EATON — To help prepare voters for the upcoming election, the Preble County Farm Bureau hosted a Town Hall for Preble County Commissioner candidates on Monday, Oct. 12, to allow constituents to hear from the candidates about what they can do for the county.
Candidates Mary Bullen and Adam Craft, who will be facing off in the November general election, as well as candidate Rachael Vonderhaar, who is running unopposed, participated in the town hall.
Ty Higgins, Director of Media Relations at the Ohio Farm Bureau, moderated the event.
After opening statements by each candidate, Higgins took the candidates through a number of questions concerning relevant issues around Preble County.
Candidates on drug issues – heroin, fentanyl:
Vonderhaar: “Those drug issues exist because we have people who don’t feel cared for. That’s the reality. They need to have a loving support system. They need a place to spend time. They need to be connected to their community. There’s clearly a hole in their life as to why they’re behaving the way they are, and they’re using those drugs to fill that hole. So with that, I think it’s a matter of us figuring out who we are as a community, how do we care for the people in this community, and what does it look like in order to help them achieve a clean life and interact into society in a way that we welcome them home.”
Bullen: “Addiction is a disease. It’s not a choice. And when you’re sick, you need support. I think we have strong support in Preble County as far as the people that are providing help for them to quit. The problem then is when they go back to the community and the people that they were using with before. It is a huge problem, and it’s destroying too many families, affecting their children. We have grandparents raising children because their kids are ill. So, it’s going to take a huge effort, and we are already doing a good job of that, but it’s not enough. It means the courts. It means our police, our sheriff’s office, the Mental Health and Recovery Board, and all the other agencies actively working to make a difference in this population.”
Craft: “One of the better, more exciting meetings that I’ve had the opportunity to have as I’m running for county commissioner is to meet with our Judge of Common Pleas. He was pointing out to me that that he is trying to make a drug court. He’s trying to continue to help people with rehabilitation. There’s certain things that the state and local agencies offer. We offer some here on a county level as well. But, there are certain agencies that offer more additional help to people that are fighting that disease that or that addiction. So, I feel like that as a county commissioner, I will be very open to giving additional resources to our judges, additional resources to our law enforcement agents and additional resources to our Mental Health and Recovery [Board] to really help them fight that and get a handle on that problem. It affects every single person. I don’t care who we are. I’ve got folks in my family that are – some of my extended family. So, it is a huge thing that we need to address as a county and I’m really excited to work with our judge. I’m really excited to work with our mental health and recovery director and I’m really excited to work with our sheriff to try to help curb this problem.”
Candidates on education and what insights they bring:
Craft: “Well, I think the age thing is a two-edged sword. I am the younger one, and it’s closer for me, so it’s more real to me. It’s more real to me the struggles that the young people in this community are facing now than it would be to anyone else. I think that I’m able to reach out to those folks and reach out and understand. I understand a lot of the platforms that they use, I understand a lot of the technology that they use, I understand a lot of the things that they do. So, I would be able to help them and guide them and work with our other agencies, really, and develop a relationship with our other agencies to help guide them and get them into some of these jobs, get them into things moving forward.”
Vonderhaar: “I have to say, when it comes to the young people of our community and what it looks like going forward, I am hopeful. I have been a 4-H advisor. I also work with the FFA in the area and many of the FFA teachers. We have lots of young people that come through our farm over the last 25 years as part of the work program with FFA, and with that it’s amazing the lives that you can touch in the community related to education and decisions that are being made and help guide young people along the way. I’m thankful that our economic development is understood the need on workforce development and creating those transitional points between the tech school and the colleges in the area and how we help our young people find the path that fits them and we guide them to the best path that keeps them in this county, because there’s no success without succession, and we need to have a pathway to keep our young people local, and jobs that are available for them to stay here and live the American dream.”
Bullen: “It’s hard to balance our life in rural Preble County with the opportunities that people get, that their children get in wealthier communities in Dayton, Cincinnati, and around the United States. We don’t have the money for schools that a lot of those school districts have. I personally have worked with every superintendent in Preble County and done the best that I can to help make our kids have as good an opportunity in life as anybody living anywhere else in the United States.”
