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County Commissioner Candidates Address Concerns at Community Forum

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega County Commissioner Candidates Address Concerns at Community ForumPhoto via Ramona Reyes.
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Candidates for the office of County Commissioner answered questions for black community members last night at the Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church on East Fifth Street.

Republican Candidates Terry Boyd and Jesse Thomas, Ohio Representative Kevin Boyce, and current Commissioners John O’Grady and Paula Brooks, sat as a panel in front of the congregation, started off with introductions, then moved into a question-and-answer discussion.

Initial talk was dedicated to just informing the people on what county commissioners actually do, where they get their funds, and how they spend them.

“They don’t know,” said Nana Watson, President of the NAACP Columbus Branch. “They know what city council does, they know what the mayor does. The county commissioner seems to be a foreign topic.”

Community members wanted to know how the candidates plan to help low-income communities catch up in employment, housing and education.

“We need to try to level the playing field,” Boyce said. “If we do that we can move the needle in this conversation around poverty. If you know poverty then you have to know for sure that at the end of the day it just comes down to a good paying job.”

Brooks addressed economic development by highlighting successes from her and O’Grady’s tenures, including Columbus 2020, which launched in 2010. Headed by Columbus Region, it was created to address goals for per capita income, job creation and capital investment hoped to be met by the year 2020.

“So far it actually does seem to be working, but it’s not working for everyone,” Brooks said. “We have many jobs that aren’t being filled… because there aren’t enough workers.”

But Boyd said the problem with 2020 was its fundamental strategy in increasing per capita income, which he said was to “recruit higher-income individuals rather than employ the under- or unemployed.”

His strategy would be to incentivize micro-business owners that would open up local markets, auto shops and other community necessities, and to create a model similar to one used in Alabama that would prepare an area’s workforce with a marketable skill set before a manufacturer moves in.

“Jobs are created,” he said. “But guess who doesn’t get the jobs: the people who live here in this community. I’m not afraid to duplicate things that work.”

Thomas, CEO at Coordinated Health Mutual, spoke from a business perspective, suggesting more ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) and Co-ops to give employees more say in the companies where they work.

“Businesses make money, but employees have no ownership in it,” he said. “Let’s get aspirational and put our energy into having ownership in these companies… helping to decide the strategy of the company.”

Watson said the main thing missing from the conversation was how to consider the voices from the black community, and how county leaders intend to engage them.

“I’d suggest the county commissioner become more engaged with the community, begin to understand who the black community is, and have more of a open mind,” Watson said. “Instead of sitting down there on South High, they need to come into the community, because if you want to have a conversation, you need to pay for parking.”

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