Dodge, Setzer vie for county commission seat

Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge, left, a Democrat running for re-election, faces Republican Arlene Setzer, a ormer state representative and past mayor of Vandalia. SUBMITTED

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge, a Democrat running for re-election, faces Republican Arlene Setzer, a retired high school teacher, former state representative and past mayor of Vandalia.

Setzer said improving Children Services will be a focus of hers if elected. She said the county investigations into some child abuse and neglect cases have fallen short, specifically one for Takoda Collins, a 10-year-old who died in 2019.

“There needs to be, as far as I’m concerned, a full investigation,” she said. “When we talk about children, we’re talking about our future and every child is important … I think outside eyes and questions are needed at this point.”

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Dodge said Takoda’s death “was absolutely horrifying,” but changes under her watch have been made to help Children Services retain caseworkers and better protect children.

The county can’t reveal certain aspects of child abuse and neglect investigations, but county commissioners did order an internal review of Children Services, Dodge said.

“We are all taking this very seriously and making as many improvements as we possibly can to Children Services," she said.

County commissioners will be paid $107,692 in 2021, according to the Montgomery County Auditor.

Here are answers Dodge and Setzer provided in response to a Dayton Daily News questionnaire.

Q: What makes you qualified for this job? What experience do you have to make good and informed decisions about leading the county?

Dodge: My two decades of service as an elected official show my dedication to serving the residents of Montgomery County. My record proves that I’ve been successful at listening and responding to the concerns of our residents, seeking the advice of the subject-matter experts, and then finding reasonable, sound solutions to many of the problems we all face. For example, during the 2008-09 recession, I started the G.M. Regional Response Task Force to address the impact of the manufacturing losses in our community, and to bring local elected officials and business leaders together to plan for a better future. This collaboration was essential to our long-term recovery.

Setzer: My commitment to serve our community spans over 34 years. I have been honored to serve as the mayor of Vandalia for the past eight years, the Ohio House of Representatives for eight years, serving as chair of the Education Committee, Vandalia City Council for 18 years and I have wonderful memories of being a Vandalia High School teacher for 33 years.

In Montgomery County, I have also served as: vice chair, First Suburbs Council of Governments, appointed to the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission for eight years, Legislative Committee, of the Greater Dayton Mayors and Managers Association, Visions Committee of the Vandalia Butler Foundation. As a state representative, secured funding for Aullwood Audubon Society to achieve ADA accessibility and building expansion. Board member, Dayton Workforce Partnership, fundraising co-chair Vandalia Food Pantry, first female president of Vandalia Rotary, served on the Rotary District Board.

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Q: What are the most important responsibilities and roles of county commissioners?

Dodge: County commissioners must be dedicated to addressing the needs of their constituents regardless of political party, geography, race or income level. They need to be able to identify and prioritize focus areas on topics ranging from infrastructure investments, economic development, childhood development, general community health and efficient government operations.

Setzer: My role as a county commissioner is to ensure government works for everyone in all 28 of our communities. My many years as a public servant taught me to be a problem solver. I will ask hard questions and demand answers. When necessary, I will roll up my sleeves and go out in the field to see for myself because so many times the people who do the work are the ones who know the best solution.

Q: What are the biggest problems facing Montgomery County? What do you propose doing to tackle these challenges?

Dodge: I believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have long lasting repercussions in our community, both economically and from a public health perspective. Ongoing county budgeting decisions will need to acknowledge the new financial realities, such as decreased state funding for capital projects and reduced hotel and motel tax revenue. Our region is still recovering from the 2019 tornadoes and the mass shooting, and we need to recognize that our residents, especially those battling their own financial and emotional challenges, need assistance. We can’t let them fall through the cracks.

Setzer: So many people are struggling with drug issues and mental health. Suicide rates are up and anxiety and depression disorders have increased significantly with our children. Our jails have swelled with people with mental health issues. After leaving jail, access to mental health treatment is often limited. Our mental health issue has been talked about; but, the talk has not led to solutions or action plans. It is time to create a panel of mental health professionals to provide a workable step-by-step solution. Oversight responsibility should remain with the County Commissioners.

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Q: Why should voters care about this race? What’s at stake?

