By Nicole Hennessy
As Avon Lake moves forward through sometimes stagnant economic challenges, it now has an exponentially-growing parks and recreation department; considerations on how to better utilize the lakefront being discussed at the county level and a fresh focus on economic development with a new director.
With three available at-large seats on Avon Lake City Council, only one of which is being contested by current council President Martin O’Donnell, the city’s challenges, assets and opportunities will be on full display this year as nine candidates make their cases for a spot on council.
Each candidate took the time to explore answers to the following questions:
What prompted you to run for Avon Lake City Council other than vacant seats?
Zachary Arnold: My family and I have lived in Avon Lake for nine years. I have always had in interest in public office. My involvement with the Avon Lake Kiwanis, Smiles for Sophie Foundation and the Charter Review Commission (2013) has helped me understand different aspects of Avon Lake. My wife (Julie) and I are involved with Avon Lake schools and many other activities involving our three children (Anna, 10, Charlie, 8, and Vince, 6). I spoke to my family and friends about my interest in running and got overwhelming support.
My business development and risk management background will bring a cautious yet aggressive approach to new ideas for the growth of Avon Lake. My career includes time at a large corporation and a mid-sized family owned business. I speak to business owners every day throughout Northeast Ohio.
Willie Schuette: Early last year I received a call from one of Avon Lake’s political leaders urging me to seek the office of Council at Large. After prayerful consideration and family discussion, I have decided to accept this challenge before me.
Being actively involved in civic and political issues during my adult life, my family and I now feel that the time has come for me to offer myself as a servant in the public arena. I am hopeful I can bring some of those common sense ideas straight from the people to the residents of Avon Lake.
An area of interest is the tax burden on the residents of Avon Lake. We are taxing our best natural resources right out of this city. Our people. Young families must be able to do more than survive financially; they must be allowed to prosper. Senior citizens should receive quality services that help them live a fulfilling life. Finally, I believe we can work responsibly on a limited budget.
Duncan Roberts: I wanted to run for a council at-large seat primarily because I want to help the city grow and I believe my skill set and ability to learn quickly will be an asset to the city. I think the mayor and current council have done a good job of securing the financial foundation of the city, while also providing top-class services, amenities and programs, and I would like to help continue and expand on those. I believe having the ability to work well with others, even when you do not necessarily share their views, is crucial for a successful council, and I think my ability to stay calm, problem-solve and think outside the box, as well as having a strong technical ability, fits perfectly with what a modern city council needs. Government is necessary, important and requires dedication. I’m willing to work hard.
Karl “K.C.” Zuber: Regardless of the contenders, I planned to run for Avon Lake City Council at Large because I’m uniquely qualified to hold this office. Currently, there is no one on Council that has grown up in Avon Lake or attended school here. I have lived in Avon Lake for nearly 50 years and have over 25 years of experience in government. I’m driven by my personal passion and commitment for our community to be even better than it already is. That is why I have stayed intensely involved in Avon Lake city government since I was first elected to Avon Lake City Council in 1991.
Michael Sherban: As a lifelong resident, I’ve seen Avon Lake grow tremendously. For the last seven years, I’ve been fortunate to serve on the Planning Commission and help shape some of that growth. I’m running to ensure the needs of the residents are taken into account as Avon Lake continues to grow so Avon Lake remains a sought-after city for people to live and raise a family. I want to work with the residents and other stakeholders to make sure all voices are represented and the city’s growth serves the needs of its residents.
Daniel Clifford: I have been thinking about serving in Avon Lake government for the last three to four years. I love Avon Lake. It is my hometown. I was raised here. I am raising my children here and I feel a responsibility to contribute to the improvement and preservation of this great community through service. That is why I volunteered to serve on the Historical Preservation Commission last year. I am not a politician nor do I aspire to be one. I am a working-class husband, father, citizen who wants to make sure people like me have a voice in local government.
Frederick Hothan: Politics has always interested me. I also see myself as a person who can be an asset to the community, being proactive in communicating with people, and in turn, getting to the deeper issues that concern people. I am confident I can make a positive change.
