MOUNT VERNON — In what is Mount Vernon’s only contested city council race on the Nov. 5 ballot, Third Ward candidates Andrea White, a Democrat, and Tammy Woods, a Republican, showed so much similarity when answering questions from local media that White called several of their mutual responses “Kumbaya” moments.
Their answers came during a candidate’s debate inside Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Jetter building, with questions posed by Knox Pages and the Mount Vernon News. Both White, a Kenyon College professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Woods, Tolles Career and Technical Center treasurer, are newcomers to elective political office. Each agreed on topics such as the city having little choice to control storm runoff, including on private property, but to create a graduated assessment of $4 to $6 per month for a stormwater utility. Woods said the stormwater utility proposal in her view doesn’t go far enough but is a good start toward addressing a problem that has been an issue for decades.
“She’s not wrong,” White said. “We have to bite the bullet and fund the infrastructure that’s needed.”
They also agreed the city government can advocate for resources, including financial resources such as grants, to alleviate criminal activity often tied to drug abuse and addiction issues — with both stopping short of supporting the spending of city funds on addiction alleviation services. White and Woods also, while agreeing that the Winter Sanctuary homeless shelter should be made available year-round, also declined to say city funds should be used directly for that year-round purpose.
“I would say giving them a place to stay does not solve their issues,” Woods said.
It is not a legislative body like the city of Mount Vernon’s responsibility to fund a homeless shelter, she said, one reason being there are multiple issues involved that lead to homelessness. The city should do everything it can to locate those resources, Woods added, noting that she herself has seen the presence of homeless camps outside of Mount Vernon.
White said the area homeless population has grown in recent years and so a year-round shelter with a larger number of beds is needed. She noted seeing tents forming a homeless camp while participating in the recent Kokosing River Cleanup event.
Homelessness can impact a community in different ways, White said, such as her learning from west side residents that a proposed playground was not going to happen because homeless people in the area could put children in potential danger. But homelessness is an issue Mount Vernon’s elected leaders need to pay more attention to — and important decisions may need to be made in the future that could involve halfway houses and other resources to alleviate the problem. Though there are those who would not want such facilities in their neighborhoods, “I’m used to taking hard positions and sticking to them,” White added.
Woods said homelessness, like transportation needs involving a truck route that steers drivers away from the city’s center, is one of those issues where “we’ve been kicking the can down the road a bit.” Everything that the city can do, outside of spending its own funds on shelter needs, must be attempted to alleviate the problem, she offered.
“I no longer think they’re passing through. They’re here,” Woods said.
White and Woods were also asked to provide insight on Mayor Richard Mavis’s idea to add a road on the eastern end of Mount Vernon, a project in their ward, which would connect Ohio 229 and US 36.
While neither committed full support to the idea, Woods said outer belt proposals that would lead some traffic, including trucks, away from downtown are long overdue and worth consideration.
“We have a downtown, quite frankly, that is getting beat up by trucks every day,” she said.
But while semi trucks and other large trucks take a beating themselves from frustrated motorists griping about their presence, it means the city has industry, Woods offered. Planning where trucks need to be routed has been one of the city’s biggest challenges over the decades. The city also faces problems of motorists zipping through residential areas, such as Edgewood Road, as a shortcut across town, she said.
White said careful planning must be prioritized to solve traffic route issues that alleviate congestion in the city, and problems such as residents going through residential neighborhoods like Edgewood Road. White said she was not certain the connector road idea linking Ohio 229 with US 36 would solve the problem. She added the city needs to be certain that when it plans new traffic routes, it does not alleviate traffic congestion in one area at the expense of creating similar problems in a different neighborhood.
“I am careful not to go through residential neighborhoods when I cut across town,” White said.
White and Woods were also asked to list their top priorities for the city that will influence their decisions.
Woods said as a Republican, she believes in smaller government. As such, she said, her focus is on the safety and security of citizens, along with fiscal responsibility. She offered that she wants to become a conduit for residents who wish to express their views on city issues.
White said that safety and security are important priorities, offering that fiscal responsibility is a “given” priority council members have. But the city needs to do real investment in planning and infrastructure in order to bring in desired employers, she said. The city also needs to keep moving Mount Vernon in a direction that is welcoming, inclusive, and “can attract young families and keep them here.”
“The growth of Columbus is heading in our direction. We need to be prepared for it,” White said. She offered there are other Ohio cities Mount Vernon can look to as positive examples of how to prioritize positive growth.