Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman, a Democrat running for re-election, faces Republican Bob Matthews, a former Miami Twp. trustee and information technology project manager who previously has sought a county commission seat.
Montgomery County was the first area local government to receive federal coronavirus relief funds and the only to receive a direct CARES Act allocation. But the two candidates are at odds over how quickly the money is being disbursed, which has to be done by the end of the year.
In answering a Dayton Daily News questionnaire, Matthews graded the county’s handling of CARES Act funds a "D" while the incumbent Lieberman gave an “A+” mark.
Matthews said it took Congress just weeks to pass the CARES Act but county commissioners have been slow to distribute its more than $92 million, dispensing only a fraction of the amount to date.
“This is a crisis where businesses are struggling, individuals are struggling, the demand at food banks is through the roof,” he said. “At the rate they are going we’ll lose about half of that money if they don’t pick it up … They’re not in crisis mode. They’re running at government speed.”
Lieberman said Matthews’ claim is unfounded.
“We opened the Office of CARES Act, which is getting the money out the door as soon as we can get it in,” she said. “We’re not sitting on any of the money.”
Lieberman said the county had to take measures to ensure it follows the rules proscribed by the U.S. Department of Treasury but started distributing the funds faster than any other metro county that received a direct allocation from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
“We got the money out the door for small businesses almost immediately,” she said.
Lieberman said more than half the $92 million is distributed and she anticipates the county will have the remainder disbursed by the end of the year — and possibly more as the county has been allocated up to $200 million total.
County commissioners will be paid $107,692 in 2021, according to the Montgomery County Auditor.
Here are answers Lieberman and Matthews 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?
Lieberman: Experience counts! I have helped lead this county through good times and more challenging times for nearly 16 years. I have had to make the tough decisions that allowed this community to weather the Great Recession and come out better than before. I have led us through times when unemployment was 15% or higher and led us to full employment (pre-pandemic). I will lead us there again. I am a local government expert. I have the experience, temperament and skills to make sure that we emerge from the pandemic with a stronger economy, stronger community assets and a more just and equal community.
Matthews: I have lived in Montgomery County for 48 years. I have worked for many of the Dayton companies including GM, NCR, Dayton Power and Light, and others. I served as a Miami Twp. trustee overseeing an annual budget of over $20 million. I also oversaw the development of $190 million of economic development including Austin landing. My combination of business, information technology, project management and government experience makes me uniquely qualified to fulfill this job and to make good decisions about leading the county.
Q: What are the most important responsibilities and roles of county commissioners?
Lieberman: As a county commissioner, I am a voice for the people of the community. By being present in neighborhoods and with businesses, I know what people want and need. I prioritize these needs and set the community agenda. Most importantly, I fund those priorities. As a county commissioner, I keep the county’s budget focused on investing in people. I’m proud of the county’s financial condition and outlook. Although we have cut over $30 million from the budget since COVID-19 broke out, I have focused my energy on making sure we fully utilize the CARES Act funding our community received.
Matthews: As a highly qualified commissioner I will make sure that the service, health and financial needs of the citizens are met, within the scope and role of the county commission.
Q: What are the biggest problems facing Montgomery County? What do you propose doing to tackle these challenges?
Lieberman: The biggest challenge we are facing is dealing with the pandemic and addressing the aftermath, but we have serious issues to face that go far beyond our current crisis. Racial and economic justice for all of our citizens, and especially those impacted by generational poverty, top the list. I led the effort to declare racism a public health crisis in Montgomery County. Our resolution includes real action steps and solutions that I believe will make our community a more equitable place to live and increase opportunity for families to overcome systemic barriers they have faced for generations. I have recently spearheaded the creation of a new resource on the west side of Dayton, the Westown Career and Innovation Center. This will work closely with our new poverty reduction effort, the Path Ahead.
We have made great strides in addressing the opioid crisis. However, the pandemic has increased usage of opioids and we have seen an uptick in overdose deaths. Addressing this is going to be a part of my pandemic response. We must expand the reach and scope of our Community Overdose Action Team) to address the growing mental health issues that individuals face as a result of the pandemic. If we can reduce the stigma attached to mental health, change the discussion to one about “brain health,” we can make strides working to reduce opioid use and addiction.
We have work to do to continue to recover from the devastating tornadoes of just last year. I am a member of the Long-Term Recovery Committee and we anticipate that we will be working on issues to assist the recovery for several more years.
Matthews: First, the health and financial impact of COVID. Second, accessibility to commissioners. I will continue to implement programs that minimize the impact of COVID. I will also have open meetings for our residents to attend that will improve communication.
Q: Why should voters care about this race? What’s at stake?
Lieberman: The future of Montgomery County is at stake. It takes experience and leadership to effectively move our community forward. I have that experience. I know how to lead and I have been effective in my time in office. I have personally created new programs that makes our community safer, like the Office of Reentry. Over 500 graduates of the Reentry Career Alliance Academy have a recidivism rate of under 5%. That compares to the state of Ohio at about 30% and the United States at about 45%.