Dodge: Voters should care about the elections at every level of government – including school board, city and county. The decisions that are made at the county level affect everything from the quality of the water we drink, to setting the stage for economic redevelopment, to ensuring that our most vulnerable populations are protected with important human services.

Setzer: The budget allocation of tax dollars should concern voters. Taxes were raised without citizen approval last year.

Q: The county commission right now is all Democrats. What political party do you belong to and why? How would your party identification (or lack of one) impact how you choose to govern? Would a (democrat, republican or independent) have different visions for county governance?

Dodge: Our job as County Commissioners require simply having a passion for serving a wide variety of constituents regardless of political party. Approving funding for infrastructure improvements and investing in essential human services for our seniors and children should not be a partisan issue.

Setzer: There is an "R" beside my name, but it is my faith that defines my beliefs, my time as a teacher gave me the opportunity to work with students of all backgrounds. Working in government on city council, as a state representative and mayor, I learned to ask the hard questions and bring people together to work toward successful solutions. My purpose in running for county commissioner is to solve some of the difficult problems that never seem to be resolved.

Q: What makes you different from your opponent? What do you think of your competition?

Dodge: My experience in county government makes me different from my opponent. I have experience making tough decisions that affect the entire county, not just one city or district. I respect anyone who decides to run for office and I firmly believe that it’s our civic responsibility to be engaged and active in the political process.

Setzer: I always hold my opponents in the highest regard, public service is an honor granted by our fellow citizens. Certainly, there are different approaches to government but the voters have the right to support their candidate without candidates evaluating each other.

Q: What can you do as a county commissioner to help grow the local economy and add jobs? What ideas do you have for attracting new jobs and investment?

Dodge: The county has the responsibility to create an economic environment that facilitates business development and encourages the workforce to support it. We have identified four industries to focus our efforts: aerospace, healthcare, information technology and manufacturing. I also believe it’s extremely important to continue to support small business development through micro-enterprise grants. Our region is the birthplace of innovation, and we need to continue to encourage new entrepreneurs. It’s also vitally important to maintain good working relationships with municipal economic development offices and regional and state partners such as JobsOhio.

Setzer: Montgomery County is blessed with suburban, urban and rural communities offering unique opportunities for business growth. Working together with all agencies and jurisdictions will allow for more efficiency and cooperation to serve all the citizens of our county Strength in cooperation and collaboration will enable all jurisdictions to prosper.

Q: How do you feel about the county’s current budget and spending priorities?

Dodge: During my tenure, our county has been a diligent steward of the taxpayers' dollars. We’ve had to make some tough decisions, including whether to implement the sales tax increase in 2018. I’m confident that we did our research with input from the appropriate business leaders and financial analysts, and made the best decisions with the information and financial projections available. Once again in 2020, we’ve had to make adjustments to our budgets due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Setzer: Concerned.

Q: Twice last year and again this year, Montgomery County or its water customers were subjected to outages. The county is also testing water quality independent of the supplier, the city Dayton. Should the county make any changes with its relationship with Dayton regarding drinking water?

Dodge: It’s vitally important to have open lines of communication between all levels of our city and county government. I’m pleased that our employees have been able to work with their counterparts at the City of Dayton to discuss better communications, improved emergency response and shared mapping and customer information. The quality of our water is essential to all of us. We need to ensure that we provide the highest quality water to every citizen in our county, and to limit outages whenever possible. And to do that, we have invested in additional water storage tanks, improved mapping capabilities, and participated in joint emergency operation exercises with Dayton.

Setzer: The county has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the water for their citizens, so yes, testing the water quality must continue, along with working with the Ohio EPA regarding the effects of these chemicals in our water and on our citizens. In regard to changing the county’s relationship with the city of Dayton the report from the Ohio EPA should impact that decision.

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Q: Montgomery County Children Services failed to meet state standards for child safety as recently as 2019 and has had difficulty retaining employees. A new contract was just agreed to with the county’s child welfare workers. What, if any, further steps should the county commission take in response?

Dodge: Our Children Services Employees play an invaluable role in protecting our most vulnerable young citizens. I truly value their hard work and dedication to their jobs. We must ensure that our employees have the training and resources they need to serve our community’s families.

