With the swearing in of Carolyn Rice on Wednesday, the Montgomery County Commission became the first filled all by women.
“She is a force to be reckoned with and it’s great to have another woman on the county commission,” said County Commission President Debbie Lieberman. “Now there are three of us.”
Having Rice on the commission will bring a “different voice” but likely not a dramatic shift in votes. Rice, like Dan Foley whose seat she fills, is also a Democrat and shares her predecessor’s progressivism, Lieberman said.
While Montgomery County will have the only current board in the state comprised entirely of women, according to the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, it’s not the first. Three women served together on the Portage County Commission beginning in 2013 but didn’t all share the same party affiliation.
Formerly the county treasurer for 12 years, Rice said Wednesday she was “not the same person” after the campaign in which she learned — sometimes in heartbreaking detail — about issues facing the county and its citizens, including a woman in recovery she met on the campaign trail who later died of a drug overdose.
“Although the number of overdose deaths has decreased from its high point, the opioid crisis remains a major challenge for our county,” Rice said. “And I am determined to see that we continue to see progress on this terrible scourge. This devastation has hit far too many of our families in our community.”
Rice said she is excited to get to work on a number of other “big challenges” the county faces.
“The Montgomery County Jail needs a major update; the Animal Resource Center must be addressed; and we need to look seriously at reinvesting in the water infrastructure for our drinking water,” she said.
An often-strained relationship between state lawmakers and counties also needs repairing, Rice said.
“But I want to be clear with you, at the core I am hopeful. I am positive, I am charged up and I am as prepared as I can be to take on these challenges,” Rice said after sworn in by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman.
County Commissioner Judy Dodge said her new colleague will be an independent thinker and examine all sides of an issue.
“She wants to get in there. She wants to know what’s going on. She doesn’t just want to be the third vote,” Dodge said. “She’s going to be very forceful and opinionated, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Rice won in November with 53 percent of the vote over Republican Doug Barry. The seat became open when Dan Foley decided not to run for re-election and instead make a bid for a statehouse seat, which he lost. Foley held the county post for 12 years.
In December, a fifth lawsuit was settled of more than a dozen filed against the Montgomery County Jail alleging mistreatment of inmates. The mounting lawsuits and the threat of a federal civil rights probe led to the formation of a citizens’ group to examine jail operations as well as the facility’s physical condition.
But leadership at the jail – under purview of the county sheriff — changed at the New Year as well. Rob Streck became the county’s interim sheriff after being former Sheriff Phil Plummer’s chief deputy. Plummer ran for and won the District 40 Ohio House seat in November.
Streck, who attended two county commission meetings in December, said he is hoping to keep lines of communication open with the board, while they may sometimes disagree.
“As we move forward, the goal is to have a good working relationship. No one has to agree with everybody but have a relationship that you can actually communicate and talk and express what the pros and cons are,” Streck said. “My goal is just to be able to be in the same room and talk things out. And if there’s displeasure, be able to discuss it.”
Despite the challenges, Rice said the county continues to log economic development successes and quality of life gains that provide “many reasons to be excited about the future and the great things that are happening.”
“I want to continue to partner with local jurisdictions throughout the county, whether they be north, south, east, west or in the core of the city of Dayton. We will be partners so everyone experiences positive progress.”