With four seats up for grabs on Nov. 7, Powell City Council could look very different when the calendar turns to 2018.
Three incumbents — Frank Bertone, Thomas Counts, and Brian Lorenz — face competition from a list of challengers that includes Christina Drummond, David Ebersole, Jeffrey Gardiner, Melissa Riggins, and Sharon Valvona.
Current council member Jim Hrivnak is not seeking re-election.
A graduate of The Ohio State University, Bertone has been employed by Nationwide since 1993. He currently works as a trust officer/product consultant for the Nationwide Trust Company. He and his wife, Julie, have called Powell home since 2003. The couple has three daughters.
Bertone said he is seeking re-election in order to “protect the quality of life we enjoy in Powell and to make certain that it will continue for future generations.”
“As a longtime resident of Powell with a solid understanding of our past, present, and future, I bring to the conversation a diverse knowledge of the issues and opportunities before us,” he added.
A member of various city committees, Bertone said one issue he would like to continue to address in the future is traffic enhancements and improvements, which include downtown streets, Liberty and Seldom Seen road improvements, regional roadways, bike paths, downtown parking and signage, traffic signal at Liberty Street and Grace Drive, continued annual street maintenance, sidewalk repair, and storm sewer and curb inlet repair.
To address the traffic infrastructure, the city must seek feedback from the community while developing a funding and prioritization strategy, he added.
“When and where possible, we will aim to coordinate our efforts with other surrounding communities and partners,” Bertone said.
A lawyer for the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, Counts and his wife, Carolyn, have resided in Powell for 22 years. The couple has two daughters.
A public servant in Powell for 21 years, first on the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals and then on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Counts has spent the past 12 years on council. He believes experience in local government is a good thing to have on council, which is one reason he is seeking re-election.
“Powell is one of the best cities in the United States in which to live because of steady, conservative, rational approach to providing services and amenities to its residents,” he said. “That only comes with experience.”
The biggest issue facing the city, he added, isn’t stopping continued development, but keeping Powell “a great place to live, which means dealing with our traffic issues, maintaining our roads, bike paths, sewers, and adding to our park and bike path system.”
Counts said he would like to see a citizens committee formed to study the city’s infrastructure and how to fund such improvements.
“The city needs a dedicated source of funding to deal with our traffic issues and to maintain existing and build new infrastructure when the need arises, not when our residents become totally frustrated,” he said.
A mother of two, Drummond and her husband, Mike, have called Powell home since 2015.
Drummond, who holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in international science and technology policy from George Washington University, is currently employed as a management consultant who helps start-ups, nonprofits, and coalitions increase their impacts and scale their operations.
“After observing Powell’s government since 2015, I decided to run for my first political office as I saw a way to contribute my skills for the good of my community,” Drummond said.
She added Powell is on the verge of becoming “the exceptional city envisioned in our comprehensive plan, supportive of families young and old with the highest caliber of public services, programs, and infrastructure.”
In order to achieve this, Drummond said, the city must make sure it’s financially able to address aging infrastructure and sustain the “high-level of services” its residents have come to expect.
“We must find ways to strengthen our local economy and diversify our city’s revenue base,” she said. “It is time for the city to strategically plan, partner, and communicate how it’ll pursue funds to improve our area while sustaining services over the years to come.”
While budgeting for the future would be a top priority for Drummond if elected, she said she would also work to “proactively seek out ways for our city to do more with less.”
A Powell resident and private attorney who advises business clients on tax issues and controversies, Ebersole is no stranger to public service having served as assistant attorney general for the State of Ohio from 2011-2016.
While in Columbus, Ebersole said, “I gained invaluable experience regarding state and local governments in Ohio. My day-to-day duties included defending the state’s tax base for essential public services, and representing the Ohio Department of Taxation before the Ohio Supreme Court and the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals.”
Ebersole added he has “the integrity, credentials, and listening skills to restore the public trust in Powell City Council,” which he called one of the most pressing issues facing the city.
To restore public trust, council needs to listen to residents and act on their behalf, Ebersole said.
“If I were elected to council, I expect that citizens would start coming back to city council meetings because I listen, and I truly value their input,” he said. “Ever since city council approved the Powell Crossing apartments in June of 2014, it has been clear that, as a collective body, council does not listen to the people.”
