Voters in New Lebanon to decide tense mayor, council races Nov. 7

Incumbents had planned to step down, then changed course; challengers argue there’s a lack of accountability



New Lebanon Village residents will decide who leads their community as mayor and council members, in the Nov. 7 election.

Over the past few months, there’s been some tension at council meetings as residents have been vocal about a number of issues, and one person was arrested Jan. 27 for disrupting a public meeting. One incumbent council member, who opted not to run for re-election, jumped back into the council race as a write-in candidate. Transparency and accountability have been key topics of discussion.

Mayor: Arriola vs. Nickerson

Incumbent Mayor Raymond Arriola, who has been a council member since 2004 and mayor since 2010, is being challenged by David J. Nickerson, who is making his first run for elected office.

Arriola, 68, is retired and has lived in New Lebanon since 2000. He said he is seeking re-election because he wants to continue the village’s growth, attract new businesses and create new jobs despite limited tax revenue derived by the village’s 1% earnings tax.

“Things are running great, but we have a limited budget and things take time to do,” he said.

Arriola said the biggest issue facing the village are road improvements, but with a small street department, there is only so much they can do. Arriola said the village manager has saved the village $500,000 thanks to an Ohio Public Works Commission grant. He’s hoping the village manager will apply for more grant funding.

“I’m focused on the future and keeping the town moving in a positive direction,” Arriola said. “People claim we do things wrong, but we get audited by the state every two years. If we’re doing something wrong, the state will let us know.”

Challenger David Nickerson, 60, is a 33-year Army veteran and currently works as a logistics manager. He has lived in the village for 17 years and served as a volunteer firefighter. While deployed with the Army National Guard, he received a Bronze Star. Nickerson said he decided to run for mayor when his opponent considered not running. He said he’s been attending council meetings since 2018 and made 90% of them.

“The council and the community are a team,” Nickerson said. “I think we can do better and will work at that and working toward a goal.”

He said infrastructure, roads, water system, meters and municipal employees are among the big issues facing the village.

“I think there is wasteful and unnecessary spending,” Nickerson said. “Transparency is important. I don’t think council is as responsive as they should be. There’s no accountability and we’re not seeing the results from the spending.”

Some examples that Nickerson cited included not using the DuraPatcher equipment to patch potholes on village streets; the purchase of a new vehicle while employees continue to drive older vehicles that are more expensive to maintain; the purchase of an $8,000 drone; and the purchase of riot gear and helmets.

If elected, Nickerson said he wants to make sure the community is being listened to, and wants to ensure the service department is working in safe conditions and being taken care of.

Village Council race

There are four candidates running for three village council seats, but only three names will appear on the ballot. Those are incumbent Councilman Gale Joy, plus new candidates Timothy Lee Back and Melissa Sexton.

Incumbent Councilman Christopher K. Sands is running as a write-in candidate. Incumbent Councilwoman Carol MacMann opted not to seek re-election. She did not return calls for comment about her decision.

Christopher Sands

Sands, 62, is a retired 37-year government employee who has served on council for the past 20 years. He was not planning to seek re-election but did not like some of the other candidates and filed to be a write-in candidate.

Sands said newcomers Back, Sexton and Nickerson “have a hidden agenda” and intend “to fire the village manager and some service department employees.”

“They claim the village is falling apart and we’re not being transparent and accountable,” Sands said. “People feel we’re not doing things fast enough, but we’ve had a 1% income tax for nearly 50 years. We have to continue but we can’t bankrupt the village or be in debt. Everyone has their opinions and I respect that.”

Sands said he wants to continue the progress the village has made in attracting new businesses, developing new housing, and a balanced budget with clean audits. He said its critical that the road levy renewal passes in November.

He wants to continue on the current course, but “with all the negative talk, who knows what will happen. If I were a business person looking at New Lebanon, I would be concerned about possible negative effects. They are hurting themselves.”

Timothy Lee Back

Back, 33, is a lifelong resident of New Lebanon and owns a lawn care/landscaping business. Back denies there is “a hidden agenda.”

“That’s a strong accusation Mr. Sands is making. I can’t speak for the others, but it’s not true,” Back said. “It’s all about working together. The goal is to make sure we are using our tax dollars wisely and stretching them as far as they can possibly go ... I’m not going into this to fire anyone, but if they are not doing their job, that’s a different story.”

(Nickerson also denied having “a hidden agenda” and said the village manager can only be fired for cause.)

Back said he’s running for council to address road repair, cleaning up the community, improving communication between council and the community, and accountability.

“They are slowly fixing roads and potholes, but they have to do the job right when patching potholes,” Back said. “There’s no accountability at the top (of village management).”

Back asked why new businesses and housing aren’t coming to New Lebanon faster.

If elected, Back said he’ll make sure council is transparent to the residents, with swift follow-up on concerns and communication from the village manager.

“I don’t like the lack of care in the community,” he said. “Council needs to hold the manager to a higher standard and get periodic follow-ups from her.”

Gale Joy

Joy, 56, has been a council member since 2010. An information technology project manager, he has lived in New Lebanon since 2004 and has been active with community organizations.

Joy said he had planned to step down from council because he thought it was time to let someone else serve. “I was asked to run for re-election by several members of the community,” he said. “That wasn’t the plan but the community asked me to run again.”

He said key issues facing New Lebanon include infrastructure improvements, attracting and retaining businesses, and the need to attract new residents.

“We face the same things as other communities do,” Joy said. “Our roads and sewers are very old and have been neglected due to deferred maintenance. Now it’s at the end of its service life. Most of the community understands, but some don’t understand that our tax dollars only go so far. We have a 1% income tax and the low tax base affects everything.”

Joy said the community wants transparency and want to know where the money is going, but they seem to forget the other functions of the village. He would like to continue working on a community center.

Melissa Sexton

Sexton, 51, is employed as an operations director for a company that works with 29 school districts in southwest Ohio. She has lived in the village for more than 20 years and has recently become a member of the Park Board.

Sexton said she decided to run for an open council seat because of her concerns with the decision-making of council.

“I’ve lived in the community for some time and I want to be part of the decision-making process,” she said. “There are ‘yes people’ serving as council members, and they are not making their own decisions. We need to hold these people accountable, and council needs to listen to the community because things are not getting done.”

Sexton identified key issues facing the village as roads, the water system, and a possible tax increase proposed by the mayor, and budgeting to keep New Lebanon sustainable.

If elected, Sexton said she wants to find a solution to the hard water in the village water system and getting the community involved by listening to their needs.

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