Bob Brooks: My desire to serve on the Avon Lake City Council comes from the great pride I have in the city. I was born and raised in Avon Lake, baptized at St. Joseph Parish, and attended Erieview, St. Joseph, Learwood and the high school. I am thankful I was raised in a loving family in a small close-knit community (12,000 at the time). This gave me a solid foundation for future success in life and is the same foundation my older children have come to appreciate as adults.
My father, a Navy veteran, instilled in me the importance of service. After I graduated from Avon Lake High School, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and am a proud veteran like my father was. I have also served Avon Lake in various capacities such as president of the Avon Lake Kiwanis Club, teaching investment classes to seniors through the Avon Lake Parks and Rec, and serving on the city’s Charter Review Committee. Although Avon Lake has doubled in size since I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I believe it is still a wonderful place to live, raise kids and run a business.
Martin O’Donnell: It is a privilege and an honor to serve the families of Avon Lake and obtain satisfaction in resolving their issues and concerns. My experience and ongoing leadership will be important in working with new members of City Council and the mayor.
What are a few assets and a few weaknesses you see in Avon Lake that others may not be able to identify?
Zachary Arnold: There are many areas in which Avon Lake is thriving. The school system continues to be top-notch. Our parks and beaches are great places to visit and spend time with our families. The library is one of the best in the county. We have many churches and preschools to choose from. There are great support systems like Community Resource Services and Assist Avon Lake. New homes continue to be built and the housing market is fantastic. Our police and fire departments continue to keep us safe.
An area of concern is economic development in Avon Lake. The Community Investment Corporation, Job Growth Incentive Program and North Coast Business Expo implemented by the current council are a good start. The hiring of an economic development director this past summer will help in the long term. Economic development continues to be a challenge for Avon Lake. For various reasons (some the city can’t control), it has been a struggle to grow our retail business segment. This problem can’t be solved overnight. We have to continue to help landlords attract tenants. Avon Lake needs to give businesses a reason to start or move here. If we aren’t growing, we are dying.
- Our citizens, their commitment to the community and their ability to help guide this great city toward future success.
- Lake Erie – what a tremendous natural resource that is underutilized. We need to develop a plan that will allow us to use this resource to our competitive advantage to entice new industry and citizens to our community.
- Police and Fire departments — what an incredible job of protection and education they give to our residents.
- 83 percent of the city budget comes from property taxes and personal income taxes. We are too dependent on those two sources; if the cost of city government goes up, it falls back on the homeowner and taxpayer.
- Rotation of city government – The city works best when it rotates through different citizens. Long-term officeholders lose sight of what is needed as they spend time trying to hold their political positions.
Duncan Roberts: One of the greatest assets in Avon Lake is the way all the departments work together. It’s not common that the council, police department, fire department, public works and water department, to name a few, share a good relationship and work together so closely. Avon Lake should be very proud of these relationships, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted.
One of the weaknesses I see in the city is not being able to get accurate, timely information out to residents. Some departments are using social media to a greater degree to make information available closer to real time so it has more impact, but I feel there is still more that can be done to make this more valuable to the people of Avon Lake. Many concerns people have are rooted in a lack of information. Making good, easily understandable information available at the right time can only help the city.
The location of Avon Lake being on the water is, I think, both an asset and a weakness. We have wonderful lake views, beaches, the Avon Lake Boat club, but it also limits the retail opportunities along the shoreline.
Karl “K.C.” Zuber: The greatest asset to Avon Lake is its citizens, and their wealth of knowledge is our biggest untapped resource. The people are what make this community great and the city needs to access their knowledge and be more proactive in connecting with its citizens. For example, sometimes the city knows months or years in advance about major projects, yet these plans aren’t always communicated to our residents in an effective, efficient or timely manner prior to their fruition. The city needs to be more open and available to community suggestions from citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations, especially long-standing nonprofits. People need to be heard.
Michael Sherban: Avon Lake has a pro-business attitude and the available commercial space and land to support further economic development efforts. Unlike other nearby cities, however, we do not have an interstate running through the middle of the city. While this is beneficial in many ways, it does affect the type of businesses we can attract to the city. These items are not novel, and many residents are aware of the assets and challenges facing the city’s economic development efforts.