I have led the effort to reduce infant mortality for the last four years. In Montgomery County, black babies have historically seen an infant mortality rate four times higher than their white counterparts. This is unacceptable. Montgomery County partnered with Public Health and the Family and Children First Council to create the EveryOne Reach One task force to tackle this complex problem.
In December 2017, the task force was awarded $3.1 million by the Ohio Department of Medicaid to implement new projects aimed at improving maternal and infant health.
Recently, we have seen signs of progress. In 2018, we saw our infant mortality rate improve overall, most notably we saw a 33% reduction in infant mortality rates for black children.
I have more I want to accomplish in this next term. We are moving forward with an aggressive effort to combat poverty in our community. This has been a passion of mine for many years and we finally have the resources, staff and programming in place to really make an impact. Helping families in poverty move to self-sufficiency will have a long-term positive result for our community. Poverty is at the root of so many of the issues we face in addressing human services.
Matthews: Voters should care about this race by deciding if they want the same level of service from the county that they have received in the past, or do they want a fresh start. Without a change in the commission, things will continue for the next four years as they have for the last 14 years. There is no change in the government, unless the people running the government are changed.
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?
Lieberman: I am a Democrat. I believe in good government. Local government has the biggest impact on people’s everyday life. It cannot be Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal; it must deliver on the promise to help bring good paying jobs that support a family to our county, protect our environment, invest in people as our most precious asset and protect our most vulnerable citizens. That is my experience and that is how I will continue to govern, if elected.
Matthews: As the question states, the commission is and has been all Democrat since Chuck Curran left 14 years ago. As a Republican, I can bring diversity to the commission, and diversity is a good thing. It’s time for some fresh ideas, or else things will just continue to muddle along. I will make decisions on what is best for the county, not the party.
Q: What makes you different from your opponent? What do you think of your competition?
Lieberman: I have a passion for helping people and under my leadership, Montgomery County is focused on investing in people. I believe that I can continue to tackle the challenges our community faces while promoting the positive qualities that make our economic development and workforce development efforts among the most effective in the state of Ohio. I am the chief elected official of the largest Workforce Development district in Ohio (includes 44 counties) and it is, by far, the most active district in the state.
I believe in the people. My favorite part of the job is helping individuals. Whether that’s helping people get what they needed to survive in the days after the tornadoes or helping an entrepreneur connect to business development resources, I love helping people make the most of themselves.
I will let my opponent speak for himself.
Matthews: I am more qualified to deal with the major changes that are occurring in our county. All of us appreciate the service my worthy opponent has provided in the past, but the county is now looking for fresh ideas to deal with the ever-increasing number of crises.
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?
Lieberman: Since becoming commissioner, I have worked to position Montgomery County as the best place to grow and expand your business, to make our community the best place to work and raise a family, and find opportunities for everyone to live their best lives.
The pandemic has impacted our economy in many ways and job losses have occurred. I have learned a great deal about how people are working today and I believe there are some changes that will become permanent. Preparing for a new economic model in Montgomery County is essential. Manufacturing, logistics, construction and other labor intensive jobs are returning and expanding today. The offices are coming back to life, but we will continue to see more people working from home for a long time. Learning how to support new job creation in a new economy is a top priority.
I will insist that continued investment in the county’s ED/GE program remain the primary tool for local investment in economic development, but I believe that having a great quality of life in our community is really what sets us apart. Over the last several years, we have had numerous companies tell us that they made the final decision to locate and grow their companies here because of the amenities that our community offers that rival the largest counties in the country. We are one of two counties in Ohio that fund local arts and cultural programs. We have the greatest quality of life in Ohio because we invest in it.
Matthews: Court new business with the enthusiasm that a man who chases the woman he loves.
Q: How do you feel about the county’s current budget and spending priorities?
Lieberman: Over the last 12 months, we have focused our budget priorities on the most vulnerable citizens of Montgomery County. This has been a goal of mine since I took office. Progress has been made every year. My efforts in workforce development are a great example. New training opportunities with the Truck Driving School in Trotwood and a new pipeline into apprenticeship programs in building trades have people lining up for new career opportunities.
The county commission has reduced our general fund budget by $30 million in response to the pandemic’s impact on the local economy. I am lobbying every day to bring additional federal and state support to our community so that we can restore those critical funds to its intended community investment. I have and will continue to be prepared to deal with long-term budget impacts from the pandemic. Many capital projects are on hold until the economy recovers to its pre-pandemic state. Services to the community remain at the highest level of delivery and I will ensure that continues throughout the current crisis.
Matthews: I am frustrated that we spend $7 million in interest on county debt! That money could be used to help a lot of citizens. Better fiscal responsibility can eliminate this unnecessary burden.
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?
Lieberman: Montgomery County’s relationship with the city of Dayton is strong. We are less than two years into a 20-year water contract. We have and we will continue to work together to resolve any infrastructure or water quality issues. We are Dayton’s water customer and we pass that water to nearly 300,000 residential and business customers. Montgomery County has a long-range plan that drives our infrastructure investment and that keeps our system and our customers safe.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has requested that the state take the lead in testing water quality across dozens of water systems in the state and Montgomery County is actively participating in the Ohio EPA process. The county is committed to that testing process and all results will be shared publicly. Safe drinking water for our community is one of my highest priorities.
