Mount Vernon News

Thom Collier

Why are you running for commissioner?

I’m running for commissioner ’cause I’ve been a life-long resident of Knox County, and love this community, love the county and would like to bring the experience I’ve gained the last 10 years in public service to the county commissioners office. We have a lot of things in Knox County not only to be proud of but to protect, like our resources. We’re looking at major growth in the county that we want to make sure that we have items and issues in place so that we don’t end up in a situation where we’re trying to address situations too late.

So, what can you bring to the table that your opponents cannot?

First of all, I have more than 10 years of public service experience, working with the constituents of Knox County, number one. Number two, having worked with not only township trustees, but county commissioners throughout the region and across the state, on issues that were important to them when I was in the Legislature. Also having local government experience on City Council. So, having that full, breadth of experience will be very important for the Knox County Commissioners office.

Would you say that’s why we should vote for you then?

I think I would place myself as a very qualified candidate with a proven track record of public service. One who is concerned not only about the constituency and being open, accessible, available to constituents, but also somebody who has the knowledge to know not only what the workings of the county commissioners office are, but the knowledge of the local community, know about the concerns and to be looking forward of what we can do in Knox County to avoid the pitfalls of some of the counties that surround us.

How would you avoid those pitfalls?

I think if you look at the growth patterns in Ohio, I think Knox County in the last census was certainly in the top 10 and I believe actually in the top five of the fastest growing counties in the state. If you look back a few years, you saw Delaware County inching up in those same types of numbers. Licking County, Delaware County, Medina County, Knox County have all shown substantial growth. Ours coming from the south up. Medina County primarily coming from the north down. This puts a strain on resources, infrastructure, government as far as how they function, who they serve. These are the kinds of things we want to be proactive about.

There are also a number of issues that are coming that weren’t issues five, 10 or 20 years ago. When you look at alternate fuel sources whether it be wind or solar. A lot of these issues I dealt with in the Legislature and saw many counties who tried to struggle with the issues too late. Construction demolition debris and landfills, those types of things, again, a more proactive approach can help us better equip ourselves in Knox County to be prepared for the types of growth that are likely to come to Knox County.

How much time will you commit to doing the job?

As with anything else I’ve done, I’ll commit all the time that’s necessary.

What, if anything, can the commissioners do in regard to hydrofracturing and injection wells to preserve our water and soil supply?

Drilling and hydro-drilling, fracking as it’s referred to, has been around for a long time. It is the way of the future as it goes to the Utica Shale and the Marcellus Shale, which surrounds and includes a good portion of Knox County. It’s something that the commissioners can ensure, is that we have the proper regulations, the proper oversight, we work closely with the Department of Natural Resources, with the energy providers, with all of the interested parties to make sure that we are protecting very valuable resources that we have here in Knox County, including our water table, which is one of the primary resources of Knox County. We’re blessed with a very good water system here.

We saw years ago when issues came up with Delco and Morco taking water from Knox County to those areas. It’s because the counties that surround us don’t have the same water table and sufficient product that we have. Most people don’t realize that even northern parts of Ashland County and north of that primarily get much of their water from Lake Erie. We’re very fortunate to have a good water table in Knox County. We want to make sure that we protect it, not just for our citizens, but for the region as a whole.

Should the commissioners then have any say in permitting the wells or that permit process?

I’m not sure in the specific process where the commissioners would come in, but we do want to ensure that we have the right regulations and a process in place working closely with the Department of Natural Resources to make sure and ensure that all of our resources are well protected before we move too far forward in fracking.

Which employees are the commissioners responsible for hiring?

In Knox County, there are more than 36 agencies in Knox County of which the commissioners have some say. Whether that means a board, one of the commissioners on our county board serves on another agency board, or is affiliated with, or has some oversight for, a number of agencies, again, my last count somewhere over 36 in Knox County alone. It’s hard to know from each specific agency which employees the commissioners office is ultimately responsible for. But it’s safe to say that we have some input in employees, hundreds of employees across many various agencies because of the inner workings of the budget and so forth. While I can’t tell you exactly which employees the county commissioners do or do not hire, I can tell you that it’s obvious that we have some say in a number of employees in a number of boards across the county — which would have to number in the hundreds — that we should at least have interest in who’s hired.

What process is used to check references and past employment history?

My understanding is that the prosecutor’s office has had some say in doing the background checks and making sure that those who fill out applications are filling them out appropriately. I would say that there’s probably no way — having experience myself in both my own business and with real estate — there’s probably no way to ensure 100 percent that what somebody’s telling you is accurate. But we do need to make sure that we have a system in place that will ensure that we have done our due diligence in making sure that we get the right people in the right place. These are taxpayer dollars that we’re working with. They are employees that we are responsible for. There are a number of agencies, as we said, that we have direct, if not indirect, affiliation with, and we need to make sure that we do everything possible to get the right people in the right places.

To your knowledge, has that vetting process changed over the years?

I think that what has changed over the years, and again, I can’t speak to the specific process that has been used in recent years in the county commissioners’ office, but I think what’s changed is the number of agencies, the number of employees. As that continues to grow in our county, it continues to have more and more possibilities for these types of situations to arise. Again, a blanket statement is that we should have in place processes to follow whether you’re hiring or firing someone so that we know that we are consistent and we can try to avoid litigation which, as you know, we live in a very litigious society, and people are filing lawsuits and looking at personnel claims from every aspect. We just have to be very diligent.

Anything else you want to address that we haven’t talked about so far?

Well, I think the county commissioners’ office is very complex, not just because of the number of agencies, but they’re now looking at, all combined, over a $60 million budget when you look at all the various budgets combined. That’s a very important fact that we need to be aware of. And that when we have people in the county commissioners’ office or any other elected office that they are doing everything they can to watch out for what is best for the taxpayers dollar, to account for every dollar and to make sure that there’s open and accessible information so that we all know our dollars are being handled in the best possible way.

What would be your main goal as a commissioner?

Well, as with any public service that I ever served in, it’s to be open and accessible to the constituency, Number One. Number Two, because the commissioners’ office requires someone with some administrative experience to know about the agencies, to serve on the boards and to have some oversight with all these agencies, making sure that we’re working together not only with those agencies but other elected officials but also with townships trustees, county commissioners from other counties surrounding us, as well as our state legislature and I believe I have the best experience and the best ability to do that in Knox County Commissioners’ office.

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