The League of Women Voters of Athens County hosted its second forum on Sept. 29, this time featuring candidates for an Athens County Commissioner seat. Incumbent Charlie Adkins (D) and independent challenger Bill Hayes addressed questions submitted by community members during the virtual forum.
Hayes, a graduate of Ohio University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Zoology Pre-Med, has worn many career hats in his lifetime.
The candidate, an independent, has experience in finance, bartending, truck driving, construction management and project coordination.
Adkins, a self-proclaimed graduate of the school of “hard knocks,” has been working all his life. He first took on a commissioner seat eight years ago.
The first question posed to the candidates tasked them with describing the duties and responsibilities of the position of commissioner.
Adkins answered that county commissioners have different appointed positions, divided up every January. Adkins specifically represents the county in the Regional Jail Committee.
He noted that he worked with Ohio University’s economics department to analyze ways to save costs on jail beds, and since April of this year, the county has saved nearly $250,000, and over the last few years, the county has saved more than $1 million, according to Adkins.
Hayes pointed to fiduciary duties as being the core of the commissioner position, “to ensure that the expenditures made… are done in a wise and responsible fashion.”
The next question asked the candidates why they want to serve as the county’s commissioner.
Hayes said his desire for the commissioners seat sprouted from him wanting to “redirect economic development activities” in the county. He hopes to “spread the wealth” and “take better advantage of the natural resources and the opportunities” in the area.
Adkins noted he’d like to continue his time as commissioner, as he has “unfinished work” he’d like to see be completed.
He pointed to the county’s 9-1-1 center, a project that has been fruitful. He noted that when he took office, the center had some communication issues centered on first responders’ inability to report back to the 9-1-1 center. Those issues have since been resolved, Adkins said, and first responders in the area are some of the “best-trained” in the country.
Another question posed to the candidates was the following: what are the top three challenges Athens County villages and townships face?
“One of the primary things is investment capital,” Hayes said. “A lot of people don’t have money.” He noted that in Chauncey, for example, the need for a laundromat is evident. He also said another challenge is that local entrepreneurs struggle to secure the finances to establish themselves and expand.
“The blight,” Adkins answered. He noted the Landbank program in the county has already started to improve villages.
“It has already started improving some of the villages… it’s going to put some of the properties back on the tax base.” He noted this will help schools, townships and villages get tax dollars back into their funding.
Another question posed to candidates asked them about the county’s relationship with Ohio University, and what ways the county can diversify its economy.
“I think this is a wake up call for us,” Adkins said. He advocated for the support of small businesses in the area. “I think we need to help one very end.”
Hayes pointed to tourism outlets in the area, such as the Baileys Trail System. “I have seen the people and the money that it brings to the county,” he said during the forum.
Yet another question posed to the candidates was geared toward environmental sustainability and what measures the county can lead.
Adkins spoke about the fracking waste injection wells that exist in the county, pointing to the Ginsburg Well, which has recently been “cleaned up.”
“Injection wells ... I think are harmful to our county,” he said. “There are so many injection wells getting dumped in our county… there’s millions and millions of barrels of frack waste going into the ground. We need to watch what is coming in and try to take care of our environment.”
Hayes nodded to the timber industry in the area, but noted the industry could be approached more sustainably.
He voiced his desire to work toward rebuilding the region’s native hardwood tree population and eliminating invasive species.
Two questions tackled broadband expansion and infrastructure creation.
In terms of infrastructure, Hayes noted that roads in Athens County is in “good shape,” compared to other counties in Ohio. However, Hayes said some bridges need replaced and the runoff water issues need to be addressed in the county.
“It’s not a glamorous investment,” he said. “There’s no ribbon cutting ceremonies for clearing out a ditch… but in the long run, it saves a tremendous amount of money.” As for broadband, Hayes said funds for broadband expansion may be achieved through a government, private cooperative effort.
In regards to infrastructure, Adkins pointed to the county’s sewer systems.
“We really need to look at extending the sewer system from Athens to Albany,” he said. “You can’t bring in big companies without a sewer system.” As for broadband, Adkins said that CARES Act money may be able to go toward expansion efforts.
The two candidates were also asked to discuss the pandemic.
Adkins urged county residents to wear face coverings.
“I think we as individuals have got to continue working toward protecting each other. I know there are a lot of people out there, people I associate with, who think the whole thing is a hoax,” he said.
“Basically, this is one great advantage of having a sparsely populated county — keep your distance,” Hayes said.
The two were also asked about the demo derby event that occurred at the Athens County Fairgrounds in September. Hayes advocated for physical distancing.
“The county commissioners’ role in telling people in a free country what they can and can’t do … you’re crossing into some iffy territory there,” he said. “The best we can do is encourage people.”
Adkins said he received a call that night about the derby from Commission President Lenny Eliason, and Adkins said he directed the concerns voiced in the conversation toward the mayor of Athens, the health department, and the supervising board of the Fairgrounds, which is not county property.
“I was surprised, but then I found out that the health department gave permission to have that, but I believe that was a decision made by the powers that should be making those decisions,” he said. “I didn’t go; I wouldn’t go.”
The forum, in its entirety, can be viewed on the League of Women Voters of Athens County Facebook page, as well as on the League’s website, the City of Athens’ Facebook page and The Athens NEWS Facebook page.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. Ballot requests for mail-in voting must be submitted by Oct. 31.
Applications can be found on the Athens County Board of Elections website.