GRATIS — New mayor Ben Roles never actually planned to become an elected official.
“It was never a goal of mine to say, ‘Hey, one day I want to be mayor of a small town,” Roles said. “But I am interested in seeing things run right.”
Roles works as a plumbing foreman for Dayton, Ohio-based Applied Mechanical Systems. Roles has worked for that company for 16 years; he was elected mayor in November 2019, after running against Kathy Lewis and fellow council member Rayanne Allen.
Roles decided to run for mayor because he believes people should take responsibility for what goes on in the community.
“If people want things to happen in their community, they need to get involved on a personal level,” Roles said. “You can’t always wait for someone else to do something.”
Roles believes his strategic and problem-solving mindset is a good fit for the position.
“I see myself as a visionary,” Roles said. “I like looking at the big picture. I like planning.”
According to Roles, his plans for Gratis involve trying to take advantage of the community’s strategic location. Three state highways — Ohio 122, OH-503, and OH-725 — pass through Gratis, making it accessible to people in a number of larger nearby cities.
“I’d like to see new businesses come in,” Roles said. “I think we’re situated in a very desirable spot. It’s very easy to get to Eaton, Dayton, Hamilton or Middletown from here. You have three state routes that come through, so I would expect the village to take advantage of that.”
Roles would also like to explore ways of attracting new residents to the village.
“I think it’s our job to make the village more attractive to people in that way,” Roles said. “I’d like to see it grow on the business front, and just overall make it a better place to live life.”
These plans include a focus on cleaning up downtown Gratis and making it more attractive to visitors and potential business owners, as well as applying for grants to improve local parks.
The village recently applied for a grant to add picnic shelters, a basketball hoop, and a playground to Bicentennial Park, and is working with Greenville-based civil engineering firm Mote & Associates to secure funding for new pumps and equipment for the village’s wastewater lift station, as well as a portable generator that could be plugged into the town’s infrastructure in the event of a widespread power failure or a natural disaster.
“No one’s standing there just laying it on the table,” Roles said of the resources needed to pursue these improvements. “You’ve got to work for it, and you have to go in and apply for it.”