I disagree with the premise of the question. My campaign is not based upon being the person who identifies issues others may not identify. My campaign is based upon talking with the residents and addressing the issues that most people identify. Those are the issues that have the most impact on people’s lives. I do not believe a person can be successful in public service taking the approach that he/she knows best, and is the only person that can identify and solve issues.
Daniel Clifford: The people of Avon Lake are one of our many assets.We have so many talented and caring citizens here; it shows in our schools, CRS and ASSIST programs, as well as others. It is a big part of what keeps Avon Lake a great place to live. However, we need more citizens to volunteer and serve on various committees and offices. There have been some positive changes recently in the city of Avon Lake. The addition of new parks and rec programs and an economic development director have already made a positive impact on our community. The Green Box is an asset along with the summer fishing program as well.
Frederick Hothan: A major asset of Avon Lake is the people who live here. The Avon Lake school system is one of the best and the police and fire departments are top-notch. I would like to see more fiscal programs for retired citizens in the community. I feel we should use Lake Erie to our advantage.
Bob Brooks: I believe the greatest asset in Avon Lake is its people. When I considered moving back to my home town after living out west for several years, I already knew the type of community Avon Lake was. I know of other people, however, who chose to live in Avon Lake based on the advice of a relocating company or real estate agents who knew of Avon Lake’s reputation for friendly neighborhoods, exceptional schools, low crime and excellent services. So again, it is the people of Avon Lake who make our community the great place it is to live and work.
I believe the challenge we face as a community is maintaining an already wonderful place to live through proper management of city resources and services. As a councilman, I will do all I can to continue the pro-economic development within our community to maintain the services the people of Avon Lake have come to expect and appreciate.
Martin O’Donnell: Avon Lake has quality city services, excellent schools, beautiful lakefront and a strong industrial tax base to keep taxes down. The weakness I see is that the state has reduced funding to the local government fund, eliminated the estate tax and NRG substantially reduced their property tax. These tax reductions have a major effect on budgeting for the city and the school system.
What infrastructure or economic development initiatives do you think are most urgent within the city?
Zachary Arnold: There are many positive aspects of Avon Lake. Homes don’t stay on the market long. It has been that way since I moved here in 2008. People want to move here! Avon Lake’s retail infrastructure has been pretty much the same since the late ’90s. Meanwhile, our surrounding communities have expanded and redeveloped.
Short-term, I believe it’s important to help landlords fill our vacancies. Landlords don’t need motivation, but tenants do. I would help attract these tenants and give them reasons to come to Avon Lake. It’s also important not to neglect our current businesses already here. They have already committed, let’s find more ways to help their businesses grow.
Long-term, I see the development of the West End and Pin Oak Parkway as ways to bring in businesses. Town Center and the Landings have challenges, but I am not sure the city has any leverage on redeveloping those areas.
Willie Schuette: It’s as clear as the nose on your face: We need a robust comprehensive economic development plan that makes Avon Lake a thriving, competitive, job-creating city for the prosperity of businesses and individuals. We need a limited number of activities with the highest priority and potential that will impact our city. We need to continue to develop light industry in Pin Oak Parkway. We need to bring in more professional jobs such as medical, attorney, technology firms. We hired a director that wasn’t always a popular choice among city officials. They spent a lot of time on the West End area that ended abruptly. We need clarity of a plan, then action.
Duncan Roberts: The widening of Lear Road and Krebs Road at the railroad tracks and the addition of a stop light is a long-needed project to (alleviate) significant traffic congestion and increase safety at that intersection. The connection of Woodbridge Way between Hunt Club and Bridgeside is also an important change that will increase the safety for Hunt Club residents by adding a second entrance to the neighborhood and decrease emergency service response times. However, planning needs to be done with this connection and road widening to ensure that the neighborhoods do not become a significant cut-through for drivers wanting to eliminate the intersection at Lear and Krebs.
The ongoing work by Avon Lake Water is also critical to the long-term future and cost of our water supply. Projects like the water storage unit and water tower will protect our water supply from the unpredictability of Lake Erie, be it frazzle ice or toxic algae blooms, and the ongoing rehabilitation work to the wastewater treatment plant will ensure we have a clean, affordable water supply for many years to come.
