworkers Local 8565 who work at Rotek Inc. began last January, and union employees continue to picket in front of the facility on South Chillicothe Road.
Some union employees have crossed the picket line and returned to work, while the company has hired several dozen replacement workers to keep the plant operating. The union rejected a proposal in July and negotiations have continued unsuccessfully since.
Rotek manufactures machine elements called slewing bearings and employs about 300 people. Company officials have referred to the situation as a strike, while employees and union reps claim it is “a lockout.”
In a decision regarding unemployment benefits rendered last February by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Office of Unemployment Compensation, it was determined the union workers “are unemployed due to a lockout which began on Jan. 18, 2013 and are not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits.”
Rotek officials disagreed with the term “lockout” and appealed the decision, which is pending. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown visited the picketers one day during August.
Late in the year, picketers removed one of three shelters along Route 43 at the front of the complex at the request of city officials. Two shelters remain.
Email: klahmers@recordpub.com
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

 

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