Two well-known Jackson men who both have experience in the local government/political arena -- Jon Hensler and Randy Evans -- are seeking the Republican nomination for one of the most coveted elected positions in Jackson County government, that of county commissioner.
Evans and Hensler both hope to begin 2019 by taking over the Jan. 1 term commissioner's seat currently held by two-term Republican Jerry Hall, who chose not to run for re-election. Conceivably, the primary-election winner may be able to celebrate early. No Democrat has filed for the position, and as of Friday morning, no independent or write-in candidates have filed. (The filing deadline for independent candidates is Monday, May 7 at 4 p.m.)
Hensler is currently a first ward city councilman in Jackson, previously served as chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party Executive Committee, and he has been an active leader and a member of various local organizations. In addition to being well-known for the local businesses he owns and operates, Evans is a past long-time leader and member of the Jackson City Board of Education and the Gallia-Jackson-Vinton Joint Vocational School Board.
Evans and Hensler were two of the local participants in a Candidates Forum organized and conducted by the Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau, which was held Tuesday evening, April 3, at the OSU/County Extension Office near Jackson. Also participating were three Republican candidates for Jackson County Auditor -- Tiffany Ridgeway, Jim Milliken and Chris Dupree. (A news story detailing their comments was published in the Wednesday, April 11 edition of The Telegram.)
Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau Senior Organization Director Kim Harless offered an initial welcome at the forum and introduced the moderator, Tony Seegers, who is the Director of State Police for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
The controlled format of the Candidates Forum called for each of the candidates to make opening statements limited to two minutes each, and closing statements limited to three minutes each. In between, Seegers posed the same five prepared questions to each of the commissioner candidates. The candidates heard each other's opening and closing statements, but not each other's responses to the prepared questions. There were no written or oral questions taken from the audience.
The first prepared question asked if the candidates felt the state was doing enough to help counties deal with the opioid-drug problem. The second question asked if there was a solution to the state cuts in Local Government funding. The third question asked the candidates to address their budgetary management experience. The fourth question asked the candidates if they think Jackson County government will be in a state of Fiscal Emergency in the next four years. The fifth and final question asked candidates to name their three main priorities.
Based on a random draw, Evans spoke first and Hensler second on each of the statements and questions.
In his opening statement, Evans touted his experience, both as a businessman and as a school board member and declared he would use his experience and wisdom to run county government in a true businesslike manner. He noted he served 16 years on the Jackson City Board of Education and 11 years on the Vocational School Board. He founded and has continued as the owner/operator of Randy Evans Construction for the past 20 years, currently owns and manages the Evans Center strip mall, and is the co-founder of Rowdy's Smokehouse.
"I believe my business and leadership experience qualify me to serve as your next commissioner," Evans declared in his opening statement.
In his opening statement, Hensler informed the audience about his farming background, ties and activities. He noted that as a boy he lived on a farm in Scioto Township and that as a young man he became an active leader of the Jackson-Vinton Farm Bureau, had once served as its president and has been active in its events and activities.
"Farming is important to me," Hensler concluded and added that those in the farming community are "well-regarded people."
In his closing statement, Hensler stated that while basic business experience is important, it's also important to have helpful relationships and connections beyond the county lines. He proudly noted the endorsements he had received from such people as the man he seeks to replace (Commissioner Jerry Hall) and Republican Ohio Attorney General and gubernatorial front-runner candidate Mike DeWine. Hensler, who has lined up and announced some state and local endorsements, declared that "endorsements matter" and that he has forged important relationships with officials in important leadership positions.
"I want to see Jackson County prosper," Hensler concluded, indicating he would work to bring about a climate where good jobs will be available to those who want and need them.
In his concluding remarks, Evans referred to his positive experience building the new terminal building at the James A. Rhodes Airport and said he would enjoy the role of "giving back to the county." He defined himself as a businessman, not a politician, and stated that he has the time to give to the commissioner's position as he has employees to take care of the day-to-day work of his businesses.
"I believe that experience is what is important. "I'm not a politician, I am a businessman," Evans stated. "I have no political agenda, I'm not making any promises, and I'm not seeking any endorsements."
When asked about their top three priorities if elected, Evans listed funding and managing and living within the county budget as the number-one priority. He also mentioned the need for jobs, dealing with the opiate drug problem, the need for jail space, and indicated these were all connected. He also mentioned the need to fix the potholes.
For his three main priorities, Hensler listed the need for economic growth and the creation of more jobs, dealing with the drug problem, and building relationships outside the county to help bring more prosperity to the county. He said he felt Jackson County had an excellent opportunity for growth because of its main highways and the workforce, but also said that there needs to be more efforts made outside the county.
"I believe that I possess the strong relationships to bring economic opportunity to Jackson County," Hensler concluded.
As for the question about budgetary management experience, Hensler noted that as a Jackson city councilman, he's been involved in overseeing a $40-million budget and that he has served in the past as the chairman of council's Budget-Finance Committee while gaining legislative experience. "I do have experience with budgets," he noted, while noting the city's budget is higher than the county's.
When asked if he feels the county will be in Fiscal Emergency within the next four years, Hensler said he didn't think that would happen and that the commissioners have done "a good job up to this point" handling finances and the budget, and he said he believes this positive management will continue.
When asked about budgetary management experience, Evans pointed to helping manage the large budgets for the Jackson City School District and the Gallia-Jackson-Vinton Joint Vocational School District and the respective school-construction projects. He also mentioned his budgetary experience gained while building his own businesses and "starting from scratch."
It's all about good management of money," Evans declared.
As for the prospect of the county falling into a state of Fiscal Emergency, Evans said it will come down to being able to manage the money, but added that he doesn't think that will happen to the Jackson County government.
As for the opioid-drug crisis and the question about the sufficiency of state support, Evans said he wasn't in a position to make a judgment, but acknowledged there was "a huge problem with addiction" in Jackson County, which results in a lack of needed local jail space. He said he would not make any "political promises" about fixing the problem, but would use his experience to try to work on the problem.
In the same vein, Evans said he didn't have an easy or political answer to dealing with the loss of Local Government funds from the state and observed that "there is never enough money to go around." He noted that when he was the president of the Jackson School Board, the school district was able to turn around "financial difficulties" and change projected deficits into a financial surplus within a five-year period.
On the issue of state support for the opioid-drug crisis, Hensler offered that he felt the state was "trying" to deal with the problems and that legislation had been passed which is aimed at allowing local entities to take more ownership of the problem. He feels the state will be promoting more education as part of the solution.
As for the state cuts in Local Government funding, Hensler said there would be no "overnight solution." He suggested it may be necessary for local governments to simply be willing to "tighten their belts." He credited the commissioners and all the officeholders with already working effectively to make "the tax dollar go as far as it can."