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Parkersburg mayoral field to narrow from 6 to 2

PARKERSBURG — Four Republicans and two Democrats are vying for their parties’ nominations to serve as mayor of Parkersburg for the next four years.

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Mike Cottrell

Party: Republican

Age: 59

Address: 2310 Neale St.

Family: adult son and daughter

Occupation: retired as engineering project manager for DuPont and fire chief of the GM Mansfield plant

Past offices: first run for public office

“Dealing firsthand with city administration for three-and-a-half, four years, it opened my eyes,” Cottrell said. “I had the leadership skills and the management skills (to) do a better job.”

One area Cottrell – who spent 18 months as president of Parkersburg Homecoming and dealt with municipal government in other capacities – thinks the city can improve is assisting people trying to start a private business. One example is providing a “one-stop shopping location” for information and contacts they need.

Economic redevelopment will be “paramount” as the city tries to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cottrell said.

“We’re going to lose businesses, unfortunately, so it is absolutely critical that we go beyond what has been done,” he said.

Cottrell said as mayor he would work with whatever local, federal and state agencies are willing to help to significantly reduce the drug abuse problem in the area. He favors a collaborative approach toward helping the homelessness too, although he believes those individuals fall into two categories.

Local individuals who find themselves homeless because of hard times, “you never see them. They’re out of sight, out of mind,” Cottrell said. He contends it’s transients who vandalize, steal and generally cause problems.

“We will address, relocate, give them help, whatever it takes, but they are not going to continue that lifestyle,” he said.

On these and other issues, Cottrell said, he advocates oversight and accountability. That includes with the owners of dilapidated properties, even those who live out of town.

Cottrell said he has the experience to manage people and projects, and he wants to make “tremendous” advances in the quality of service for citizens.

“Everything’s going to be evaluated, and we’re going to back uo and look at it with a different view,” he said.

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Tom Joyce

Party: Republican

Age: 46

Address: 2102 Foley Drive

Family: single

Occupation: mayor of Parkersburg, co-owner of St. Joseph’s Ambulance Service

Past offices: first term as mayor, two terms on City Council

“Being mayor of your hometown’s the best job you can have,” Joyce said. “I like the challenge. Every day’s a new experience.”

Joyce said closing the city’s police and fire pension funds to new hires and change the manner in which those are funded is one of his and City Council’s most important achievements. Increasing pension contributions threatened to eventually overwhelm the budget.

“Prior to COVID-19, the city was on its best financial purchase in a generation or longer,” Joyce said.

He attributed that to “common-sense fiscal leadership” by himself and council, like using $9.2 million that became available after a change in government accounting rules to pay off capital equipment lease/purchases and bolster the stabilization fund now being used to offset predicted revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic.

Joyce said he’ll continue to emphasize parks and infrastructure, pointing to more than $6 million in street paving since he took office, $1.4 million of stormwater repairs and upgrades and the $1.3 million splash pad at City Park.

The city was on pace for more than $400,000 in demolitions of dilapidated houses before pandemic-related cuts, he said. Joyce said code enforcement citations have increased from 14 in his first year to 121 in 2019.

Last year, council approved a property tax rebate program the administration proposed to incentivize improvements to residential, commercial and industrial property.

“The key is (to) always look for new and innovative ways to provide incentives for economic development, particularly job creation,” Joyce said.

As long as services are available, homeless individuals will be drawn to the city, Joyce said. The city should continue to work with organizations on that issue and drug abuse, particularly supporting efforts to help “raise a generation of young people who don’t turn to drugs,” he said.

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Byron Meeks

Party: Republican

Age: 43

Address: 1507 Lynn St.

Family: wife, Crystal; sons, Drake, Dawson and Dakota

Occupation: owner, Byron’s Garage

Past offices: first run for public office

“I’m a businessman, and I’m mechanically inclined, and I can fix just about anything, even the town,” Meeks said.

He said he wants to be a voice for citizens who don’t have an opportunity to speak up before decisions are made or are afraid to do so.

Part of his motivation to run was conflict with city officials over the parking of vehicles on a lot adjacent to his home-based business, Byron’s Garage. A lawsuit he filed against Joyce, the police chief and the code director alleging harassment was recently dismissed by a federal judge.

Meeks said he’s owned multiple businesses and a big challenge is municipal taxes. To cut them, the city’s $33 million budget needs reduced.

“There’s a lot of jobs in the city I don’t think are really needed,” Meeks said. “The small businesses, that’s what keeps the community alive.”

Meeks questioned the emphasis on demolishing dilapidated buildings instead of trying to rehabilitate them. He said Community Development Block Grant funds should be used more for that, which could also help address homelessness.

“I would make sure that everybody has a place to stay,” he said.

Meeks said more work, like street paving, should be done in-house to make the city’s money go further. He also wants the city to do more for veterans, such as establishing a homeless shelter or getting grants to support health care, and youth.

“There’s nothing for a child to do in town other than try to get in trouble,” Meeks said.

