Candidates answer questions at forum

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Democratic commissioner candidate Russell Mierop (left) talks with forum moderator Faith Weathington while Ernie Giannini, another Democratic commissioner candidate talks with another forum attendee. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Editor’s note: The following includes candidates’ answers to two of the questions asked during the Thursday, April 19 Meet the Candidates Forum held by the Polk Democratic party at The Meeting Place in Columbus.
Democratic candidates for commissioner – Emily Bartlett, Ernie Giannini, Renée McDermott (incumbent), Rickie McFalls and Russell Mierop stood before citizens April 19 to discuss their views on everything from improving the county’s economic status to mountain ridgeline protection. Ritchie “Bubba” Greene did not attend.
Margaret Johnson, acting Polk County Democratic Party chair, addressed attendees at The Meeting Place just before handing things over to moderator Faith Weathington.
“Please remember how important it is that we Democrats keep a majority on the board of commissioners,” Johnson said to the crowd. “The Democrats have brought a level of professionalism and hard work [to the board of commissioners] that was not seen in the past.”
Candidates were asked to give a two-minute introduction and then answer questions posed by Weathington.

Question #1: Why would you be the best choice for county commissioner?

Emily Bartlett
“I think what I can bring to this would be a different perspective,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said she works with a lot of families with children that are struggling who she thinks, in some instances, have not had their needs fully addressed.
“I’d like to see that change. I’d also like to create stronger partnerships with people and organizations to better accomplish goals of the county,” Bartlett said. “I think we are all stronger if we work together to accomplish what we need to accomplish and I think I would be a good person to facilitate those partnerships.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Ernie Giannini
“The reason that I’m running is I believe we should have a long range prioritized plan,” Giannini said.
Giannini said he wants the county to work in the direction of bringing in jobs in particular. He said the county should also further talk about a county water system that will eventually be needed.
“I think we need to talk about where we’re going to do it and where we find the revenue,” Giannini said. “I think we should have a plan to get people to use that water so that when we spend the money to expand such a system we have customers ready to tap on.”
Giannini said he also wants to focus on senior citizens and caregivers, promotion of independence and health and the creation of a safe environment for everyone.

Renée McDermott
Renée McDermott said her prior experience on the commission gives her a proven understanding of the issues facing the county.
“I think I and the current board have shown we are fiscally responsible. We’ve kept taxes in the lowest 25 percent of state and paid down debt from $24 million to about $11.5 million in 3 ½ years,” McDermott said.
She said the board has also taken care to protect the county’s natural resources and scenic beauty with good ordinances. She said the commission worked to build the new senior center and the adult day care center.
“I have a vision for Polk County of a place that is nourishing of all people… to have a board that can be fair to all the citizens of the county and represent them equally,” she said.

Rickie McFalls
Rickie McFalls said he would be the best candidate for commissioner because he listens to what the people out and about tell him, and lately they have told him, “We need jobs.”
“Out on the trail of shaking hands and kissing babies, everyone is telling me we need something for the children, so they will stay here, and I would work on that,” McFalls said. “We need to get jobs in these plants where we don’t have anything in them to keep young people in the county, because if we don’t they will go out.”
McFalls said he’d like to see currently empty manufacturing buildings filled with smaller, light industry to offer people more opportunity.

Russell Mierop
“I want to work for all of you – I want to get my nose on the grindstone and get what needs to be done – done,” Mierop said. “I’m more than willing to listen to people to find out what they think we need.”
Mierop said he’d like to continue the work done by past commissioners to support the local schools and continue to provide the great education that is offered in Polk County. He said he’d also like to enhance the opportunities here for those students once they do graduate and begin looking for jobs.

Question #2: How do you suggest improving the county’s economic conditions?

Emily Bartlett
Bartlett said she understands that many people want jobs and they want them now, but she said there are roadblocks to bringing big business here, including water, overall size and the population.
What she said doesn’t limit the county is its ability to foster small business growth. She said that could be done through education, ingenuity among county leaders to present creative funding ideas to entrepreneurs.
“Jobs and education go together. We need to make use of Isothermal Community College by working with them to see if we can’t enhance programs there for training to start your own business,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett also said looking into creative means of providing capital is also possible.

Ernie Giannini
Giannini said the county needs to play off its strengths in relation to improving the local economy. He said those strengths include a desire to support local business.
“We don’t want big boxes coming in here and we don’t want big factories coming in here because then when you lose an industry you lose 500-1,000 jobs,” Giannini said. “What I think we need here are small companies so that if someone goes bust you are only losing 10-15 jobs. I think that is what we need to do – find ways to support small businesses.”

Renée McDermott
McDermott said she believes a big key to improving the county’s economic status is fostering stable and sustainable government.
“Polk County is known for having a revolving door of commissioners and businesses don’t like that – they are scared of it because they think they can’t rely on the policies not changing,” McDermott said.
McDermott said other important factors would be extending high-speed Internet to get users connected in farther reaches of county, extend water along industrial corridors, support the reorganized Economic Development and Tourism Commission and enhance courses at ICC to help people train for jobs.

Rickie McFalls
McFalls said he would work to get existing industrial buildings sectioned off in a way that would provide space for small businesses to thrive.
“We do have the industrial park out here where a little company could go. There is still land out there to put a little industrial out there as well,” McFalls said. “I love Polk County and I don’t’ want to see it all messed up with rolling smoke stacks but we do have to get something in here to keep young folks from leaving to find work.”

Russell Mierop
“I think what needs to be done is to foster growth for suited local business like these smaller companies but I don’t think that small should be seen as a negative aspect,” Mierop said. “Small should be based on the number of people you employ but not what you are able to achieve.”
Mierop said he doesn’t think they should be stifled to preexisting spaces, especially not if they would be more suited as a home-based business.
“I think we should support home-based businesses – they require less money spent on spaces and infrastructure, leaving you with more money to put toward the overall goal itself,” he said.