Voter guide 2023: Mantua’s Mayor Clark faces two challengers, including council president

Image of the Mantua Village Hall
Mantua Village Hall Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

Mayor Linda Clark faces challenges by Nicko Koutavas and Village Council President Tammy Meyer.

Clark has served as Mantua’s mayor since January 2012. Since then, the village has moved forward, she said.

“When I was first mayor, we had over 20 open storefronts. Now we have, I think, one,” she said.

Partnerships with the Mantua-Shalersville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Mantua Revitalization Corporation and the Mantua Rotary Club have helped the village’s positive momentum, Clark said.

Clark said she is running to see current projects through. She cited the village’s “East Side Main Street project,” which will upgrade historic buildings on that side of the street. She and council are also supporting business owners who are seeking a grant to install a parking lot behind those businesses.

Reflecting on her tenure, Clark pointed to a road levy voters approved in 2013. She also oversaw an electric aggregate agreement for the village, locking in what she called “a very reasonable price” until 2025. The village has worked well with the DMRC to acquire trail grants and with the Mantua Rotary Club to acquire additional grants, she said.

Also during her tenure, Clark said the village has streamlined its trash and recycling service by opting for a single-hauler provider and has worked the county to take over the village’s water and sewer plants, which reduced residents’ bills even with the county surcharge.

“In the past six months, we’ve been restructuring our service department on how we approach the work that is done in the village. Now that the service department is not impeded by our aging water and sewer system since the county has taken that over, we have time to do more repairs and maintain the village streets, parks and cemetery,” she said.

Always searching for ways to save money, Clark said village workers are now mowing and cleaning buildings instead of outsourcing those tasks.

Clark said her experience sets her apart, particularly when it comes to understanding the village’s history and finances.

A new person coming into the mayor’s office might look at a $1.5 million budget and think it’s there to be spent, she said.

“Government funding and budgets are not like your home budget where you know exactly how much you’re going to make a year, and so you can figure out your budget for the year,” she said. “Our budget is done on estimated revenues. You might have that estimated revenue, but until the end of that year, you’re not going to know where you really stand. It just depends on the economics of the world. When people get laid off, our revenues go down.”

Government leaders must watch taxpayer dollars and stretch them as far as they can go, she said.

Reflecting on the six council members that left in recent years, Clark said not one of their resignation letters indicated they were leaving because of her. She added that she is in office to manage village employees, not to babysit them.

“As far as employees leaving, in any business you hire people to do a certain job, and when they don’t do that job, you sit down and discuss it with them, and give them the opportunity to make sure they’re doing the job they were hired to do. If they’re not, they’re at-will employees,” she said.

Clark was also the subject of a 2020 investigation by an employee of the county prosecutor’s office, which found that she “lacks leadership skill, causing conflict,” but found no evidence of any crimes. Village council members at the time asked Clark to attend leadership classes, but she never did.

Clark said it was her choice to attend what she called “anger management” classes, and she chose not to. Council declared the matter closed in the summer of 2021, she added.

Mantua was also in the media spotlight when allegations of an improper relationship between the village police chief and one of its female officers arose. Council hired Aurora Law Director Dean DePiero to conduct that investigation, which concluded that the police chief had violated department policies but committed no criminal act.

“As mayor, it was my responsibility to issue the discipline, and I did it, and it’s done,” Clark said. “We need to move this village forward, and put this behind us.”

Clark declined to detail what the discipline she meted out was, other than to say the police chief’s discipline was verbal and delivered in the presence of his attorney and the village solicitor.

Kautavas has lived in Mantua for six years, having moved to the village from Hudson to enjoy a small-town feel.

Kautavas owns two mobile businesses: Detailed Xpress, a home-based detailing enterprise; and Details by Nicko, a Twinsburg-based custom detailing business. He also serves as vice president of innovation with the Allergies Shaped My Life Foundation, a nonprofit family foundation that provides scholarships so college students with allergies can more easily meet their dietary needs.

With three full-time and seven seasonal employees, Kautavas said he understands how to treat people so they will stay on the job. Employees care about pay, but they also care how they are treated and if they are provided with the tools, time and space to do their jobs, he said.

“It all starts with upper management, aka the mayor. I don’t think the management that’s in place is doing a proper job because they don’t have any business experience. That’s why there’s such a high turnover rate. There’s nothing that is done correctly here. It’s too much drama, too much talking and not a whole lot of stuff getting done,” Kautavas said.

Acknowledging that he has no political experience, Kautavas said his years as a business owner have taught him how to get results.

He cited safety measures as his top priority, pledging to add crosswalks wherever they are needed. He also focused on the new Geis development in Shalersville, saying traffic in Mantua will likely increase. Mantua must take a proactive stance and do what it can to keep traffic flowing and add more amenities that might encourage people passing through to stop, shop and eat, he said.

“It’s all about improving the town. If the town improves, it also helps me out. It helps every resident in this village. Property values go up, and businesses boom,” he said.

Local events such as the Mantua Potato Festival are great, but could be run to involve more people and attract more visitors from nearby areas, he said. The Downtown Mantua Revitalization Corporation could also use more support and resources as it works to support local businesses and attract new ones, Kautavas said.

Supporting his belief that Mantua is too embroiled in drama, Kautavas cited the recent investigation of the allegedly improper relationship in the police department, calling it an overblown “waste of tax dollars” that found nothing.

“There’s so many better things you could do with thousands and thousands of dollars instead of wasting it on something that was nothing, and all of the investigations came back dead, with nothing. There’s so many other things we can focus on in this town,” he said.

Kautavas said he will donate his salary back to the community, and added that, despite owning multiple businesses, he has the time to serve effectively as Mantua’s mayor.

Kautavas declined to comment on the investigation into Clark herself, saying only that Mantua deserves better from its leaders.

Meyer has served on village council for three years, was elected council president in June of 2021 and was then re-elected as president in 2022 and 2023.

She said she is passionate about her community and sees her role as council president as one of facilitating communication among council members to achieve a common goal.

Village council members can only deal with legislative matters that reach them, Meyer said, adding that the very nature of the system sometimes precludes collaboration with residents and village employees.

“As mayor, I can better facilitate communication between the village, the government and the community. I don’t want it to be contentious. It’s all collaboration,” she said. “I want to bring diverse perspectives to the table to make informed decisions that benefit our community.”

Meyer said she sees things that need to be changed, but said she will prioritize community members’ ideas over her own. She also pledged to actively seek out those ideas by knocking on doors throughout the village.

Longevity and political experience matter, but “I also think a refresh is important,” Meyer said. “A change of ideas needs to be done, as well.”

Village council and village employees have experienced a high rate of turnover in recent years, and Meyer said a different management style may settle things down.

Meyer declined comment on both investigations, saying only that “they speak for themselves.”

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.