The three Republican primary candidates vying for an open Montgomery County Commission seat include two who have previously tried to break a long-standing Democratic stranglehold on the board.
Gary Leitzell, the former mayor of Dayton, and Bob Matthews, a former Miami Twp. trustee, both have sought the position before. Doug Barry, a current Miami Twp. trustee, is also trying to become the first Republican to win a county commission seat in more than a dozen years.
All cited the region’s opioid epidemic and a proposed county retail sales tax increase to plug a $9 million budget hole as issues to be fought, according to their answers provided for the Dayton Daily News Voter Guide. And while all three champion economic development to draw more businesses and residents to the area, their strategies differ.
Barry is owner of BarryStaff, a Dayton staffing company, and was appointed to the township trustee position in 2014 and elected in 2016. Leitzell is a self-employed entrepreneur and served as Dayton’s mayor from 2010-2014. Matthews, an information technology project manager, served a partial term as a Miami Twp. trustee but resigned last year to avoid potential conflicts of interest after taking a position with a firm doing work for the township.
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Matthews said he would bring a development strategy to the county that leveraged rewards in Miami Twp. While he was a trustee, the township borrowed $20 million to chip in to help develop Austin Landing infrastructure, an investment that yielded many times that amount in jobs, income and other development, he said..
“Montgomery county needs to grow, not lose population by residents moving out.” Matthews said. “As we shrink, which has happened over the last 12 years, the lost income from business creates more burden on the remaining residents to meet basic services for everyone.”
Leitzell said the county generally deserves a passing grade at attracting employers and investment, but county government should do more to ensure gains are evenly realized.
“Why are we building apartments at Austin Landing when it leaves empty housing in Vandalia, Kettering, Huber Heights, Riverside, Dayton and even Washington Township?” Leitzell said. “We can grow the local economy as soon as municipalities learn to work together and stop trying to improve their own situation off the backs of other local municipalities.”
Attracting — and keeping — private investment is a key to economic growth and county government needs to be more attuned to whether a company is thinking about relocating out of the area, Barry said.
He proposes that county commissioners have quarterly business luncheons “to get the pulse of the business community.”
“We cannot continue to lose our businesses and have local government have no say in the decisions,” said Barry.
The May 8 primary winner will face the Democratic Party winner, either Carolyn Rice, the current Montgomery County treasurer, or Dr. Don Schaffer, a former Clayton City Council member and chiropractor with a practice in West Milton.
The hallmark of recent general elections has been thin victories by Democratic incumbents. But Republicans believe the odds will be better this November because Dan Foley, a Democrat, decided to give up his commission seat and run for the Statehouse.
Foley narrowly won re-election in 2010 and again in 2014, when Republican Mike Nolan and Leitzell, who then ran as an independent, together pulled in more than 50 percent of the votes.
Leitzell, ran again in 2016 as a Republican, losing by a razor-thin margin to the incumbent Democrat Debbie Lieberman. During the same election, the other incumbent Democrat, Judy Dodge, narrowly won over Matthews.
While all say the opioid crisis is a pressing challenge for the county, Leitzell said he would approach the problem “in a different light.” He advocates for needle exchange and other harm reduction methods including controversial safe injection sites and heroin assisted treatment to ease people off strong opioids.
“We are still 25 years behind Europe when it comes to solutions on heroin addiction,” Leitzell said.
Like any problem faced by the county, Matthews said he would tackle drug addiction by collecting accurate data and identify the issues and goals, then develop, test and optimize strategies to achieve the goals.
Barry said he would fight the opioid epidemic with a combination of education for young people and families as well as law enforcement actions that hold drug companies and dealers accountable.
“We absolutely must lock up the distributors of the drugs to stop the flow into our community,” he said.
While his name still appears on the ballot, the primary field no longer includes Bill DeFries, who was endorsed by the Montgomery County GOP and backed by former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. The restaurant owner and businessman dropped out of the race in March while offering little explanation.
DeFries exited the race too late to have his name legally removed from the ballot. An insert included with mail ballots and signs posted at polling locations will notify voters that any vote cast for DeFries will not be counted, said Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
The Republican candidates still in the primary also question why current county commissioners didn’t react sooner to the loss of $9 million in Medicaid managed care sales tax revenue that created a looming budget gap in 2019, prompting a proposed 0.25 percent retail sales tax increase.
“The need to raise sales tax has come about by the poor management by the current administration,” Matthews said. “As usual, their solution is to raise taxes, not look for ways to cut spending. I propose we keep the rate the same, and look for savings in our budget.”
Leitzell said the county needs to do a better job of prioritizing expenditures and look for more ways to generate revenue from existing assets, similar to his initiative as mayor to sell reclaimed lime from Dayton’s water treatment processes to other jurisdictions.
“Leaders propose the one solution that is easiest. To ask for more money,” he said. “I know that a different approach to government can make it more effective and efficient.”
Barry said the county has been led in only one direction during the decade Democrats have held all three seats.
“We have to do government different,” he said. “We have to find new sources of revenue without raising taxes.”