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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

Ottawa County candidates differ on priorities

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Carl Koebel, who is running for his third term as an Ottawa County commissioner, points to all the things he says he has helped accomplish in eight years.

They include a nearly $5 million renovation of the Ottawa County Courthouse, upgrades to the county's water and sewer service, and the opening of the Ottawa County Community Resource Center, a one-stop jobs facility near Oak Harbor.

"I think this county can be proud of its accomplishments," Mr. Koebel said. "I think we're moving in the right direction. I don't think it's time to change."

But Jenine Porter, who is trying to unseat the incumbent, argues that Mr. Koebel and his colleagues have focused on the wrong areas and allowed the county's employment and public services to decline.

"I've lived in Ottawa County 10 years, and I've seen no progress in 10 years in county programs or county services," she said. "Our young people are moving away. There doesn't seem to be any innovation or fresh thought."

Mr. Koebel, 61, a Democrat, and Ms. Porter, 47, a Republican, are squaring off for one of two county commission seats on the Nov. 2 ballot. The other seat is held by Republican Steven Arndt, who is unopposed.

Before being elected a commissioner in 1996, Mr. Koebel worked 17 years as director of environmental health for the Ottawa County Health Department. Ms. Porter, who is marketing director for the Vineyard on Catawba retirement home, is making her first run for public office.

Ms. Porter believes the county needs to beef up job training programs and economic development efforts to attract light industrial employers to replace the manufacturing jobs lost in the last two decades. "Right now, the county relies, in the east end, on tourism, and in the west end, on farming, and if either one has a bad year, we have half a county that's needy," she said.

She wants to see the county accelerate the extension of water and sewer service to such areas as Put-in-Bay Township. This summer's outbreak of gastrointestinal illness linked to South Bass Island, and the discovery of contamination in more than 15 public water wells there, make a quick upgrade of service essential, Ms. Porter said.

"The thing I find incomprehensible is that in the 21st century, an area that is so integral to our economy, Put-in-Bay, wouldn't have water and sewer on the entire island," she said.

Mr. Koebel said the county is working with island officials to extend water and sewer service from the village of Put-in-Bay's municipal systems to the rest of the island. He said parts of western Ottawa County also need service because septic systems installed 40 to 50 years ago are starting to fail.

"County policy is that the people will direct how far and how fast we work, depending on what they think their needs are," he said.

Mr. Koebel said the county completed a $68 million regional water system in 1999. The system serves about 20,000 residents in Port Clinton and Oak Harbor, plus Bay, Catawba Island, Danbury, Erie, Portage, and Salem townships.

He also points to a nearly $5 million renovation of the 103-year-old county courthouse in Port Clinton. The recently completed project restored some of the Richardsonian Romanesque building's original grandeur while updating electrical and plumbing systems to today's standards.

"We shouldn't have to spend any major funds on that courthouse for another 25 years, and I think that's commendable," Mr. Koebel said. "You couldn't build that courthouse for $5 million."

But Ms. Porter argues that money could have been better spent elsewhere. "I understand the courthouse needed to be fixed, but to me, it's a crazy idea: You take almost $5 million to fix a courthouse and then borrow to build streets," she said. "I don't think that's fiscally responsible."

In other Ottawa County races, Republican Jerome McTague is challenging Coroner Gilbert Bucholz, a Democrat, and Democrat Bob Bratton and Independent Bud Chasteen are vying to become the county's next sheriff.

Dr. McTague, an emergency room physician at Fremont Memorial Hospital, lost to Dr. Bucholz in the 2000 coroner's race. Mr. Bratton is chief deputy to retiring Sheriff Craig Emahiser, and Mr. Chasteen is police chief of the village of Rocky Ridge.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078



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