Montgomery County: Incumbent commissioner faces primary challenge

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Ohio primary election was moved from March 17. The deadline to vote in the Ohio primary election is April 28. Voters must request an absentee ballot from their county’s board of election if they have not already voted. All absentee ballots mailed in must have a postmark of April 27 to be counted, and all ballots must be received by the boards by May 8 to be counted. Voters can drop off the ballots to board offices in person by 7:30 p.m. April 28. In-person voting will be offered on April 28, but will only occur at boards of elections early voting center and only be available for people with disabilities who require in-person voting and people who do not have a home mailing address. Local election officials say voters need to make sure they include all the required information on absentee ballot request forms and pay close attention to unsolicited request forms they get in the mail. State law allows ballots to be scanned but they cannot be tabulated until 7:30 p.m. April 28.

Democrat Judy Dodge of Vandalia, who currently holds a Montgomery County Commission seat up for election in November, is receiving a primary challenge from Tasha Rountree of Dayton. The winner of the March 17 primary will face either Norman Scearce or Arlene Setzer, the Republicans on the primary ballot. The four-year term begins Jan. 2, 2021. Here are answers the two Democratic primary opponents provided in response to questions posed by the Dayton Daily News.

Judy Dodge

Residence: Vandalia

Education: Wright State University, bachelor’s degree political science

Experience: Montgomery County Commissioner 2006-present, previously Montgomery County recorder

Website: www.judydodge2020.com

Tasha Rountree

Residence: Dayton

Education: Sinclair Community College, sociology with a human services emphasis; Grassroots University, marijuana cultivation, extraction and culinary, dispensary management

Experience: Miami Valley Child Development Centers, AmeriCorps Ohio Alumni board member, Patients for Progress board chair, Sensible Movement Coalition founding board member, Ohio Steering Committee for Women Grow

Q&A

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.

Rountree: My qualifications for the position of Montgomery County Commissioner consist of an extensive background in leadership to include career development with regard to staff, creating and implementing diversity and inclusion programs, in addition community networking. I have held positions on numerous boards within Montgomery County social services field. As a Montgomery County social outreach employee for the Children and Youth health clinics, I was able to foster dynamic working relationships with employees, patients and other community resources.

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.

Rountree: The most important responsibility of the county commissioner is to ensure that legislation that is implemented is beneficial and comprehensive to all residents. As well as ensuring, that budget and spending are transparent, efficient and effective.

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

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 Food Equity Coalition and rolled out a new plan last year. We need 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.

Rountree: Some of the more apparent challenges that Montgomery County is facing would include access to reliable food sources, affordable and sustainable housing and development and support of small business. It is my plan to work with available resources and organizations to educate and encourage the population on the benefits of green and sustainable living but to also utilize the education and resources to practical use. We need to invest in the whole of Montgomery County to ensure that people want to continue to live in the neighborhoods where they grew up.

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 ensuring that our most vulnerable populations are protected.

Rountree: Voters should care about this race because it is a local election and the candidates' decisions directly affect their day to day lives. What is at stake is the possibility of their voices not being heard and in return their needs not met. What is at stake is stagnation.

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

Dodge: My experience makes me different from my primary opponent. However, I respect anyone who decides to run for office. I firmly believe that it's our civic responsibility to be engaged and active in the political process.

Rountree: What makes me different is my unique perspective as a resident of the West Side of Dayton. I experience the food desert, the lack of infrastructure improvement, and I can see the effects of an opioid crisis first hand. I think that my counterpart in this race has held this position for a lengthy tenure. With that experience, she is highly qualified in her own right, and has a wealth of knowledge. However, I believe I offer an updated perspective that can be beneficial for the working-class constituent.

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.

Rountree: With my background in marijuana decriminalization for the city of Dayton, I would like to take my experience and make a positive impact on rural Montgomery County to provide another alternative resource, such as hemp, to generate revenue to the local economy and bring back new manufacturing jobs in an ever-growing market.

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.

Rountree: I feel like the current budget could become more streamlined by investing and incentivizing small business, attracting new and emerging technology and offering more comprehensive social service and resources to our senior and youth population.

Q: Twice last year, Montgomery County 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: I believe that 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.

Rountree: For quality assurance, I would support the continued independent testing. However, I believe the city of Dayton is making great efforts to improve and ensure the quality and consistency is at the forefront.

Q: Montgomery County Children Services failed to meet state standards for child safety as recently as 2019 and has had difficulty retaining employees. What, if any, 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. A focus on improving the communication tools and coordination efforts amongst the many different agencies that work so hard to protect children will be essential in improving the retention rates and outcomes for our employees.

Rountree: As county commissioner, I would take a comprehensive look at our fiscal budget to determine if we had adequate funding to add more personnel, increase pay and ensure that employees receive up-to-date training.

Q: An expansion is planned for the Montgomery County Jail, the subject of more than a dozen lawsuits against the county in recent years. What, if any, changes should be made to or at the jail during this expansion? Why?

Dodge: We are currently in the early stages of the jail needs assessment process. We know that the renovated facility needs to allow the employees to meet the inmates' medical and mental health needs. We also need to provide space to allow for rehabilitative programming. It's our responsibility to provide a justice system that can accommodate fluctuation in population levels and allows the staff to manage different types of inmates.

Rountree: I do not agree or support the expansion for Montgomery County Jail. I believe the money that is intended for this expansion would be better utilize on programs and resource to ensure that we are rehabilitating and mitigating future offenders that continues to be a burden on tax payers. What we want to strive for, is prevent the cycle of revolving doors and not create a debtors prison.


EARLY VOTING

Voters who want to get their ballots in before primary Election Day on March 17 can vote absentee by mail or in person at their county board of elections offices.

The deadline to request absentee mail ballots is three days before the election, or March 14. Absentee ballots must be signed. Absentee ballots that are mailed must be postmarked by the day before the election to be counted, or they can be returned in-person at the county board of elections before polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. (Do not take the ballot to a polling place.)

Early voting hours are the same in all counties:

‒ 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays through March 6

‒ 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 7

‒ 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday, March 9, to Friday, March 13

‒ 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 14

‒ 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15

‒ 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, March 16

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