Athens County voters stuck with the status quo this week in the election of county officeholders and ballot measures, according to unofficial election results.
About 1,500 provisional ballots had yet to be counted in Athens County as of Wednesday morning, according to Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey. That could be enough to alter the outcome of the Athens County auditor’s race.
Jill Thompson, a Republican who has held the auditor’s seat for the past 18 years, was re-elected in a close race against Democrat and retired Athens County Deputy Auditor Dave Owen. Thompson received 51 percent of the votes (10,743 votes) and Owen received 49 percent (10,320 votes), though the final votes have not yet been counted.
Thompson said Wednesday morning that she feels confident about her re-election. She didn’t seem surprised by the closeness of the race. “I was running against a former employee,” Thompson said (she and Owen have worked together in the Auditor’s Office). “...I was determined from the beginning, running on my merits, running on a positive campaign… trying to be supportive of a former employee,” she said.
“We worked really hard and are dedicated to… doing the very best that we can,” Thompson said. “At the end of the day, my goal is to put Athens County first… We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Should Owen come out on top when the final votes are counted, Thompson said she will “certainly congratulate my opponent,” but said the numbers show that her campaign did well. “It appears, on a first cursory look, I’m the only Republican who won in Athens County,” Thompson said. “… I am very blessed.”
Acting Treasurer and local business owner Ric Wasserman, a Democrat, won the county treasurer’s seat with a whopping 61.54 percent of the vote (12,816 votes) in the unofficial election results. His opponent, retired business owner and former Athens City Auditor Gary Van Meter, a Republican, earned 38.46 percent of the vote (8,008 votes).
“I couldn’t be happier,” Wasserman said in an interview at the Pigskin Bar & Grille in Athens (which he owns) Tuesday night after 100 percent of the votes had been counted. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a really long time. I love my job; I love waking up every morning and working for the people of Athens County, and I can’t wait to do it for the next three years.”
Wasserman said his next step as county treasurer will be to continue what he’s been doing, and keep trying to collect delinquent taxes in the county.
“And the land bank’s going to make a huge impact,” Wasserman added, “on the villages up north especially, but also in the other parts of the county over the next seven years. We’ve got another year and a half of money to tear down properties, and we’re just going to go after it as much as we can.”
In the county commissioner race, incumbent Lenny Eliason, a Democrat who has held the seat since August 1998, was re-elected with a significant majority of 65.25 percent of the vote (13,056 votes). Challenger Bill Hayes, an independent and Meigs County native, earned 34.75 percent (6,953 votes).
In a brief statement Wednesday morning, Hayes said he’s already working on his campaign for the next election. “I am running again in 2020,” Hayes promised, adding that “we are ready to start fundraising.”
Outside the Athens County Board of Elections office Tuesday night, after 90 percent of the votes had been counted, Eliason thanked voters for their support. “It was a long election cycle, a good campaign, and today’s the day we learned our fate, and it came out very positive,” Eliason said. “I want to thank everyone that supported me all of these years.”
Asked whether he plans to run for re-election again or retire, Eliason said, “You never know. That’s one of the things, you just have to see how you are at the time it comes.”
On the ballot issues, Athens County voters supported both the 0.5-mill renewal levy for Athens County Emergency Medical Services, and the 0.3-mill replacement levy for the Athens City-County Health Department. The EMS levy measure was overwhelmingly approved by 72.51 percent of voters (14,687 votes), while just 27.49 percent (5,568 votes) opposed the measure. The City-County Health Department Levy was approved by 66.57 percent of voters (13,668 votes), with only 33.43 percent (6,863 votes) in opposition.
The EMS levy would run for five years and raise around $490,000 every year, while the Health Department levy would raise around $321,000 annually. Both levies will help these agencies continue to provide essential services with direct benefits to a wide cross-section of Athens County residents.