Some of the changes recently put into place as a result of the external and internal review include:

  • Updating policies to ensure clarity and consistency;
  • Tracking progress with measurable outcomes;
  • Enhancing skills training;
  • Updating M.O.U.s with schools, law enforcement and other mandated reporters;
  • Improving collaboration with our Prosecutor’s Office.

I’m confident that these changes will improve the communication and coordination efforts amongst the many different agencies that work so hard to protect children and will be essential in improving the retention rates and outcomes for our employees. We will also continue to receive direct input from the Governor’s Office through the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council.

Setzer: This is heartbreaking and must be addressed quickly and completely. Communication between the various agencies in our county must improve, staff are working long and late hours with job burnout and turnover. We can solve these problems. But the bottom line is we failed a little boy, and I’m never going to forget him. Never.

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Q: The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of county residents and businesses as well as the county’s budget. The county also received more than $92 million in CARES Act funding to distribute. Please explain how you would grade the county’s response to the pandemic? Are there any further actions you would take as county commissioner?

Dodge: The county commissioners responded quickly to the loss of tax revenue during the COVID-19 crisis by cutting nearly $30 million from the county budget. The county also promptly established CARES Act Office to disperse the U.S. Treasury funds. We are dedicated to ensuring that the funding is promptly and fairly dispersed to individuals, as well as the small businesses, nonprofits, education, health care and farming industries severely impacted by the pandemic. We have received many inquiries from other counties to understand how Montgomery County has been able to act so efficiently in the distribution. The CARES Act team deserves very high marks for their efforts.

Setzer: Although we are all impacted by the effects of COVID-19, our businesses have struggled immensely and we’ve learned our businesses are financially fragile. County Commissioners should ensure our businesses have access to all state and federal dollars in an informed and timely manner.

Clearly our commissioners have failed to develop these important and critical relationships with the business community when as an example — Good Samaritan Hospital only provides a one-hour notice of it’s closing — causing a devastating blow to our community.

As a county commissioner, I look forward to the opportunity to develop and maintain a strong relationship with our local business community. I would like to learn more about the 18 Opportunity Zones in our county and what we can do to promote more business and more good paying jobs.

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Q: What issues are you passionate about and how would you address those as county commissioner?

Dodge: One of my biggest concerns, as we have watched the changes in the grocery store industry during the past decade, is ensuring access to healthy food for all our residents. That’s why we launched the Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition and rolled out a new plan last year. We need to continue to think outside of the box, and look at ways that we can make sure that all of us can access the food we need to be healthy and productive. The county has also made significant financial investments in the Dayton Foodbank’s mobile delivery trucks, Homefull’s new mobile grocery store, as well as Gem City Market.

Another important on-going issue that our community faces is the opioid epidemic. While our community was successful in leveling off the highest ever overdose statistics from 2017, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has left many residents feeling disconnected from their healthcare and treatment providers, and we’re seeing a rise in overdoses in 2020. I hope to continue serving as a liaison to the Community Overdose Action Team, which has brought the community together to encourage best practices in fighting addiction.

Finally, it will be essential to reach out to our region’s small businesses to make sure that they have the resources they need to recover and thrive as the economy resets after the pandemic. Hopefully, many of the affected businesses have taken advantage of the CARES Act small business grants, but more outreach.

Setzer: My concern has been and continues to be the problems at our Children’s Services Office which was brought to light with the death of Takoda. Thank goodness a citizen’s group, Takoda’s Call, demanded answers to this tragedy. It’s difficult to know what the solutions are when the county quickly seals all the records but I will get to the bottom of this by asking the right questions and demanding the truthful answers. This can be done. We failed a little boy and I will not forget him.

Name: Judy Dodge

Age: 76

Political party: Democratic

Political experience: County Commissioner since 2006; Previously served as county recorder

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Wright State University

Current employment: County commissioner

Campaign website: www.judydodge2020.com

Name: Arlene Setzer

Age: 76

Political party: Republican

Political experience: Mayor of Vandalia for eight years; Ohio House of Representatives for eight years, serving as Chair of the Education Committee; Vandalia City Council member for 18 years

Education: Master’s degree, Wright State University; Bachelor’s degree in business administration, University of Dayton

Current employment: Retired

Campaign website: www.arlenesetzerforcountycommissioner

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