Melanie Farkas has announced her candidacy for Liberty Township trustee. A resident in the township since 2015, Farkas also ran for an open trustee seat in the 2019 election.
“I really love where I live, and I do have a heart for service in the community,” Farkas told The Gazette on why she chose to run again. “I was passionate about being a voice for the residents in 2o19, and that hasn’t gone away. It’s definitely been on my mind since I ran before.”
Farkas said she was “overwhelmed” by the support she received in the 2019 election in which she garnered 33% of the votes. She felt her message of bringing a new voice, one that is focused on transparency and collaboration, “really resonated with people.”
In elaborating on the “new voice” she hopes to bring to the board, Farkas said she feels the current trustees tend to “make their decisions in a silo.” Regarding some of the lack of public participation in township meetings, Farkas said it is “incumbent on these officials to involve the community.” And while she acknowledged some efforts from trustees to involve the community ahead of recent meetings involving the controversial planned overlay district (POD), Farkas felt those efforts were “too little, too late.”
Community collaboration will be a critical component of her campaign, Farkas further stated, saying there are residents in the community who don’t feel represented by the current board. Farkas said that sentiment she hears from residents extends beyond the big issues such as the approved POD on Sawmill Parkway, north of Hyatts Road.
“It’s definitely within the trustees’ purview to decide who is on committees and things like that,” Farkas said. “I think there are many people who would like to be involved with these things. But because the committees are hand-picked by the trustees, there is a large group of people who just aren’t represented, and I think they deserve to be.”
While Farkas pointed out she is not against development, understanding there are tough decisions that will need to be made in the township moving forward, she said of the Liberty Township Board of Trustees, “We have to find the right way to develop. In my mind, the wrong way to develop is to let the tail wag the dog. We should be collaborating with developers, with residents…”
Farkas pointed to the residents who spoke out against the recent POD, approved by the trustees earlier this month, and especially those who stand to be directly impacted by the decision.
“They have done what, in a democracy, we have the right to do,” Farkas said of the outspoken residents. “They’re voicing their concerns, they’re speaking at the meetings during public comment. And they really feel like the decision (to approve the POD) was made long ago, and no one is really listening to their concerns.”
Farkas recalled a particular statement made during public comments on the POD proposal in which a resident stated that while developers “belong at the table, they shouldn’t be at the head of the table.”
“That is really just a perfect way to say it,” Farkas said of the resident’s statement. “I am pro-development. We need to figure out how to grow, we need to figure out what the best options are to grow responsibly for the township and residents to benefit from it. What we shouldn’t be doing is allowing the developers to come in and make the decisions for us, to say that this is something they’re going to do in the township and that’s the end of the story.
“I feel strongly that we have this comprehensive plan that’s been around since, I believe, the 1980s and has been updated many times, most recently in 2018. It’s a year-long process with a great amount of public input, and three years later, we’re disregarding what the comprehensive plan has laid out for certain areas of the township.”
Farkas went on to say she’s not naive to think land such as that in the recently-approved POD can stay zoned as residential farmland forever, but entirely disregarding the comprehensive plan isn’t the path forward. Rather, Farkas suggested the township begin the process of updating the comprehensive plan again, saying it should be “the baseline for what we, as a community, want for our growth” prior to bringing developers and partners in on the plan.
Asked how she, personally, would have weighed the POD decision and its impact on the entire township with the wishes of the group most directly impacted and most vocal during the meetings, Farkas lamented what she believes was a lack of quality research on the true impact of the POD to the township as a whole in the beginning. While she acknowledged the financial analysis that was eventually presented by the Finance Committee, Farkas said the analysis “wasn’t communicated or explained well to residents.”
Farkas also criticized the haste with which she believes the analysis was conducted.
“We are not a tiny township where you can calculate this kind of stuff in your free time on a Google spreadsheet,” Farkas said. “I feel there should have been a lot more in-depth financial analysis. And it should have been something that was shared with residents, so they could really understand whether or not it was the right thing for the township.”
Having gained experience campaigning in her last attempt, Farkas said she plans to reach out to more of the township this time around. She felt she stayed “in her comfort zone” too much in 2019, sticking to knocking on doors in the southern portion of the township, where she lives and where the population is denser. By doing so, Farkas said she didn’t get to meet and speak with much of the northern portion of the township, a mistake she won’t make again.
“I’m excited to hear the hopes and visions they have for the township,” Farkas said. “I had incredible support in 2019, and I’m really hoping to meet even more people all over the township this time around. … I really hope that people get to know me and see what I really am about and what I believe.”
Farkas added that she wants to see better collaboration between Powell and Liberty Township, two communities she said are one and the same. “It’s time to make that relationship work,” she said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.