Two O’Briens challenging Rankey for county treasurer seat


Three Republican candidates are vying to earn the nomination for the upcoming Delaware County treasurer race on the March 19 primary election ballot. Incumbent Don Rankey Jr. is seeking reelection to a second term, while newcomers Ken O’Brien and John O’Brien hope to unseat him.

Each candidate spoke with The Gazette to discuss why they’re running, what their visions are for the office, and what they believe makes them an asset to Delaware County.

Ken O’Brien

O’Brien was raised in Berlin Township and has served in three separate elected offices in Delaware County, including stints as Berlin Township fiscal officer, trustee, and Delaware County commissioner.

“Along the way, I became an expert in county taxation and finances, and really have a solid track record of safeguarding taxpayer dollars and ensuring financial accountability,” O’Brien told The Gazette.

Asked why he decided to contend for the Republican nomination for Delaware County treasurer, O’Brien flatly stated, “Because we need a new county treasurer.”

“In 2023, Delaware County’s investments would have earned an additional $7.45 million because (Rankey) failed to fully invest taxpayer funds in STAR Ohio for the year of 2023, which is exactly what I would have done and, in fact, is what Berlin Township did,” O’Brien claimed.

O’Brien added, “(Rankey’s) really taken a poor choice of investment strategies, and he also has become kind of sloppy. For example, in the most recent real estate tax bill, under the calculation of taxes, the owner-occupied credit is listed at 25% rather than 2.5%. That’s quite an error.”

O’Brien also took issue with Rankey “doubling his budget” while having what he claimed were poor investment returns.

Referring to Rankey’s push for hardship bonuses for county residents in 2022, O’Brien stated, “I also wouldn’t have gone around the (Delaware County) commissioners by going to the newspapers to pressure the commissioners to give away a million dollars in taxpayer money in bonuses because that push was neither helpful to the employers or to the county.”

O’Brien said he believes one of his advantages should he ultimately win the nomination is that he has “earned the trust and respect of the county senior office holders, including the county commissioners and the county auditor.”

“Like them, I’m a conservative Republican leader, and I really do care about the future and the physical wellbeing of Delaware County. And I know how to work collaboratively with them,” he said.

As for why he believes he can be an asset to Delaware County’s financial success, O’Brien said, “I know what works. I know how the system works. A lot of people try to take shortcuts that don’t work. With government, you have to follow the law. You just have to. People with business backgrounds try to shortcut that, and in the long run, if you follow the law, it’s just best for the county.

“I know all the stakeholders, and I work collaboratively with them. I’m not saying we’re best friends, but I know that professionally, we have very good working relationships. … I know what battles can be won and should be fought, and I know which ones you just need to comply with the law.”

He went on to say, “I also plan to be in the office. I think that when elected to serve, an officeholder should actually serve. I think that will be a good change in the treasurer’s office.”


Rankey is seeking his second term as treasurer after being elected in 2020. Asked what he’s most proud of during his time as treasurer, Rankey pointed to his staff, which he noted was the same staff that was there when former Delaware County Treasurer Jon Peterson served three terms from 2008-20.

“I’ve never lost a staff person,” he said. “I had one who transferred over to (Delaware County Auditor) George Kaitsa’s office, and I got one back from him. I love my staff and my staff really appreciates and respects me, and I respect them. And they’re carrying an incredible load. In 2010, there were 65-68,000 parcels. Now, there are 95,000 parcels, and we’re taking in over $700 million. That’s a lot of work.”

In addition to his staff, Rankey said he’s extremely proud of the more than $14 million in interest income his office was able to earn in 2023. Of the $14 million, more than $12.1 million went into Delaware County’s General Fund.

“We really did it the right way,” he said. “I laddered it. I came in and looked at the portfolio and put together an investment committee made up of bank presidents, investment bankers, and professors, and we meet with them every 60 days. They have been really great. I’m doing everything I do in my own business, and it’s really been a good, positive thing for the (treasurer’s) office.”

Rankey said he hopes the interest funds generated by his office will used by the county to invest in economic development.

“These (county) commissioners are furious with me because I’m not staying in my lane,” he told The Gazette. “Well, the treasurer is the banker, and the banker is supposed to make money. The best way to make money is to invest in your economic development and then your economic development increases the sales tax revenue, which is a big revenue for us.”

Addressing Ken O’Brien’s condemnation of Rankey’s additions to the budget, Rankey noted he had the lowest budget in the county at around $230,000 when he took office.

“I added (Chief Investment Officer) Rick Karr, who cost around $110,000. But he brought in $14 million this year and will bring $14 million in 2024. I think that’s a good deal,” Rankey said. “And then I brought in (Director of Revenue Recovery) Jeff Jordan, and he cost about $90,000. He brought in now close to $50 million in delinquent taxes, and I still haven’t filed a foreclosure. We’re not even going after people hard but just working with people to get the money in. That’s how the budget got doubled. I didn’t add anybody in the front office, and I still have one of the lowest budgets in the county.”

As for what he hopes to accomplish moving forward, Rankey said addressing the rising real estate taxes as part of the triennial update to property valuations is his most important focus for the next year. Rankey, who chairs the Board of Revisions that oversees the revaluations, said the goal of the board is to make the process fair. Individually, he hopes to do away with the triennial increase.

