Dozens of local government seats are up for grabs this year

Photo by Valentino Funghi

A new year means new political battle lines being drawn in Portage County’s cities, villages, townships and school districts.

Filing deadlines are coming up for candidates in dozens of local elections, from city and village councils to township offices and school boards. (See all the filing deadlines at the bottom of this article.) Elected officials throughout Portage County and others are urging more people to get involved in local races and to vote in them.

“Local elections are important because the people who are making the laws, those are the laws that are going to affect you first, before anything that comes out on a state or national level,” said Kent Council Member Gwen Rosenberg. “Your local laws are what affect your day-to-day living and your health, safety and happiness in your local community.”

State and federal laws often come from communities that have planted what may be termed seeds, she said. Elected officials are the ears of those communities, able to transform grassroots movements and desired changes into local law.

  • In Kent, six of nine council seats will be up for grabs: Garret Ferrara (Ward 1), Jack Amrhein (Ward 2), Robin Turner (Ward 3), John Kuhar (Ward 4), Heidi Shaffer Bish (Ward 5) and Tracy Wallach (Ward 6). 
  • Ravenna has four of its seven council seats in play: Council President Andrew Kluge (At Large), Matt Harper (Ward 3), Tim Calfee (Ward 4) and Christina West (At Large). Mayor Frank Seman and Law Director Frank Cimino are also up for re-election.
  • Aurora has six of nine seats open: George Horvat (Ward 4), Dennis Kovach (Ward 2), Sarah Gilmore (Ward 5), Harold Hatridge (Ward 6), John Kudley, Jr. (At Large) and Scott Wolf (At Large).
  • Streetsboro has four of its seven council seats on the line: Mike Lampa (Ward 1), Anthony Lombardo (Ward 2), Jennifer Wagner (Ward 3) and Julie Field (Ward 4). Mayor Glenn Broska is also up for re-election.

Deborah Barber, president of the League of Women Voters of Kent, sees local elections as the foundation of America’s democracy.

“This is where the people get to speak,” she said. “This is where decisions are made that directly impact our local voters and their families. These are the day-to-day decisions that affect us personally, and our parents, and our neighbors, and our children. This is where it starts.”

Local officials aren’t so much politicians as they are accessible conduits to government, Rosenberg said. Like Kent’s other council members, she welcomes an increased candidate pool. The trick is finding people with both the desire and time to serve, and pairing them with current council members who could act as mentors.

“A lot of it starts with one-on-one conversations or seeing people that are doing interesting things and investing in their community in other ways, and asking them, ‘Have you ever thought about this?’” she said.

Council members Robin Turner and Roger Sidoti are both on board. They’d like to see younger people form a council that more closely reflects Kent’s demographics. As it is, Kent has only one person of color on council, and the average age is 64.

Kent resident Iris Meltzer, president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said local elections build the bench.

“It’s not as if people spring full blown from ‘Gee, I think I’d like to run for office’ to being state senators,’” Meltzer said. “They get their practice, they learn what the job is and how to do it at the local level.”

Asking someone with no experience to run for state or national office would be like expecting somebody who graduated from high school to teach an advanced college-level course, she said.

In an era when people with specific agendas are being actively recruited to serve on school boards, who those people are is critically important. They determine if schools will be open, what teaching will look like in those schools, and how safe children will be, Meltzer said.

It’s elected school board members who approve or effectively ban textbooks and library books, she added.

The task isn’t for the faint of heart or for those who aren’t fully invested. Local officials wrestle with gray areas of state law, determining how those laws may be dealt with in Ohio’s cities, villages and townships, Meltzer said.

“We are all affected most by what happens locally,” she said. “Does your business get a liquor license? Is your business inspected and able to function? Can you build your business? How much parking do you need? Those are all decisions that are made at the local level. Those are the decisions that affect us. Is there enough money for a fire department?”

Village officials with expiring terms

Faces in village council seats may also change. Each village has six council seats, and in each village, two of them and the mayor are in play. It’s not yet certain whether all of the candidates listed below will ultimately seek re-election.

In Mantua, Mayor Linda Clark and council members Heather Paisley and Steve Thorn will be eyeing re-election bids.

Seats are also in play for Garrettsville Mayor Rick Patrick and council members Sheri Johnson and Christopher Knop.

Sugar Bush Knolls will see open seats for Mayor John Guidubald and council members John Stein and Nicholas Jordan.

Village of Windham Mayor Scott Garrett is up for re-election, as are council members Lawrence Cunningham, Jr. and Sherri Pennington.

Lou Bertrand, mayor of Hiram since 2007, will consider a re-election bid, as will council members Frank Hemphill and Paul Spencer.

In the townships

Township boards of trustees consist of three members. This year, each township has one trustee who will be up for re-election (or not, if they choose not to run):

  • Atwater: John Kovacich
  • Brimfield: Sue Fields
  • Charlestown: Bruce Lange
  • Deerfield: Mark Bann
  • Edinburg: Jeffrey Bixler
  • Franklin: Scott Swan
  • Freedom: Jeffrey Derthick
  • Hiram: Jack Groselle
  • Mantua: John Festa
  • Nelson: Mike Kortan
  • Palmyra: Robert Dunn
  • Paris: Ed Samec
  • Randolph: John Lampe
  • Ravenna: Hank Gibson
  • Rootstown: Joe Paulus
  • Shalersville: John Kline
  • Suffield: Jeff Eldreth
  • Windham: Brian Keith Miller

School boards may see new members as well

Two Aurora City Schools board seats are in play: those of Miriam Conner and Mike Acomb.

Crestwood Local Schools has three of its five seats up for grabs: those of Bonnie Lovejoy, Tim Herron and Karen Schulz.

Field Local Schools has two of its five seats open: those of Ethan Miller and Larry Stewart.

James A. Garfield schools has three of its five seats on the line: those of Gary Foy, David Vincent and Deral White.

Two of Kent City Schools’ Board of Education seats are in play: those of Rebekah Wright Kulis and Pam Ferguson.

Ravenna City Schools has two of its five seats open: those of Pamela Nation Calhoun and Michael Wisniewski.

Rootstown schools has two of its five seats open: those of Amanda Waesch and Craig Mullaly.

Southeast schools has three of its five seats open: those of Mary Kaley, Kevin Werschey and John Witkosky.

Streetsboro City Schools has three of its five seats open: those of Kevin Grimm, Tracy Campbell and Brian Violi.

Waterloo schools has three of its five seats in play: those of Heather Haykin, Katie Walsh and Christina Todd.

Windham schools has two of its five seats up: those of Darryl McGuire and Ted St. John.

Filing deadlines for candidates

According to the Portage County Board of Elections, filing deadlines are by 4 p.m. on the dates listed below. Independent candidates for the City of Kent, village and township candidates, and candidates for school boards and the City of Aurora file for the November general election, not the May 2 primaries.

  • City of Streetsboro – Feb. 1, 2023
  • City of Ravenna – Feb. 16, 2023 
  • City of Kent – Partisan Candidates: Feb. 1, 2023
  • City of Kent – Independent Candidates: May 1, 2023
  • Village Offices – Aug. 9, 2023
  • Township Offices – Aug. 9, 2023
  • School Boards – Aug. 9, 2023
  • City of Aurora – Aug. 24, 2023
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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.