FINDLAY — In first-term Findlay Mayor Pete Sehnert’s words: “It’s been kind of a rough three years for finances and stuff.”
Still, the retired police officer is proud that under his watch, city voters approved a three-year, 0.25-percent income tax hike to help keep police, fire, and other services operating during one of Findlay’s worst economic downturns.
He points to the successful effort to keep Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and its corporate headquarters in Findlay, as well as the city’s ongoing effort toward long-term flood control for the Blanchard River, which has overflowed three times since the devastating August, 2007, flood.
“I’d kind of like to stay around and see if things get better,” said Mr. Sehnert, 58, who is seeking a second term.
Three other Republicans — a longtime city councilman and two political newcomers — are challenging him for the mayor’s job, saying the city needs stronger leadership.
With no Democrats on the primary ballot, the mayor’s race is likely to be decided in the May 3 primary.
“There’s a perceived lack of leadership in that office. That certainly is why I entered the race,” said Lydia Mihalik, grants administrator for the Hancock Regional Planning Commission and the first to declare candidacy. “I think there’s a lack of vision, a lack of a plan. I think there needs to be improved communication. … I’ve seen the inner workings of the city and how sometimes things evolve or do not evolve. It became frustrating for me.”
Ms. Mihalik, 31, said her priorities include flood mitigation, small business development and manufacturing, and improved efficiency in city services — in that order.
Another candidate, Brian Robertson, said a permanent flooding solution is imperative. High water has at times shut down I-75, a major route of interstate commerce.
Mr. Robertson, 43, said that when he moved to Findlay in 1993, the city “was the envy of Ohio for its economic development and its synergy.”
“Unfortunately now, we’ve lost our swagger,” he said.
Mr. Robertson is a vice president and partner of MBDS LLC, which he describes as a manufacturing services firm, with 16 employees in Findlay.
“I care about the community, and we really were in desperate need of leadership,” he said. “We’ve got some issues with communication and cooperation between the city, county, economic development, and even the flood mitigation group. At the end of the day, we need someone with experience. We keep putting people in office who have no experience managing people.”
Councilman-at-large Jim Slough, 61, also is seeking the mayor’s job after 16 years on City Council. He said he’s had a good relationship with Mr. Sehnert and respects him for defeating former Mayor Tony Iriti four years ago.
Still, he said, “I think there are things that could have been done better and that’s why I’m running for mayor. I believe I can bring a dimension to that position that hasn’t been there these last three years.”
Mr. Slough, a real estate agent with ERA Geyer-Noakes Realty Group, said communication between the administration and council has suffered under Mr. Sehnert’s tenure. Council at times has learned about city initiatives by reading the local newspaper, he said.
“Council communicates with the administration, but it’s very difficult to get a response sometimes from the administration,” he said. “Maybe that’s his management style, but I just think it’s appropriate when you have two governmental bodies that need to work as one to get things accomplished, I would think you’d want to sit down and talk it over.”
Mr. Sehnert, who was a Findlay police officer from 1980 to 2006, said that as mayor he’s balanced the city’s budget — no easy task during tough times.
“I’ve worked for the city for 30 years now and I want to see something good happen,” he said. “I don’t think any of the other three candidates are bad candidates. I think they all want to do what’s best for the city, but right now we’re going through the roughest times anyone’s gone through in recent times and I don’t think anybody can do any better.”
In a city that’s dominated by Republican voters — some 61 percent of Hancock County voters supported Republican John Kasich in last November’s election; more than 70 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2004 — the primary is crucial.
“I think there’s interest because we’ve got some great folks who want to serve and with the economic times, people think they have the tools to help the community,” said Mark Miller, chairman of Hancock County Republicans.
Council President Robert Schuck, a Republican, is running for re-election against Republican John Urbanski, a councilman at-large.
Five Republicans are seeking three at-large council seats — incumbent Randy Ward, Jeremy Horne, Jerry Murray, Grant Russel, and Anne Spence.
The top three vote-getters will face Democrat John Kostyo in November.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.
The candidates for mayor
Education: Bachelor’s in political science, University of Findlay.
Previous elected offices: None
Occupation: Grants administrator with Hancock Regional Planning Commission
On the Web: lydialeads.com
Education: Attended Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Previous elected offices: None
Occupation: Partner and vice president of MBDS LLC
On the Web: robertsonforyou.com
Education: Findlay Senior High School
Previous elected offices: Mayor, 2008-present.
Education: Findlay Senior High School; bachelor’s in business, Pace University; real estate education from Hondros College
Previous elected offices: 6th ward councilman, 1997-1998; councilman at large, 1999-present.
Occupation: Real estate agent with ERA Geyer-Noakes Realty Group.
On the Web: sloughformayor.com