Athens County Courthouse

The Athens County Courthouse

Athens area resident Bill Hayes is hoping to unseat Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason in the General Election next November, confirming that he’s currently circulating petitions to run as an Independent candidate. Incumbent Eliason, a registered Democrat, announced his re-election campaign earlier this week.

Deadline for candidates to register for the May 8 party primaries is next Wednesday, Feb. 7. Independents have until May 7 to register for the General Election. No other candidates have registered or announced an intent to run against Eliason.

Though he has voted as a Democrat in the past, Hayes said he’s running as an independent in part because he wants to avoid party distractions from “any positions that a party might impose on me.” Additionally, he said, “I’m not representing outside-of-Athens interests… I’m here to work for us.” 

One of the ways Hayes said he hopes to see the county improve is through better economic development strategies. “That is the primary reason” he decided to run for office, he said – to improve economic development in Athens County. He referenced unique assets in the region that he thinks the county could capitalize on, “things that we don’t have to compete (over) because no one else has them,” like wildlife and the outdoors, local farming and agriculture, and the hunting industry. 

Local hunting licenses are “a real bargain,” Hayes said, and the hunting industry itself could provide an opportunity to appeal to international interests, something he thinks the county should do more of.

“It’s incredibly expensive to hunt” in Germany and Japan, Hayes said. Encouraging hunters from Germany and Japan to come here to hunt instead is “something I’d like to explore… (and) one of the many things that we can do” to encourage economic growth in the region, he said. “We have a lot to offer here that other places in the state don’t have… (that is) not going anywhere,” Hayes said. “We might as well take advantage of it.” 

Hayes pointed out that he doesn’t oppose technological development and thinks the county could do more to work with Ohio University in creating jobs. However, he also emphasized a need to work with people in the county to help them succeed with the means they have. There are “plenty of people who know how to make things with their hands” in Athens County, he said. “We’re not doing anything to help those people… We’re not looking at the interests and the passions and resources that we have right here.”

Hayes said he has travelled “around the country” and seen that “in successful communities” leaders find ways to invest in the passions and skills of the public. “We need to find more people around here who have a passion, who have niche knowledge… I think we can look at opportunities like that and work with the people who want to develop them,” Hayes said. “We need to figure out what do they need to get started?”

Commissioner Lenny Eliason announced his re-election campaign via news release Monday evening. He filed his petitions with the Athens County Board of Elections on Monday, the release said. Eliason has been a county commissioner since 1998. “I have enjoyed serving the citizens of Athens County and look forward to continuing that service,” Eliason said in the release.

Eliason said his experience will continue to be an asset to the county. “We are going through some very tight fiscal times in 2019 and 2020 as a result of the loss of the Medicaid (MCO) sales tax,” he said in the release. 

Eliason currently serves as treasurer of the Athens County Democratic Party. He is also trained as a Public Sector Dispute Resolution mediator and has been voted president of the Board of Commissioners for the past several years. In addition, Eliason is vice chair of the Buckeye Hills Hocking Valley Regional Development District Executive Committee, chair of the Appalachian Development Corporation, and chair of the Athens County Economic Development Council. “My experience will be helpful steering the county through this” next couple of years, he said. 

Athens County has received the Sol Smart Bronze Level Designation during Eliason’s time in office. “Working with SOPEC to aggregate energy choices for people in Athens County… is important,” Eliason said in the release. He also cited the U.S. Rt. 50 corridor sewer project and the Athens County Land Bank as some of the initiatives he has played a role in and would like to finish if re-elected. 

“I appreciate all the support Athens County voters have shown me in my previous elections and hope they will return me to office for another term,” Eliason said.

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