Karl “K.C.” Zuber: Route 83 needs to be relocated through to Pin Oak Parkway. The repaving of Route 83 needs to be fixed and done correctly. Also, the city needs to streamline the slow approval process for new businesses to open in Avon Lake. Time is money for business. Our zoning and planning procedures need to be revamped and more business friendly. We need to work with new businesses enthusiastically by cutting excessive costs and fees charged to locate here. As local officials, our concerns need to be expressed to state and federal officials as to how their dictates negatively affect our community.
Michael Sherban: We need to focus on filling the vacant commercial spaces located throughout the city. Specifically, the Town Center needs to be a focus because having such a highly visible vacant property hampers other economic development efforts. Further, other areas of the city have aging, outdated commercial spaces. I would like to work with the property owners to find ways to allow them to update their property so they may be able to further attract new businesses.
Daniel Clifford: More comprehensive planning would greatly benefit our community as we continue to build and develop on vacant land as well as make improvements to existing properties. I am concerned about what our town will look like in the future without it. As the growth of neighboring Avon continues with more chain restaurants and box stores, I see an opportunity for us to create a welcoming community for smaller business to grow and develop. It would also help fill the now-vacant commercial spaces while offering more services, retail and dining options to our residents
Bob Brooks: As one who is running a small business in Avon Lake, economic development is near and dear to me. I speak and network with other business owners in Avon Lake every week and see the importance of economic development firsthand. I do applaud the work that has been done by the council over the last eight years, especially the Jobs Growth Incentives Program and more recently the addition of the position of economic development director. I believe the steps that have already been taken, plus others including consideration of tax abatement, should all be tools used toward economic development.
The most immediate infrastructures:
- The last two sewer separation projects to comply with the EPA 2020 deadline.
- Turn lanes at Lear and Krebs (roads) with a traffic light, which should be completed in August 2017.
- Traffic light at Webber Road and Avon Belden road by the fall of 2017.
- Neighborhood street repairs.
Under economic development:
Expansion of the tax base is imperative with the addition of 14 new businesses in the past year to assist in this objective. An examination of possible lakefront business development with the county is under review. The Jobs Growth Program, Community Investment Corporation and the economic development position should play a major role in keeping/obtaining businesses.
How would those who know you best describe you?
Zachary Arnold: I believe others would describe me as an empathetic, reliable and honest person. I am an opened-minded, accepting person, but if I see or hear something that doesn’t seem right, I speak up.
Willie Schuette: Honesty, open and approachable, respectful, clearheaded, practical, intelligent, excellent character, trustworthy and to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.
Duncan Roberts: People who know me would say I am honest, fair, intelligent and reserved, and I have extensive knowledge in technology. Despite being reserved, those closest to me would say I’m friendly, always willing to listen and have a strong love of family.
Karl “K.C.” Zuber: I’d like to think I’m described as a good listener and even better “do-er.” I make it a point to listen respectfully and fully to people even if I think I might disagree. In this way, I’m open to new insights or a new perspective I might not have otherwise considered. When I have strong opinions, some might say that is often, I’m not afraid to be authentic or follow up with action. People consider me someone who does what they say they will do.
Michael Sherban: A down-to-earth family man with a good sense of humor. Someone who is a creative thinker, can be counted on in times of need, and has a passion for seeing Avon Lake continue to be successful.
Daniel Clifford: Those who know me best would describe me as dependable, trustworthy and loyal.
Frederick Hothan: I have been described as a good-natured, positive person who speaks plainly and honestly, is a quick learner and likes helping others.
Bob Brooks: I think those who know me best would be family, friends, business associates, and clients. I think my wife and 10 kids see me as loving, caring, and devoted. My wife, Jodee, and I have been married for 27 years and look forward to another 27 years at least. Raising kids today is the most selfless thing I can think of, especially when you consider seeing them through college. I think my friends see me as loyal and fun. As a financial advisor, my job is to help my clients meet some very serious financial goals including retirement planning, business planning and funding a college education for their children and grandchildren, all of which take prudent judgment and sound planning.
Martin O’Donnell: I think I would be described as a person who is fair, hardworking, respectful of others and listens to opinions on both sides of an issue before making a decision.
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