Candidates on serving business and agriculture companies:
Bullen: “Selling a large part of our business of Bullen Ultrasonics in 2006 to Lamb Research was a very difficult and emotional decision to make. But, we retained the business that we had been doing since my father started in 1971. I led the company at that point without many of the management team I had depended upon, but I was determined to win. We had a unique process and a great worldwide reputation. I believed that American manufacturing was not dead, and we could prove it. Our team dug in and set the strategy to win. We need planned, intelligent growth in this county. Companies that offer living wage jobs and benefits. But, we need to take care of the great companies we already have. They are struggling to find qualified workers to fill their job openings. Their employees need help with transportation and childcare. I know the leaders in most of those companies and can talk their language, understand what keeps them up at night, and will do what I can to help them succeed. I come from a long line of farmers going back to 1804. My mother’s ancestors came here from Georgia. They were Quakers, and they moved away from slavery up into the Gratis-Somers in Gasper Township. My cousins still farm in that area and have an Ohio century farm. I’ve been a big supporter of the county fair and understand the impact of 4-H and FFA. Do I support agriculture? You bet I do.”
Craft: “Driving around Preble County, I see nothing but help wanted signs. We’ve got [TimkenSteel], we’ve got Parker Hannifin, we’ve got – I mean, even Bullen [Ultrasonics]. We’ve got help one size all across this county. So, the thing that I am really wanting to work for is workforce development, and I think that’s something that we probably need to touch on a little bit more and we need to partner with our schools, and we need to continue to get jobs and get people training for jobs. Because the biggest thing that I run into, and I run an electrical contracting company, and the biggest thing that we run into is we can’t find help. So, it doesn’t matter how many jobs that we bring to Preble County if we don’t have the folks here that are trained and ready to go to work. That’s why I am really excited about the initiatives that the Preble County Education Services Center is putting together to start to let these kids that are in school continue to advance their education and go through some of these factories and get some of these jobs that are available to us. I really do want to continue to partner with them on that.”
Vonderhaar: “I don’t know if many of you know, I grew up in suburbia in West Chester, Ohio, in Butler County, I am a blend of industry and ag. My grandparents farmed in Westchester, my dad assisted them. He worked third shift most of the time at International Paper. Both of my parents started off in the factory and moved into management, and with that, I watched them grow as they went from being union leaders into those management positions, and I understand what it is to be blue collar and white collar. I’m here to represent the voice and the workers of this community and understand the needs of all of us. So with that, I’m just here to support and advocate in any way I can.”
After the question and answer portion of the town hall, candidates were given the opportunity for closing statements.
Vonderhaar: “It’s pretty simple for me. I see Preble County as diversified [agriculture] operation. So with that, we have our agriculture, which is the the bulk of the property taxes that are collected. At this point, we’re about to have a transition between agriculture and residential. But with that we, we have our manufacturing, we have our retail, and we have food service. And with that, it’s how do we all work together to offer the best opportunities to our community so that we can have that success of succession and keep our next generation here. So with that, I will make sure to use my strong voice to advocate for valuable educational opportunities, economic development and compassionate outreach, while foundationally strengthening Preble County to ensure Preble County has a future for the next generation to come back and stay here.”
Bullen: “Imagine if you would, a beautiful sunset with all the trees in their autumn color. Imagine a soccer field with children running and playing families, grandparents, there supporting them. Imagine the Pork Festival parade, the Preble County Fair. When you think of all those things, imagine walking down the street, waving to your neighbor. Going to church, holding hands with the people next to you as you welcome them, or joining your grandparents for Thanksgiving. This is Preble County. This is the life that we want to live. All of those scenes that came to your mind and that of so many others that bring joy to our hearts are the reasons why we love rural life. Rural life is Preble County. I believe I have the skills necessary to help improve what we have and make what’s good, better. I would like to be your county commissioner. I have lived here for most of my life, and I intend to live here for the rest of it. Preble County is home, and home is where the heart is.”
Craft: “I would like to say it’s never been more abundantly clear that those of us that are here tonight, that we need to vote our values. We need to vote our conservative values. We need to vote Donald Trump. We need to vote for all of our conservative men and women that are running this year, more so than ever before. We need to strengthen Preble County. Look, we’ve got a long way to go. Our county’s a great place to live. Our county’s probably the best place to live in the entire state of Ohio. We have a long way to go. I would like to continue to build that foundation with you guys, to continue to serve you guys, to continue to listen to the people, listen to the voters because at the end of the day, we work for you. This is this only works if you guys are involved. That’s the part of the American dream. That’s the part that I absolutely love. I want to thank the Farm Bureau for holding this tonight. I want to thank you all for being here, and I really would like to have your support for county commissioner.”
Candidates were also asked questions about low-income housing, EPA runoff, hiring a county administrator, mass transportation, and holding county agencies accountable among other topics. Full video of Monday’s town hall recorded by The Register-Herald can be found on Facebook at https://rb.gy/9yfnqa.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles