The three persons who aspire to be the next Jackson County Auditor all played the experience card while making their pitches during a Candidates Forum conducted by the Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau on Tuesday evening, April 3, at the OSU/County Extension Office near Jackson.
Chris Dupree of Wellston, Jim Milliken of Coalton and Tiffany Ridgeway of Scioto Township are all running for the Republican nomination for county auditor in the May 8 primary election. Since there is no Democratic candidate, the Republican winner would be unopposed in November's general election unless an independent or write-in candidate surfaces later in the year. The ultimate winner would replace Republican incumbent Clyde Holdren, who is retiring at the end of his current term and not running for re-election.
The Candidates Forum also involved the two Republican candidates for the one county commissioner seat on the election block in 2018 -- Randy Evans and Jon Hensler. The news story on their comments will be published in an upcoming edition of The Telegram. Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau Senior Organization Director Kim Harless offered an initial welcome and introduced the moderator, Tony Seegers, who is the Director of State Police for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
The controlled format of the Candidates Forum called for each of the five candidates to make opening statements limited to two minutes each, and closing statements limited to three minutes each.
In between, Seegers posed the same four questions to each of the auditor candidates. The candidates heard each other's opening and closing statements, but not each other's responses to the prepared questions. There were no written or oral questions taken from the audience.
The first question asked if the state was doing enough to help counties deal with the opioid-drug problem. The second question asked if there was a solution to the state cuts in Local Government funding. The third question asked the candidates if they could say something positive about their opponents. The fourth question asked the candidates to address their budgetary management experience.
Based on a random draw, candidates spoke in the following order: Milliken, Dupree and Ridgeway.
In their prepared statements, all three auditor candidates touted their professional experience and experience in government.
Milliken has no current or past experience working in an auditor's office, but he pointed to his experience in private business as an owner of three radio stations in West Virginia and as a semi-truck driver; his past service as a director with the Jackson County Board of Elections and his past service as a regional liaison for current Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Currently, he also serves as the president of Coalton Village Council.
Milliken introduced himself as the "fiscally conservative Republican" running for county auditor and stated that his past record of work and service in both the public and private sectors is evidence of his competence.
"You treat a job like you own it and you leave the store in better condition than when you went in," he said. He cited examples of how this was the case when he built his radio-stations business and was in a leadership position at the Jackson County Elections Board office. He recounted that he led the effort to relocate the elections office from the basement of the courthouse to the Courthouse Annex building and that his initiatives and work have consequently saved the county thousands of dollars ever since.
"I can guarantee that I leave the store in a better condition than when I went in," Milliken declared. "Clyde has done a good job, but I can step it up a notch."
Milliken did not back off a previous claim made at a Coalton Village Council meeting when he stated that, if elected auditor, he can bring about a $2-million surplus in the county General Fund budget by the end of his first term of office and can do it without taxes being raised.
Dupree has been the city auditor in Wellston for the past four years during a period when the city came out of an extended period of being in a state of Fiscal Emergency, which had been imposed back in 2009 by the State Auditor's Office. He also noted this his family -- most notably his father, Dennis - has been involved in local government and politics. Chris himself served on Wellston City Council when he was only 21 years old.
Dupree noted that the city has had three perfect state audits in a row under his watch and indicated he was "active in advising and suggesting and providing oversight" in Wellston's fiscal success story. "It's been a very good, positive relationship," he said of working cooperatively and as a team member with other city officials. "It's been very inclusionary with everybody involved in the budget process."
Later in his closing statement, Dupree returned to the Wellston city experience: "It's definitely better since I came in with everyone working together to leave it better that when you found it. I left my position better then when I found it."
In an apparent reference to Milliken's claim he can bring about a $2-million surplus in the county's General Fund, Dupree said he stands for "fiscal responsibility," but stated he would not promise he could save the county $2 million.
Dupree feels the fiscal progress and record achieved in the City of Wellston and his work as city auditor as part of this success, qualifies him for the county auditor's position.
"I believe I would do a good job in the same position in the county," Dupree declared.
Ridgeway's pitch for her being the next county auditor is crystal clear - she is the only candidate with actual experience in the office and the man who holds that office is endorsing her. She began her comments by saying, "The most important issue is experience."
This was a direct reference to her position of deputy auditor and her 14-½ years of service in the office carrying out the various duties and functions under Auditor Holdren, which she feels separates her from her two opponents.
"I am the only candidate with a working knowledge of the auditor's office," Ridgeway declared.
When responding to the question about budgetary management experience, she again pointed to her work and familiarity with county budgets over her tenure in the office. She also was quick to point out that she has worked under the direction of Holdren and that her knowledge and experience is why Holdren is personally endorsing her candidacy.
Ridgeway pledged that as county auditor, she would always place the taxpayer "first and foremost." Also, she said she would work to keep property taxes low, convey information to officeholders about their budgets, and be transparent in the handling of county records.
At two different times, Ridgeway also seemed to make allusions to Milliken's claim of being able to bring about a $2-million surplus in the General Fund. "The surplus is not under the auditor's discretion," she declared in a reference to the many different departments and offices which control their own spending. Later in her closing statements, she also said: "This is my job and my career and I will not make promises I can't keep."
Although they were not a part of the structured portion of the Candidates Forum, 6th District Democratic Congressional candidate Shawna Roberts and Juli Stephens, a representative of 6th District Republican Congressman Bill Johnson, were both in attendance and were given the opportunity to speak.
Stephens told the audience that Congressman Johnson wished to send along his greetings and that he would appreciate their votes in the upcoming election.
Roberts, who is one of two candidates for the Democratic nomination for 6th District Congressman, told the audience that it was "time for a change" in the 6th District as unemployment and poverty levels have not improved during Johnson's tenure in office. She declared she would be a "problem-solver" who would work to make things better.