Candidates answer questions at Democratic candidate forum

Published 5:19 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Editor’s note: The following includes answers to one of the questions asked during the Meet the Candidates Forum held Thursday, April 19 by the Polk County Democratic Party at The Meeting Place in Columbus. It also includes each candidate’s final statement. See the Wednesday, April 25 Bulletin for the candidates’ answers to other questions at the forum.

Democratic candidates for the Polk County Board of Commissioners – Emily Bartlett, Ernie Giannini, Renée McDermott (incumbent), Rickie McFalls and Russell Mierop – stood before citizens Thursday, April 19 to discuss their views on everything from improving the county’s economic status to mountain ridgeline protection.

Question #3: What experience do you have that would qualify you to deal with issues related to mountain ridgeline protection?

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Emily Bartlett
“I’ll be honest, I do not have any experience dealing with slope or land ordinances, but my experience is dealing with people,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said when she expects to make a change to a policy she knows the most important thing is education.
“You’ve got to bring people along to get their input and get them to embrace the situation and the changes you are going to make,” Bartlett said.

Ernie Giannini
Giannini also said he admits to not knowing a lot about the Mountainside Ridgeline Protection Ordinances or land use but said what he does know is “common sense.”
“What I do know is that the 1,650 feet is important but you’ve got to remember that there is a lot of flat land at 1,650 feet. Basically on this subject I would say I would go along with what has to be done and make my suggestions as necessary after reviewing the information thoroughly,” Giannini said.

Renée McDermott
McDermott told the audience that she spent much of her career as an attorney working environmental cases related to water, soil and erosion. She said she also worked as a county attorney near a hilly area of southern Indiana where they frequently dealt with ridgeline issues.
“Rickie [McFalls] brought up Saluda – first I want you to understand Saluda was not targeted at all [during the Mountainside Ridgeline Protection Ordinance discussions], that was just not the case,” McDermott said. “But our mountainous areas need to be preserved. When the mayor [of Saluda] and others came to the UDO [Unified Development Ordinance] committee and asked for help – they got help.”
McDermott said new options allow for a large amount of commercial development in Saluda. She said the difference is that citizens who are neighbors of those areas where commercial development is possible would have the chance to voice their opinions before developers could get approval to begin building.

Rickie McFalls
Rickie McFalls grew up around mountains and said he worked as a timberjack on ridgelines so he has an understanding of soil and other issues that arise on steep slopes.
“I’ve talked to a lot of graders who said if they had the degree of slope they would know what to do with the land – whether they could put something on it or not,” McFalls said. “But as far as the ridgelines go, I think we need to go to a tolerance degree of slope to where Saluda can do something with their land.”

Russell Mierop
Mierop said his recently acquired education in agri-science makes him well suited to discuss and make decisions on such issues.
“From my education, I know that it’s not just elevation that is important, it’s not just your percentage of slope – it’s your rain percentages, your soil type, etc., that give mountains their soil stability,” Mierop said. “So I believe my education – soil science – gives me the background to understand the issues related to the ridgelines ordinances our county is facing.”
He said he would use background and knowledge related to various factors to make educated decisions about ordinances related to land use.

Closing statements

Emily Bartlett
“I think I might bring a different perspective to the BOC. I’ve worked with retirees on fixed incomes and families trying to make ends meet. Those people living on the margins who are struggling depend on the services that our county provides,” Bartlett said. “Our current commission has done such a great job making sure those services thrive but I have a few ideas of things I’d like to tweak and I’m very excited about the work.”

Ernie Giannini
“The big things I am very proud of are being on the county visioning committee, comprehensive committee, Second Wind Hall of Fame, Big Brothers Big Sisters and guardian ad litem. So I’m really into children and that is part of my platform. My other part is senior citizens,” Giannini said. “Some of the most important things to know about me, though, are that I am a team player, an organization man and a certified mediator.”

Renee McDermott (incumbent)
“I’m not running for reelection for myself, not at all, I’m running to do good things for you and Polk County – that’s the only agenda I have,” she said. “I offer you my listening ears, my active mind and my resolute determination to accomplish your goals.”
McDermott said she wants to keep taxes low and preserve the natural resources and scenic beauty of the county.
She said with voters’ help and support she would work to improve what the Democratic majority of the board has already worked on over the last four years. Those priorities include providing for economic development, supporting St. Luke’s Hospital, installing more fire hydrants, water lines and more, she said.

Rickie McFalls
Rickie McFalls said living here all his life has made him keenly aware of the challenges the county faces and its strengths. He said more than anything he wants to be truthful in all that he says.
“I think I have some new ideas to get some things going,” McFalls said. “But I don’t want to promise nothing because if I promise something I’ve just lied to you. I’m asking the folks, ‘What would you like to see in Polk County?’ And I’ve gotten a number of answers I think I could put to work.”

Russell Mierop
Russell Mierop grew up in Green Creek and said he is running in order to do something good for the community that supported him throughout his young life. He said he is especially focused on maintaining the strength of the Polk County school system so students can receive the quality education he did.
“I moved back here to get involved with local business and agriculture pursuits,” he said. “I want to give back to the people and the community that gave me so much.”

Candidate Bubba Greene was not in attendance.
The Democratic headquarters is open to provide sample ballots from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday through Friday during early voting, which lasts until May 5. The last day to vote in the primary is May 8.