RAVENSWOOD - The new mayor-elect of the city of Ravenswood wants people to be able to participate in local government and wants to help develop the local economy.
In last week's election, Michael Ihle defeated incumbent Lucy Harbert by 704 votes to 405 votes.
The 25-year-old mayor-elect will take office for a four-year term on July 1.
"I am very honored," Ihle said of his election. "I am also very excited to get to work."
Ihle has been involved politically for a number of years and ran for Ravenswood City Council in 2008, losing by 24 votes.
The theme of his campaign was "Ravenswood First." Over the last few years, many of his ideas were about more openness in government and diversifying the local economy, which have been gaining more support, Ihle said.
"I felt I would be a strong candidate," he said Wednesday.
He was considering another run for city council, when he noticed no one else, other than the incumbent, had filed to run for mayor. He waited to see if anyone else would file and filed at the last moment to run for mayor.
"Whether you felt the mayor was doing a good job, I feel there needs to be a choice," Ihle said.
He felt that people didn't have the opportunity to fully participate in their government.
"I want people to know that their city government will be open, honest and transparent," Ihle said. "I noticed an outcry for those ideals, but that those ideas weren't reflected in Ravenswood's government.
"That's something I'd like to change. If I see to it that Ravenswood government is open, accessible, honest, and fair, the other challenges we face will be taken care of in the process."
He said he wants to be able to post city council meeting minutes online and wants people to feel they will be listened to.
"An open, accessible and accountable government is what I am for," Ihle said. "I don't care if you voted for me or not; everyone is a part of this government."
The economy has hit Ravenswood hard, like many other areas of the country.
Ihle would like to "get Ravenswood moving."
"Ravenswood is a great place to do business," he said.
With river, highway and rail access, the area has the potential to support a wide number of businesses. Good schools also enhance the city's appeal, he said.
"We have a lot to offer," Ihle said.
The Century Aluminum plant has been in the news lately with the company and Appalachian Power unable to reach an agreement over power rates. The state Public Service Commission will step in to determine a rate.
Ihle said he was disappointed the two parties could not reach an agreement, but stressed all is not lost.
"It simply means the process of reopening will take longer as they work through West Virginia's bureaucracy via the Public Service Commission," he said. "Century Aluminum is a critical piece of our community's future.
"I look forward to the day they reopen, whenever that may be. However, the past few years have highlighted the importance of a diversified economy. It's important that Ravenswood be open to any and all business, big, medium, or small, no matter who they may be - and not have tunnel vision focused on just one or two businesses. As city government, we need to do what we can to ensure that we welcome any and all businesses, make sure they abide by the law, then get out of their way," Ihle said.
Harbert said she was able to accomplish a number of things as mayor, including updating the city's waste water facilities, annexing property into the city, reorganized the Ravenswood Police Department with new officers brought in, water line upgrades, improvements to the pool and ballfields and implemented a software system to help with utility billing. She also helped bring business to the area, she said.
Her biggest pride will be her part in helping to get Century Aluminum to reopen its Ravenswood facility. She has been talking with Century officials on a daily basis.
For years, Harbert owned the local Sears Catalog store and said many local residents were good to her.
"I wanted to repay them," she said of going into public service. "I feel I have done that.
"I have really learned a lot. I have always tried to do what was right and what was fair."