The former president and CEO of Delaware County Bank will fill the void left on the board of county commissioners after Ken O’Brien’s unexpected retirement in June.
Jeff Benton, who led the county-based banking institution from 2003 to 2010, was appointed to the open seat by about 62 percent of the 107 Delaware County Republican Party central committee members who cast votes Tuesday, defeating fellow candidates Mike Kelley and Donald Worly.
“I’m thrilled,” he told The Gazette following the meeting. “It’s such a great county. There’s so many good things we got going on.”
Benton, who was endorsed for the post by the party’s screening committee, left his position at Delaware County Bank in the midst of the Great Recession. He said the departure was a mutual decision between he and the company’s board.
“The bank had six really good years and then the economic crisis hit,” he said in response to a question from a central committee member about his exit from the company.
Kelley, who lost a bid for an endorsement from the party’s screening committee, took a shot at Benton’s tenure during his opening statements in an effort to address two lawsuits between his company, Ostrander Implement, and Delaware County Bank. Both lawsuits, which have been settled, were cited in the screening committee’s report.
He said they were “collateral damage to a bank that had been left in disarray.”
Before his rise to the top spot at Delaware County Bank, Benton served in several executive level positions with Bank One and Wendy’s.
He has an accounting degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Benton, a lifelong county resident, has also been active in the community, including roles with Ohio Wesleyan University, the Little Brown Jug Society and the Central Ohio Symphony.
He is a member of the party’s central committee, serving as vice-chair of the executive committee, and is the treasurer of the campaign committee for U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township.
Benton, who once delivered papers for The Gazette, said he plans to govern based on the “conservative principals of limited government, low taxes and personal responsibility.”
The focus, he said, will be on long-term strategies for sewer and transportation infrastructure, emergency medical services and economic development.
“Delaware County has developed into a large and complex entity and will benefit from my experience,” he said.
A sewer plan needs to be “flexible,” according to Benton; an emergency medical services plan should focus not on “coverage issues,” but overlap and financial issues; transportation requires a “very strategic and thought-out” plan; and diversifying the county’s economy should be a priority.
“Retail is great, but we also need other types of companies,” he said.
Tom Price, a prominent county farmer, vouched for Benton’s credentials during the meeting.
“The ability to adapt and be a quick study is important, and Jeff has that,” he said.
To retain the seat, Benton will be need to win a Republican primary in March and a general election in November 2016. The term to which O’Brien was elected ends at the end of 2016.
O’Brien resigned the seat on June 30, just one day before changes to the state’s public employee retirement system took effect. The changes, he said, could have negatively impacted his pension. He has since filed to run for a seat on the Olentangy Board of Education.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.