Ebersole added, “The current city council has strayed from Powell’s identity through its efforts to increase population density and approve high-density housing in the downtown area.”
A Powell resident since 2013, Gardiner is married to his wife, Lauren, and the couple has two young children.
Gardiner, who holds a master’s degree in public policy from The Ohio State University, works at J.P. Morgan Chase where he leads a team of 10 portfolio managers who oversee fully diversified investment portfolios.
With two youngsters at home, Gardiner said, he and his wife are set on raising their kids in Powell, and he is running for public office “to get involved and do my small part to ensure Powell continues to be a great place to raise a family.”
He added that his financial and public policy backgrounds would add value to council.
The biggest issue facing the city, Gardiner said, is finding balance between limiting high-density housing while also following both zoning codes and private property rights.
Defining high-density housing can be tough, he said, and for that reason, he would apply a list of four questions when determining which development projects to support: What is the impact to traffic? What is the impact to our school district? What is the impact to our balance sheet? What are the positive community externalities that would stem from that project?
A Powell City Council member since 2010, Lorenz and his wife, Sue, have called the city home for 12 years. The couple has four children.
Lorenz, who served a five-year stint on the city’s Planning Commission, holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from The Ohio State University and a B.A. in geography and planning from the University of Toledo. He is currently employed by a local architecture/engineering firm as the director of planning and permitting.
Lorenz is seeking re-election in hopes of seeing through several ongoing projects.
“I have helped lead Powell through a challenging time in our history and have a proven track record of representing our constituents in a fair and consistent manner,” he said.
One of the most pressing issues facing the city, Lorenz said, is traffic, which he called “a regional problem that is not limited to the Four Corners.”
“It includes other regional intersections such as Home Road and 315,” he said. “Improving flow in and around our town is a priority.”
To address the issue, Lorenz said, he and other council members worked to implement the Keep Powell Moving initiative a year ago.
“This plan lays the foundation to mitigate traffic congestion in and around our town center,” he said. “We are working through cost effective measures that are called out in our plan such as the installation of regional directional signage to route visitors around town to attractions such as the zoo.”
A Powell resident for 16 years, Riggins holds a juris doctorate from the University of Akron School of Law and a B.A. in communication from Bowling Green State University.
Riggins, who has owned her own private law practice for 22 years, has worked as a practicing attorney for nearly 30 years. She also serves as an Ohio Department of Education hearing officer.
As a longtime city resident, Riggins said she felt compelled to step forward and offer her services as the city considers how to handle future growth.
“If given the opportunity to serve on council, I will use my training and experience to provide ethical, legal and well-reasoned ideas and solutions that can be realistically implemented to move our city forward,” she said.
If elected, Riggins plans to address the need to increase the city’s revenue in a “bedroom community.”
“We have to come up with realistic ideas and solutions to generate more revenue,” she said. “The only other option is to cut costs by reducing the services that the city provides. I will push to hire an economic development director who will be charged with searching out business/economic opportunities that will blend in with our community and generate much-needed revenue for the city.”
An information technology professional for the past 30 years — currently employed in the IT department at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center — Valvona has lived in Powell for over two decades with her husband.
Valvona said she is running for office in order to help address growing concerns residents have raised in recent surveys about council not listening to the taxpayers.
“Current residents have been attracted to a tree city with family-oriented neighborhoods and good schools,” she said. “Since 2014, I have been privileged to work with committed citizens across the city on efforts to protect the character of Powell.”
Valvona said while she supports appropriate growth and development in Powell, she shares the same perspective as “the majority of citizens that high-density housing is not the right kind of development for downtown.”
One reason for that, she added, is traffic and safety concerns along Powell Road.
“Traffic will only be exacerbated by the 170-plus approved or proposed housing units near the Four Corners in downtown,” Valvona said.
Fixing the traffic problems won’t be an easy task, she added.
“One cost-effective method to ease traffic at the Four Corners would be to stop approval of high-density housing developments nearby that will exacerbate existing traffic issues,” Valvona said. “Signage that helps residents and non-residents avoid the Four Corners by taking advantage of Bennett and Murphy parkways would make the best use of these improvements.”