“This triennial increase in the real estate taxes has been devastating on a lot of our citizens,” Rankey said. “It’s been most devastating to our senior citizens. … My number one goal for the next year is to figure out how we can undo this triennial increase.”

He added, “(This increase) has just been a perfect storm. What I mean by that is, three or four years ago, all the real estate values went through the roof because you had all these low, low interest rates, so the house values went way up. As soon as the house went on the market, they would sell it. The problem is everybody fixes their houses when they sell them, so you had all these houses that were in perfect condition. And the appraisers had to do 95,000 appraisals in less than a month, and the process is somewhat flawed. There’s no way you can do that and just say, ‘Ok, this house is worth $500,000 and not go in and look at it and see what it’s all about.

“So I want to fight to get this fixed to where it’s fair because, now, the interest rates are 9% and now you can’t buy a house. The real estate sales have stopped. They’ve gone from the greatest ever three years ago to the faucet has turned off, and properties have decreased substantially. So that’s my number one goal, to try and figure how to reduce the real estate taxes to where they’re fair.”

Rankey said he will also continue recommending to the commissioners that they reduce real estate values by 5 mills.

“What happens is this triennial increase will increase the real estate taxes coming to the commissioners’ General Fund by about $80 million,” Rankey projected. “Their 10-mill inside millage is what they get on every property. We’re at 95,000 parcels a day. Soon, my office estimates we’re going to be at 106,000 parcels, probably by the next five years. Every time you have a new parcel come in, we get that inside millage. The revenue goes up by itself on the inside millage, and that’s how we’ve done so well as a county.”

Rankey went on to say, “Delaware County’s financial picture is great. My whole goal is to figure out how to make it better. And I’m bringing a business perspective. I’m going to continue trying to improve on the greatness we already have.”

John O’Brien

O’Brien is a lifelong Delaware resident who has been involved with the Delaware County Republican Central Committee since the late 1990s. His family has played a prominent business role in Delaware for over 100 years, owning car dealerships, a rural bulk oil distributorship, and being a founding member of the Board of The Delaware County Bank.

Speaking on his business background, he told The Gazette, “When we sold our businesses, I was first recruited by the Saturn car company to come and do financial analysis and training of all types from manufacturing to individual dealerships. During my career, I worked for General Motors for a long period, and I also did contract work after Saturn went away, with Volkswagen Group of America and was adjunct faculty for The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. In doing that, I did workshops in particular for Chase Bank, Nationwide Insurance, and some of the other bigger corporations around central Ohio.”

O’Brien, who has earned Six Sigma Black Belt certification for his prowess in upgrading company quality and processes, said he would bring management skills to the treasurer position that include “being upfront and being a leader while getting people to work together as a team.”

Previously, O’Brien ran for Delaware County auditor in the early 2000s but was defeated by Todd Hanks. O’Brien said that his decision to run for treasurer stemmed from the Delaware County Republican Party’s Central Committee endorsement process late last year, which didn’t produce a clearcut endorsement to represent the party in the treasurer race.

“Several of the people on the Central Committee who are active in politics came to me and asked if I would be interested in running in the spring,” he said. “That endorsement process happened in December, and at that point in time, there was still the opportunity for more people to get their petitions in. It was kind of late in the process, which I realized.”

O’Brien said he sees himself as a “middle of the road” option between Rankey and Ken O’Brien.

“There’s a lot of good things happening with (Rankey) and what he’s doing and the people he has in that office,” John O’Brien said. “But there are also some folks who look at him and some of his ideas and how he invests the good cash position that we’re in, and they’re a little sketchy about that. Frankly, anytime you do an investment, there’s risk involved, and some people are risk-averse.”

On the other hand, John O’Brien believes Ken O’Brien is “on the other end of the spectrum.”

“(Ken O’Brien) is very conservative in the way that he looks at things,” he said. “Frankly, I think if we went with Ken winning this race that he would go back to more of the traditional ways in which that office was once run, maybe more risk-averse. Looking at the growth of Delaware County, I don’t think it’s a good thing to go backward on what we’re doing. So I find myself as a third choice somewhere in the middle between Don Rankey, who’s probably out on the leading edge, and Ken O’Brien, who’s probably more of a conservative.”

John O’Brien was also complimentary of Karr, who serves as the fiscal officer for Liberty Township and has played an integral role in the township being recognized by the state auditor as one of the best in the state. John O’Brien noted he wishes Karr could be replicated in every village and township in Delaware County.

“Since that’s impossible, I believe the treasurer’s office should have a person — or persons — to be an advocate for these smaller political divisions in the county,” he said. “Someone they could contact and meet with to help them in fiscal matters such as budgeting, cash flow, and bonding creation for new equipment or facilities needs as they grow.”

John O’Brien went on to say, “I see all of these offices as being a public servant to the community. It’s not about the money, it’s not about the personality. It’s about doing the right things for the county.”

He added, “I realize coming into this late that I’m a dark horse, and it’s been a challenge getting my message out with early voting already started. Our family is very well known in this community over the years, and I feel I would be a great choice for leading this office.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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