City candidates talk about qualifications
DAVE MOSIER/independent editor
Three candidates in the upcoming May primary election, only one of whom is opposed, attended a Meet the Candidates Night sponsored by the Heart Land Patriots in Trinity Friends Church’s Fireside Room.
Those speaking included incumbent Van Wert Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman; city treasurer candidate Neil Straley, and Van Wert Councilman At-Large Bill Marshall.
Judge Leatherman has been Municipal Court judge since November 8, 2010, when she was appointed to replace then-judge Phil W. Campbell. She has since been elected to one full six-year term and is currently unopposed in seeking her second term on the bench.
The judge, a Van Wert High School graduate, began her college career at the Ohio State University-Lima Campus, and later the main Ohio State campus in Columbus, but then took time off when she became pregnant for her son. When her son started kindergarten, she returned to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2½ years and then going on to earn a law degree from Ohio Northern University.
During her tenure as judge, the court has moved from the former post office building on South Market Street to the former First Financial building on East Main Street. Judge Leatherman said the post office building had “a lot of history, but not much space.” It also didn’t have any real security measures, which have been greatly upgraded at the new court facility.
The judge also noted that her caseload has steadily increased, from 5,938 when she first took office to 10,281 cases in 2016.
“That’s unprecedented for a community our size,” Judge Leatherman said, noting that Allen County, with more than three times the number of residents, had just 27,000 cases for its two full-time judges and a full-time magistrate.
With the increasing caseload, the larger court facility was needed to house the court’s 13-member staff, which now includes a full-time magistrate, Diane French.
The new court building also has two courtrooms, which helps keep what can be several hundred daily arraignments moving through the system in good order.
Noting that there has been a 42 percent in increase in case filings since 2010, the judge said that traffic cases have seen the biggest increase during that time. She added that charges of driving while impaired with either alcohol or drugs have increased, mostly on the drugs side, while distracted driving cases — usually drivers texting while driving — have also risen.
Judge Leatherman said her main focus and mission is: “for those people we can help, they leave better off than when they came.”
Often she said that just means being kind to those who appear in Municipal Court.
In the only contested city primary race, Straley is seeking the part-time city treasurer’s position now held by Don Hangartner. Hangartner, who is seeking re-election, was unable to attend the candidate’s event because of a health problem.
Straley, a 1989 graduate of Van Wert High School who later earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne, Indiana, worked for 17 years at the former Teleflex Corporation in Van Wert after dropping out of college following high school.
After he lost his job when the local plant, then owned by Kongsberg Automotive, closed in 2008, Straley returned to college, earning an accounting degree from Indiana Tech. “For college, I thought I would take a little break,” he noted, adding that the “break” turned into nearly two decades. He said he is also contemplating returning to college to earn a master’s degree.
“I have a passion for numbers, which is part of the reason I’m interested in this job,” Straley said. “I like numbers and I like financials.”
Currently, Straley is continuing improvement leader at Schnipke Plastics in Ottoville.
“I’ve been working in manufacturing my whole life,” he noted. “I got into management and supervision and working various places.”
He also noted that he has worked with spreadsheets and Excel software, both of which would be beneficial in doing the city treasurer’s job.
Straley said his main reason for seeking the treasurer’s position is his desire to be a public servant.
“I want to do something positive for the city; I want to do my civic duty,” he said, adding that he would be a team player for Mayor Jerry Mazur’s administration, who he looks to as a mentor.
Marshall is seeking his first full term on Van Wert City Council after being appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late John Marshall. Technically, he is serving in Fred Fisher’s at-large position, since Fisher was appointed to replace John Marshall as Council’s First Ward representative.
Marshall, a Crestview High School graduate and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said his father, who operated a family farm in Van Wert County, taught him to be responsible from an early age.
“My father taught me the things that were important: integrity, honesty, and hard work,” Marshall said. “Those three things, I think, are something I try to espouse in myself.”
He noted that his stint in the Air Force in the mid-1960s grounded him and gave him a purpose in life.
“It also gave me a chance to serve my country,” Marshall said.
Following his four years in the service, which included a tour in Vietnam, he went to college on the G.I. Bill and later began a career in sales in California, where he lived for more than 35 years. He first married a woman he met during a trip to Australia, who died in 2009 of cancer.
Following his sales career, he began a successful career in corporate recruiting, first working for another company and then starting his own firm.
He later married a former classmate he reconnected with during a Crestview High School reunion he attended, and he and his new wife, who was living in Columbus at the time, decided to retire in Van Wert County, which they both remembered fondly from their childhood days.
He got interested in politics after moving next to former mayor and City Council member Louis Ehmer, and said that he hopes he can help make improvements in the community. He later developed a good relationship with current Mayor Jerry Mazur when he was asked, because of his recruiting background, to help the city and county find a new economic development director.
“There are things that have really improved (in Van Wert) and there are things that haven’t,” he said, noting that he tries to do what is best for the community. “I hope that’s always my guiding light: what’s best, not for an individual, but for a community as a whole.”
To Marshall, one need stands out for the community: “Economic development, economic development, economic development.”
As someone who was involved in recruiting current development director Stacy Adam, Marshall said he feels the community has the person needed in that position, noting that Adam is a very dynamic and capable individual.
Marshall also noted that he would like to see the city become the kind of community it was back in the 1960s when he was growing up, when the city was clean and prosperous.
Other City Council members are running unopposed, with current Councilman At-Large Jon Tomlinson seeking the Council president’s positon, after Council President Pete Weir opted not to seek a second term in that position.
Fisher will run against Democrat Jeff Agler, a former Council member, in the November general election.