Meeks said he would put 75 percent of the mayor’s $80,000 salary toward programs to assist veterans and children.

“I wouldn’t want paid to help people out ’cause that’s basically what the job is anyway, helping people out and listening to their concerns,” he said.

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Mark Meredith

Party: Republican

Age: 51

Address: 2601 Liberty St.

Family: wife, two children

Occupation: apprentice wireman, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 968

Past offices: first run for office

“I’ve noticed a serious decline in the quality of life here in the last two or three years,” Meredith said. “We shouldn’t have to wait for someday” for things to improve.

Meredith said problems include drug abuse, a rise in homelessness with people coming in from outside the area and blighted properties. Loss of quality of life causes people and businesses to leave, resulting in more vacant buildings, creating a vicious cycle, he said.

Efforts to bring in more jobs should include increasing tourism by capitalizing on features the city already has, Meredith said, such as Point Park and the nearby North Bend Rail Trail.

“We should be trying to get in river cruises,” he said.

One way to increase affordable housing options could be establishing a community investment trust, Meredith said. Residents and businesses could contribute money to be used on a variety of projects and eventually earn dividends from the rents, leases or sales of such properties.

“It would be a good way to invest in rehabbing a lot of these older homes,” he said.

Meredith said he would work with experts to help address drug abuse. He said he’s concerned about the proliferation of treatment facilities, such as one planned for the former federal building downtown. He would prefer to see such facilities centrally located, perhaps at St. Joseph’s Landing, the former hospital that already houses one treatment center.

Meredith spent 16 of his 23 years with engineering design firm KBR at the Washington Works plant, working with a variety of people on projects ranging from $10,000 to $600,000.

“We were responsible for everything from the very beginning of a project to the very end,” he said. “Those are transferable skills that I would use in the office of mayor.”

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Sherry Dugan

Party: Democrat

Age: 63

Address: 1 Wharton Drive

Family: mother, Kit Ruehl

Occupation: owner, Das Rookhaus

Past offices: one term on City Council

“We need to take our town back and start taking care of it again and growing it again,” Dugan said.

Parkersburg is a wonderful place to live, she said, but changes are needed to address drug abuse, homelessness and other issues prompting people to move away.

Dugan said drug rehabilitation centers are wonderful, but if patients “don’t want the help, they’re going to wash out.” In that case, facilities should have a plan to get people from outside the area “back to where they came from,” she said.

City government needs to be open to input from the public and make sure citizens are more informed about matters that come before City Council for votes, Dugan said.

As a small business owner, Dugan said she’s used to “having to watch every penny that goes in and goes out.

“Excess spending … has never been a luxury of mine,” she said.

Dugan said she wants to emphasize infrastructure like the city’s streets, as well as what’s under them. She said Joyce’s administration has made progress in coordinating with the Parkersburg Utility Board to address water lines and other concerns before a street is paved.

Dugan said the city’s Development Department should be trying to bring businesses into the city, and not just ones that provide minimum wage jobs. While she acknowledged progress in recent years on dilapidated houses, she’s concerned about the number of empty commercial buildings, such as the former Burwell Theater at 19th Street and St. Marys Avenue that has been the site of a drug store and outdoor sporting goods retailer.

“A building like that could house a small industry,” Dugan said.

She said a business and occupation tax rebate could be used to entice employers and allow them to grow for a year.

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Nancy Wilcox

Party: Democrat

Age: 69

Address: 4307 16th Ave.

Family: husband, Dave; two adult children; three grandchildren

Occupation: chief financial officer, Kraton Belpre Federal Credit Union for 15 years; retired from Kardex

Past offices: Two terms on City Council

“I’ve seen our city go downhill real quick,” Wilcox said. “I really feel that my experience will let me invest in the future of Parkersburg and make it great again.”

Junk cars, trash on properties, drug abuse and homelessness are issues she feels she could address as mayor. Money should be directed where it can help beautify the city and attract more businesses, Wilcox said, including an increased emphasis on code enforcement.

“If they don’t have the manpower, then they need to get the manpower,” she said, adding that state and federal funding could help in that regard.

Addressing run-down, dilapidated houses, which are often sites of trespassing and drug use, could free up the Police Department to focus on other concerns, Wilcox said. She also advocates hiring more officers.

Wilcox criticized the use of $1.3 million on the splash pad installed last year at City Park when “our streets and sidewalks (are) in the worst shapes they’ve been in” in many years.

“I just think it’s a mismanagement of money all the way around,” she said.

Wilcox is frustrated a project for which state funding was approved while she was still on council to install sidewalks on Rayon Drive has not been completed. Council voted last year to apply for additional funding due to increased costs.

In addition to infrastructure, Wilcox said, the city should invest in efforts for youth and young adults.

“Unless they get these kids on the right path, that drug problem and that homeless problem’s just going to increase,” she said.

The city also must work to keep the businesses it has while developing programs to make it more attractive to others, such as financial breaks to new and incoming businesses, Wilcox said.

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