WILMINGTON — Clinton County Commissioner Kerry Steed and James G. “Jim” Fife made cases why they are the better candidate to serve as county commissioner, tackling a range of issues from drugs and taxes to priorities, planning and experience.
Of the two seats up for election, Steed currently holds one, and he faces Fife in the March 15 primary. Saturday, the two debated at a Clinton County GOP-hosted debate.
The winner of that primary will go on to face Dean Feldmeyer, a Democrat, in the November general election.
In opening, Steed said, “I’m the only one that can present you a proven track record of making the tough decisions on your behalf as a commissioner.”
He spoke of his business career, the investment his family has made in the community and his desire to serve others, and he said he’s delivered on promises to be fiscally responsible by trimming budget requests, prioritizing protection of the formerly county-owned hospital’s operating fund and creating an environment where companies have expanded and created 400 more jobs.
The commissioners are currently working out details to create a legacy fund with that fund, which consists of about $3 million.
“As your commissioner,” Steed said, “I’m already working on what’s next.”
Fife promised to protect taxpayers from unnecessary spending.
“Accountability in government has lost its meaning, and … I want to do my part to get it back,” Fife continued. “As a conservative, I’ll work hard to protect your tax dollars. But even more important, I’ll expect those around me to do the same. There’s no excuse not to.”
He also said he’ll ask whether each expense is part of the county’s “core business values” and said he’ll start each budget from a blank sheet of paper rather than the previous year’s budget.
When asked what was the most pressing issue facing the county, Fife said the county must identify its core business functions and stop spending money on things it shouldn’t be spending money on.
He also said the county needs to look into shared services and joint ventures with other governments in the county, right-size the government and develop a strategic plan.
“There are so many things with regards to the budget that we have to do and can do, but it takes initiative,” Fife said. “And, as a commissioner, I will have that initiative, and I will do those things.”
Steed said it comes down to a three-legged stool, the first leg of which was containing unnecessary budget expansion.
“As a business owner … I value every dollar that comes in and every dollar that goes out,” Steed said, adding that he’s cut approximately $1.2 to $1.4 million from requests with each budget.
The second leg is diversifying the county’s employment base to protect and insulate the county “from another DHL debacle,” and the third is to build public safety and services infrastructure, such as the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System that was finished last year.
Fife said there’s no easy answer to Clinton County’s drug problem, which Fife said is “becoming an epidemic.”
“It’s going to take a team effort to address it,” Fife said. “A good commissioner’s office can help lead this effort.”
Fife said, if elected, he’ll work closely with law enforcement and courts, coordinate efforts with schools, churches, health professionals and the community and make safety a core business function of the county.
“The drug issue that we have is the scourge of any community in the United States,” said Steed.
Steed said he would use a three-pronged approach of enforcement, rehabilitation and education by supporting the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office with the necessary tools and resources it needs, making use of tools like the now-one-year-old You-Turn Recovery Docket and teaching children to know that drugs will be the end of them.
Both Steed and Fife said their experiences make them more qualified to serve as commissioner.
Steed said he had 25 years’ experience as owner of Generations Pizzeria, which employs 35 people and has contributed $20 million to the local economy.
“My family and I have been invested, participating and we are connected to the fabric of the community,” Steed said, adding that those connections make him a stronger candidate. “I thank you for the time you’ve allowed me to serve, and I hope that you’ll allow me to continue.”
Fife said he has 35 years’ business administration experience and 20 years’ experience as a trustee for Union Township, and he said private sector, teaching, human resource and financial experience gives him perspective.
Fife also said that he has extensive short- and long-term planning experience, which he says is critical for government and needed in Clinton County.
Community outreach and closing
As he’s spoken to voters, agencies and communities, Steed said, “it’s very clear that if you allow them to talk, you’ll understand what the nature of their issues are and you learn what it takes to solve those problems. … Listening and bringing people together is truly the way that we solve all of our issues.”
“It’s not just listening to them,” Fife said. “It’s taking that information back and it’s doing something about it.
“We all can listen,” Fife continued. “Listening’s only half the battle; it’s doing. A good commissioner listens and leads. I will lead.”
When asked if there was anything he’d done that would bring the office of commissioner any dishonor, Fife said, “No,” nothing he was aware of.
His parents taught him values and led him in the right direction, Fife said.
Fife said, “I want to make a positive difference in Clinton County.”
“I’m proud to say that I’ve served my family, my business and this community faithfully, as much as I possibly could,” said Steed.
Steed said he hopes people can see the investment his family has made in the community.
“As your commissioner, I’ve served proudly and there’s nothing I would do more than want to serve and continue in that manner.”
“Just a few years ago, you voted and overwhelmingly chose me to be your commissioner,” said Steed. “And I think it was because you believed in the experience that I had as a businessman, the investment that I had in this community, and I truly think that you understood the desire and passion that I had to get in there and be an amazing commissioner.”
Steed said he believes he has served faithfully as commissioner, protected taxpayers’ money, promoted the community, created an environment that companies can expand in and protected the hospital operating funds.
“If you will keep me as your commissioner, we can keep this good going and start to work on what’s next,” Steed said.
“My vision for Clinton County involves developing a team atmosphere where your voice is heard,” said Fife. “I believe Clinton County is crying out for leadership, in all regions of the county, to face today’s challenges.”
Fife said all segments of the community – farmers, teachers businessmen, seniors and others – deserve to be heard.
“When voices are heard, it’s a recipe for success for the entire community,” Fife said. “As commissioner, I will provide you with that opportunity.”
Fife said he expects a commissioner to have “honesty, integrity, and the highest degree of moral and ethical values, both on the job and away. A role model for our county and our children. As a Clinton County commissioner, that’s what you can expect from Jim Fife.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.