Matthews: Those outages occurred under the jurisdiction of the city of Dayton. Montgomery County should come along side Dayton to help them solve these engineering and financial problems. It is far too costly and not practical for the county to break from Dayton and drill its own wells.
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?
Lieberman: One of the most stressful jobs at Montgomery County is the position of child welfare case worker. They are responsible for protecting the most vulnerable children in our county. All governments responsible for child welfare and protection are subject to high turnover rates in these jobs. Montgomery County has a great retention rate that makes us very proud. We work to ensure that the number of cases per caseworker is appropriate and that they all have the resources and support they need to protect the children under their care. It is a very hard job. We are constantly recruiting to make sure we have the number of case workers and staff to serve our community.
We conduct internal and process reviews on a regular basis. The issues raised by the state are under review and new policies are being developed. Among the reforms we have developed are realigning and reorganizing staff to maximize and improve workflow. New tables of organization have front line worker input. Caseworkers will specialize in either intake or ongoing casework to provide better outcomes for families. We created a new position, a specialized manager of community and client outcomes. He or she will report to the chief administrator of Children Services and will oversee five supervisors and staff who will look directly at client outcomes, with emphasis on the impact of implicit bias disproportionately impacting families of color in the child welfare system.
Matthews: As a commissioner, I will look into the need for additional training so that we meet the standards. Concerning the retention issue, we need a process to evaluate retention, and see if it has been resolved by the new contract. If not, additional action should be taken.
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?
Lieberman: I proudly serve on the board of both the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the National Association of Counties and I see firsthand how states, counties and other local governments have reacted to and set-up their response to the pandemic and the CARES Act. I give us an A+ because we started setting up the Montgomery County Office of CARES Act as the legislation was moving through Congress. We were ready on Day 1 to start distributing federal dollars to the citizens, business owners and nonprofit organizations of our community. We established specific programs to help with rental and mortgage payments, utility assistance, small, locally owned businesses, schools, farmers, childcare providers, nonprofit organizations and the arts. I am committed to distributing every penny of the $92 million to our citizens to help everyone get back on their feet and move past the effects of the pandemic.
We will continue to seek an extension of the use of CARES Act funds past the current Dec. 31, 2020, deadline. Recovery from the pandemic is improving each day but I do not believe the impact of the pandemic will be full resolved by the end of the year. I am using my state and national network to advocate for Congress to do the right thing and extend and expand CARES Act funding.
Matthews: The current commissioners response deserves a grade of “D.” They have held onto the Federal CARES funds for over four months and have provided less than 10% of that money to those in DIRE need. We are in danger of losing any money that they do not disburse by the end of the year. Under my leadership, this would be handled as the true crisis that it is. I would disburse funds immediately. As for further actions, I would look for additional ways and funds to continue to help those who are suffering after the CARES Act money is exhausted.
Q: What issues are you passionate about and how would you address those as county commissioner?
Lieberman: I am passionate about economic justice. I am passionate about reducing infant mortality. I am passionate about ending poverty and racial disparity. I am passionate about bringing great jobs here. I am passionate about serving the people of this community. I work to address these and many more issues every day. I wake up thinking about what we can do this day to make life better for our citizens. I go to bed thinking about the opportunities tomorrow will bring.
Funding is one key to helping create equal opportunity for everyone but it is not everything. Collaboration is the most important factor. Bringing people together to work for common solutions is a skill I have developed over my time as commissioner. We have serious issues to address in Montgomery County and I am the person to get it done.
Matthews: Families: create programs to strengthen the families financially, emotionally and socially. Job creation: reach out to prospective employers to persuade them to move to Montgomery County; talk to current employers to help them stay in the county and to grow. I would prevent another Good Samaritan Hospital fiasco.
Name: Debbie Lieberman
Family: Married, two sons
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: Montgomery County commissioner, 2005 – present; Montgomery County Auditor’s Office, chief deputy auditor 2000 – 2004, real estate director, 1991 – 2000; City of Clayton council member, 1998 - 2005
Education: University of Dayton School of Law, juris doctor, 1986; Indiana Central University, University of Indianapolis, bachelor’s degree political science, 1983, associates degree paralegal studies
Campaign website: www.debbielieberman.org
Name: Bob Matthews
Family: Married, son, daughter, two grandchildren
Political party: Republican
Political experience: former Miami Township Trustee, 2013-2017
Education: LeTourneau University, bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, 1971; Texas A&M University, master’s degree in computing science, 1972
Campaign website: www.bob4cc.com
Count on the Dayton Daily News for everything you need to know this election season. We are the only news source covering all local candidates and issues on your ballot, and digging into a safe and accurate vote. Montgomery County Commission candidates will participate in virtual candidate forum at 12:30 p.m. Friday hosted by the Dayton Daily News and League of Women Voters. The forum will be streamed live on the newspaper’s Facebook page.
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