Montgomery County: Union rep challenges longtime commissioner in Democratic primary

Winner will face unopposed Republican in November.

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.

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman, a Democrat who is running for re-election, faces a March 17 primary challenge from Greg West. The winner will face Bob Matthews, a Republican who is running unopposed in the primary. The four-year commission term begins Jan. 3, 2021. Here are answers the two Democratic primary opponents provided in response to questions posed by the Dayton Daily News.

Debbie Lieberman

Residence: Clayton

Education: University of Dayton School of Law, juris doctor; Indiana Central University, bachelor of arts political science,

Experience: Montgomery County Commissioner 2005-present, Montgomery County Auditor’s Office 1991-2004, chief deputy auditor 1997-2004, real estate director 1991-1997, Clayton City Council member 1998-2005

Website: www.DebbieLieberman.org

Greg West

Residence: Dayton

Education: Union apprenticeship program, some college

Experience: Union cement mason, 1997-present; apprenticeship instructor, Executive Board recording secretary, business representative Local 132, 2017-present

Website: www.electGregWest.com

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?

Lieberman: I have been a public servant for over 30 years. Throughout my career in the Montgomery County Auditor's Office, the city of Clayton and as Montgomery County commissioner I have learned how to make local government work for the people in the most engaged, transparent and effective manner possible. I am a member of the Board of Directors of both the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) and the National Association of County Officials (NACo). These affiliations allow me to both share Montgomery County's successes and learn from other local government professionals and their best practices.

West: The qualifying factors I have, I listen to the needs of people and work diligently at finding the best solutions for all parties involved. As a union business representative, I have to make decisions for those that I serve with integrity, honesty and fairness. I'm a working class person and understand the needs of the working class. I understand about fiduciary responsibly; this is a big part of my job.

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

Lieberman: The primary role of any county commissioner in Ohio is to set the budget for all of the departments, agencies and elected officials for their county. Managing a budget in excess of $900 million takes patience, skill and experience.

More important is the ability to communicate effectively with the public about the priorities and ongoing efforts to make our community the best it can be and to create opportunities for individual citizens to have the best life possible for them and their families.

West: Make sure that we are fiduciarily responsible to our citizens. Help make the living conditions of our citizens the best we can. Make sure we are setting policies that help our county grow and serve the needs of the people.

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

Lieberman: Our community faces many challenges which as county commissioner, I help tackled on a daily basis. Some of the most pressing issues include continuing to bring high-quality jobs that support a family to our community, addressing the long-term recovery from the devastating 2019 tornadoes, reducing concentrated and generational poverty, reducing the number of accidental overdose deaths and more.

We work every day to address these and many more issues. Our economic development efforts have brought thousands of jobs to the community since I became commissioner. As I have worked to bring more focus to small business development through our Micro-Enterprise Program, which has mostly benefited women, minority and veteran owned businesses.

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. 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.

West: A couple of the problems I would tackle are jobs that don't pay a good living wage and contractors that aren't reporting correctly on prevailing wage reports. I would also tackle (drug) treatment centers and recovery houses that are more about profits than helping the clients and the treatment houses and blight in our region.

The way I would go about tackling the living wages would see about offering smaller companies tax incentives to raise wages. To cover this without having to increase taxes, I would see what programs we are sinking money into that aren’t effective and shift the funding to the program to help the smaller businesses. I would restructure tax breaks to larger companies, not to the point that we run them away, just to the point to hold them accountable to help their employees live a better life.

To combat contractors that falsify prevailing wage reports, have a compliance department put in place to go out on jobs and interview the workers. I’ve pulled many reports and they’re falsely reported and I have tried to report them but there is no one to report them to.

I have first-hand knowledge of treatment houses telling clients they can’t stay in their houses if they don’t go on replacement drugs or other MAT (medication-assisted treatment). These people were never on opioids, but the place received funding by how many people were on MAT. Clients should have choices.

I would work on filling the vacant houses with a program a lot like what the city had with Lot Links. Work to keep the owners local and make it easier for the working class to buy homes and bring them up to code. Absentee owners hardly pay property taxes. First-time home owners will take pride in their homes and communities.

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 creation of the Office of Re*-entry. The graduates of the Re-entry 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 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.

West: They should care about this race because local government affects them more than national government. What's at stake is our children's future.

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.

West: What makes me different from my opponent is that I'm not a career politician and I'm really in touch with the working class people. I'm in the trenches with them daily and deal with the same problems they do and believe we can change the problems. I have no personal opinion about my opponent, I do believe we should have term limits so people don't sit in one position too long and lose their effectiveness.

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.

Our investment in the ED/GE program is our 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 the local arts and cultural efforts. We have the greatest quality of life in Ohio because we invest in it.

West: One thing I would do to help grow the economy is get a Project Labor Agreement in place with the unions and county. This would ensure that on each construction project paid for by our tax dollars, the workers would get the best wages and benefits. Better medical care would relieve some of the burden off of the county to cover workers that still have to depend on CareSource.

I would also make sure that local contractors are really getting a fair shake at the work going on in our county. Help the smaller contractors be able to get a fair share at the bids by starting a tier system for bonding. That way they can really afford the bonds for the work they’re doing. To attract new jobs, I would look at finding the right companies that fit our region and work at bringing them here with improvements to all our school systems, providing limited tax incentives for the smaller businesses that relocate or expand here.

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

Lieberman: I'm excited! 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 in 2005. 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.

West: Right now our budget is good due to the economy being good, as far as spending I would need an audit of each department to truly answer that.

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?

Lieberman: Montgomery County's relationship with the City of Dayton is strong. We are less than 2 years into a 20 year water contract. We have and we will continue to work together resolve any infrastructure or water quality issues that come up. Ohio Governor 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 waiting for the next steps from the Ohio EPA to be announced. 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.

West: If anything work closer to see how we can help. A county is only as strong as its county seat. Working closer with them is my goal.

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?

Lieberman: One of the most stressful jobs at Montgomery County is the position of child welfare case worker. 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, where appropriate, are being developed. There are always new best practices and policy developments in social service delivery. We work every day to keep ahead and keep our kids safe.

West: Work closer with their unions to make sure we have enough people to cover caseloads instead of over load them.

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?

Lieberman: We have been investing in the jail for several years. In 2019 we invested new dollars in the healthcare of the inmates at the jail. We did this to ensure that addiction and mental health issues of inmates are addressed safely and in the most appropriate setting.

In 2020 we are investing over $8 million to improve the jail infrastructure that will include a new command system and better intake processing. We believe that we will eventually be able to divert non-violent offenders that need mental health or addiction treatment directly to treatment facilities without ever having been booked into the jail.

The draft proposal for the jail is not an expansion. The Montgomery County Jail can hold about 900 prisoners. It is not in compliance with national jail standards because we double-bunk. The proposal for the jail is to have a similar capacity but bring the jail into compliance. We need a jail that will keep the inmates and staff safe. We have the first draft proposal from our consultant in the first planning phase of a multi-year process. We will have many public meetings and conversations about the future of the jail and our community’s investment in public safety.

West: More training for the guards to learn how to deal with the people they are housing, sensitivity training for the guards. Reform the bail system so the jail isn't overcrowed with misdemeanors.

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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