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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Mayoral hopefuls jostle for front spot

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - Mayor John Stozich has ended his bid for a third term, but his leadership remains an issue in the crowded race to replace him.

Findlay's campaign for mayor was shaken up when Mr. Stozich, 75, withdrew from the Republican primary Monday, citing unspecified health problems. Four Republicans and two Democrats are vying for his job, and most of them say the city needs a new approach on such issues as economic development, infrastructure, and spending.

Some argue that Mr. Stozich has left too many of his duties to Robert Ruse, the city's safety-service director.

“The city is being less than ideally managed,” said Republican Robert Kuhlman, 62, a former Findlay councilman. “The safety-service director is pretty much in control, because the current mayor has pretty much turned over everything to him.”

Besides Mr. Kuhlman, Hancock County Auditor Tony Iriti, former Findlay Councilman James Knott, and Maile Doyle are competing in the GOP primary. The winner will face one of two Democrats, Kevin Crook or Gerald Wade.

Mr. Knott, 65, who served one term on council in the 1970s, said the number of candidates reflects dissatisfaction with the city's leadership.

“The mayor's been getting re-elected and his health hasn't been good, and he's been pushing most of his duties off on his safety-service director,” Mr. Knott said. “Most of the people around here became disenchanted with the safety-service director, and John insisted on running for a third term, so he got all kinds of opposition.”

Mr. Stozich could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ruse defended the administration's performance.

“What the mayor chooses to do is what the mayor chooses to do,” he said. “I follow his guidance and carry out the day-to-day duties as outlined in the Ohio Revised Code for this position, and I don't think any of the candidates can be too critical on what has been accomplished in this community over the past seven-plus years.”

Mr. Knott, who has owned Downtown Antiques and Lighting since 1972, said Mr. Ruse is competent, but has too much to do. If elected, Mr. Knott said he would seek to split the safety-service job in two.

Mr. Iriti, 53, who has been county auditor since 1987, has the same idea.

“Findlay's a growing community, and I feel we should have a service director and a safety director,” he said. “Having all those individuals report to one person, it's overwhelming, in my mind.”

To avoid adding costs, Mr. Iriti said he would consider abolishing the human resource director's post and split those duties among the safety and service directors.

Mr. Wade, 71, the retired owner of T.J.'s Home Services and Builders, said communication among the administration, city workers, and residents has been poor.

“There's a lack of communication with the public,” he said.

He pointed to the city's decision to take over the Hancock Recreation Center. Most voters, Mr. Wade believes, opposed the move because the facility needs several million dollars in repairs.

“They should bring more things to the people and let them decide, instead of just deciding on their own,” he said.

The other Democrat in the race, Mr. Crook, said he sees more than just a lack of communication within the city.

“I think there's a lack of trust,” he said. “I think they communicate with each other, I just don't think they tell each other the truth.”

Mr. Crook, 44, a union electrician with Gem Industrial in Walbridge, said the city needs a hands-on mayor who will spend time with city workers.

“As mayor, you go out and see the people working,” he said. “Talk to them. Find out what their complaints really are. Go out and talk to the workers who are repairing a water line. Do they have everything they need?”

The other candidates said they would bring new approaches to the job too.

Ms. Doyle, 55, director of the volunteer center for the United Way of Hancock County, said she would seek a more open government by posting city budget data and other information online.

“I think I could step in and provide a different style of leadership, and that my style of leadership is inclusive and collaborative,” she said.

Ms. Doyle also favors more funding for the police and fire departments.

Mr. Iriti said he plans to focus on such issues as downtown parking, flood mitigation along the Blanchard River, and adding computer infrastructure to attract high-tech jobs. “If we don't have a plan, we'll just continue doing things through a shotgun approach,” he said.

Mr. Kuhlman, who was on council for four terms in the 1980s, cited the city's decision to take on $35 million in debt for improvements to the water and sewer system. Instead of doing the work as one big project, Mr. Kuhlman said he would break such projects into smaller parts.

“When you load it up all at one time, everybody pays at once,” he said. “My preference is to figure out a plan where you do some things, and then in three years you do some more things.”

Mr. Knott points to his long experience in the antiques business. “I just feel the city ought to be run more like a business,” he said. “It is a business - a big business.”



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