Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – Though it has been fairly quiet on the election front this year, the two candidates for Circleville mayor have been working to spread the word on their plans and goals for the office.
Don McIlroy, the Republican incumbent, and Richard Holmes, the challenging Democrat, will square off Nov. 3 for the position that will lead the city through the next four years.
Don McIlroy was new to public service when he ran for his first term as mayor, but as a business man, he said his focus was on economic development and providing small businesses the tools they needed to be successful in Circleville.
With nearly four years under his belt, McIlroy said the city has made some large strides in those areas, but there is always more work to be done.
“Getting on the economic development radar screen with businesses takes time,” McIlroy said. “We’re not done with that yet, and I think a lot of the hard work this administration has done, we are starting to see those dominoes fall. I’m running again because I didn’t want to stop that momentum. I wanted to keep that going.”
McIlroy said it is a pleasure to work with Ryan Scribner, economic development director for Pickaway Progress Partnership (P3), in a variety of ways. A major coup of that partnership was the city being named a quarter-finalist in the America’s Best Communities contest, which offers a $3 million top prize for a community to develop and implement its economic development goals.
“We continue to promote being one of the top 50 in the America’s Best Communities contest,” McIlroy said. “We are submitting in November the final draft of our plan for review, and hopefully we will take the next step in the contest.”
McIlroy said his proudest accomplishment as mayor, though, is the education corridor between the new Circleville City Schools campus and Ohio Christian University, with improved infrastructure and the annexation of the growing university campus into the city limits.
“We’ve gone from a 12-percent baccalaureate rate in the city to 17.9 percent,” he said. “We’re still under the 24-percent state average, but I think a lot of that progress we’ve made in the past four years can be attributed to the growth of OCU.”
Education and business are the keys to the successful future of the city, McIlroy said.
“It is important to develop our work force, be it for small business or manufacturing,” he said. “We have to build a work force that is ready to go. We need to grow students who don’t need to leave Circleville or Pickaway County to find a good job. We want to keep them right here.”
McIlroy said he also is pleased the community came together to pass a street improvement levy during his term.
“It means we will have a substantial amount of money yearly to redo our streets and create a great infrastructure here in Circleville,” he said. “We’re also working on creating trails and improving our parks. When you have a good base of education, a good quality of life and a good infrastructure, you’ve positioned yourself much better to draw in those businesses and jobs.”
McIlroy said he intends to continue working closely with the city’s Downtown Business Association, which has recently seen several new businesses come into downtown.
“Our residents understand that shopping locally is very important,” he said. “Not only do we support these businesses, but these businesses support our community as well.”
McIlroy said he is proud of the working relationship his administration has built with state and county officials, as well as a strong working relationship with city council.
“We have had no major issues between administration and council,” he said. “The communication is professional, and we have been passing ordinances and getting things done at a record pace.”
McIlroy said the city has other important issues on which to focus as well, including the continuing war on drugs.
“Drugs are an issue we can’t forget, and it will always be a priority of mine to resist and reduce this problem,” he said. “But I believe the reason we hear so much about drugs in our community is that we are doing something about it, and we are making a difference.”
With the election little more than two weeks away, McIlroy said regardless of the outcome, he hopes he and his opponent will be able to draw voters to the polls.
“I think it’s important that every race be contested, and I respect anyone who runs for political office,” he said. “It’s important to have a discussion and forum, and you can’t do that if no one wants to run.”
Richard Holmes is a local business owner who takes pride in his ability to pay his taxes and support his family here in Circleville. As the owner of Roundtown Taxi, Holmes said he has turned his one-vehicle business into a 20-vehicle local transportation service since its inception in 2007.
Though he has never held public office, Holmes said he considered running for mayor several years ago but decided against it. When he realized the mayor’s race would be unopposed this year without a challenging candidate, though, he decided now was the time.
“My heart is set on making a change,” Holmes said. “I know people think I’m crazy, but I want to try to work with people and try to make a difference.”
Holmes said one of his primary motivations is the lack of younger people involved in local government.
“We need people who have ideas, young, fresh ideas, people who are concerned and worried about what’s going to happen 20 or 30 years from now,” he said. “My focus is to get those 50-and-under people involved. Right now, they’re not involved because they’re bored. They have no interest because they know their voice is not being heard and their opinions don’t matter.”
Circleville’s drug problem is one issue Holmes said is at the top of his list of priorities.
“Drugs are no benefit to any community,” he said. “I would work with local law enforcement to get things done. We need more outreach, and we need more treatment. It’s a plague.”
Holmes said he also thinks local landlords should be held accountable for what happens inside their rental properties.
“They have those programs, and you see those vehicles that say they’ve been seized from drug dealers or whatever,” Holmes said. “Let’s start doing that with property owners. They know what’s going on, but they turn a blind eye. Let’s start taking these houses away from people, and they won’t be so willing to ignore it.”
Holmes said he also believes the city needs to be more accommodating to local businesses.
“They make it so hard for people who want to do business here,” he said. “All these laws and rules, when we need to pull some people in. Chillicothe is growing; Ashville, Commercial Point, South Bloomfield are growing; places all around us are growing, and here we are, sitting idle. That needs to change. This town does not survive off the Pumpkin Show.”
Holmes said he would also focus on the city’s employees and safety forces that he believes have not been treated fairly in recent years.
“The safety forces are not happy, they don’t get treated right,” he said. “When you sign up to be a police officer or a fireman, it’s a career move. That’s not a job, those are careers. The police have so much turnover because of the way the city runs that department.”
He said if you don’t see an officer today that you saw yesterday, it makes you wonder why they’re not there anymore.
“There are too many games involved,” he said. “People who work for cities, villages, townships, those are supposed to be good jobs so you can take care of your families, but it’s not happening. Yet there’s money to spend on other things.”
Holmes points to the recent attempt at creating a city charter as an example of what he believes was an unnecessary expenditure of city funds. Holmes was a vocal opponent of the effort and even purchased billboard space to urge residents to vote against the proposed charter.
He said he also believes the city should focus on issues like train traffic and improving the city’s water system to help draw new business and growth into Circleville.
“This town is not looking for new and improved, and it’s not going that way,” he said. “Younger people need to get involved, get out there and voice their opinions and make themselves heard. It’s not for the seven people who sit on council or the one person who calls himself mayor. It’s for the people who live here.”
And win or lose on Nov. 3, Holmes said the effort has been worthwhile.
“I get out there and talk to people and try to make them realize things need to be different,” he said. “If one person understands that, then I’ve done my job.”
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal