Thursday, October 26, 2000

Jail controversy affects Elsmere race

Challengers say some on council didn't actively oppose building it in the city

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ELSMERE — The role that local officials played in last year's successful fight to stop the county from building a jail here has become a key issue in this fall's Elsmere City Council race.

        After two straight uncontested elections, Elsmere has 11 people seeking two-year terms on its six-member city council.

        Candidates in the nonpartisan race are incumbents William Buerger, Ralph Fields, Donald Koop, Robert Northcutt, Bonnie Sage and Betty Wehner; and challengers Don Buckley, Neva Collins, Marty Livermore, Joseph Pannunzio and Beth Wulfeck.

        Mrs. Wulfeck, Mrs. Livermore, Mrs. Collins and Mr. Pannunzio said the fight over the jail was a main reason they entered the race.

        While Mrs. Sage and Mr. Northcutt publicly expressed their opposition to building a jail in Elsmere, other council members were silent, several challengers said.

        Mr. Buerger was appointed to fill a council vacancy earlier this year, after the jail issue had been resolved.

        In December, Kenton Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd announced that the jail would not be built in Elsmere, after it drew legal and verbal opposition from residents, and two major companies threatened to move their multimillion-dollar expansion projects elsewhere. (County officials have not yet decided on a site.)

        “The biggest issue was the attempt by the county to put a new Kenton County Jail in Elsmere,” Mr. Pannunzio said. “There were several members of the current City Council that went right along with it — Fields, Koop and Wehner.”

        Mr. Fields said that wasn't true.

        “Everybody on council fought the jail,” Mr. Fields said. “But not everybody got out and grand-standed. I myself went around to different cities and attended meetings, trying to get them to back us (in the jail fight). We did things that were not in the public eye.”

        Challengers also have said they want better communication between City Council and residents, to fix up Elsmere's parks, and to hold the park board more accountable.

        If elected, Mr. Pannunzio and Mrs. Collins say they would start a monthly city newsletter. Mr. Pannunzio also wants to move city meetings to a larger facility with more parking to increase participation.

        Mrs. Wulfeck said she has been unable to get minutes and information on park board expenditures, and would like to see better follow-up by council when it comes to addressing complaints.

        Mr. Koop said that he thinks there is “excellent communication” among City Council, its appointed boards and residents.

        Mr. Fields said that while Elsmere's parks are older, they are kept in good condition.

        “Every complaint that we get, we look into,” Mr. Fields said. “If it's within our power to correct it, we do. If possible, we try to catch residents at home, and let them know” the status of their complaints.

        Mr. Koop, Mr. Fields, Mrs. Wehner and Mr. Buerger have the support of the Elsmere Political Action Committee. Made up of Jeff Bechtold, assistant chief of the Elsmere Fire Protection District, and Rick Vaughn, the fire department's EMS captain, the committee has put up 100 signs for the four candidates, citing their leadership. Its members are going door to door, seeking support for the four incumbents on Nov. 7.

        Although the committee was formed largely in reaction to Mrs. Sage's opposition to a proposed tax increase for the fire protection district, it is not a committee of the fire district or fire department, Mr. Bechtold said. He said the PAC supports Mr. Koop, Mr. Fields, Mrs. Wehner and Mr. Buerger because “they are four people that make sound judgments.”


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