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Both Parkersburg City Council District 4 primaries contested

PARKERSBURG — The most contested primary race for Parkersburg City Council is in District 4 with two candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Councilman Eric Barber is being challenged in the GOP race by Brett Bringardner, with the winner set to face either Donna Sue Helmick or Wendy Rawlins Tuck, whichever emerges from the Democratic race.

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Eric Barber

Party: Republican

Age: 41

Address: 900 13th St.

Family: wife, two children

Occupation: heating and cooling technician

Past offices: first term on City Council

“I’m running for a second term based on some unfinished work and the need to defend the city from liberalism,” Barber said.

Recent budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the $400,000 allocated to address blighted houses, but Barber said even that amount was “trying to play catch-up with the worst-case scenarios.

“It has to be so much more than what we were doing,” he said.

Additional money could come from low- or no-interest loans, Barber said, but he noted some officials have been reluctant to incur debt after paying off all equipment lease/purchases two years ago.

Barber said he wanted to increase the police footprint, particularly in his district, but it hasn’t been possible for various reasons.

Barber received negative attention locally and beyond for some social media posts during his term. He acknowledged being “unpolished and abrasive” and said he’s adjusted after those “learning experiences.”

“I think born out of those experiences was a much better councilman,” Barber said.

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Brett Bringardner

Party: Republican

Age: 59

Address: 636 Smithfield St.

Family: son, Max; wife, Rachel Ferguson

Occupation: owner, Marietta Magnetics

Past offices: first run

Bringardner said uninhabitable buildings aren’t demolished quickly enough, but some structures shouldn’t be torn down at all.

“There are quite a few houses that I think could be saved,” he said. For those that can’t, “there has to be a mechanism so that it doesn’t take 10 years for the property to come down.”

Bringardner sees redevelopment potential in the district, but said that alone won’t change much.

“One bold, bold move would be for Parkersburg to annex and/or merge with Vienna,” he said.

The area doesn’t need two mayors and city councils, Bringardner said, but could perhaps add at-large seats to the current district format. Savings from duplicate administrative positions could be put toward efforts like rebuilding the Memorial Bridge or improving the stormwater system, he said. And the city could expand in other directions as well.

Bringardner described himself as calm in demeanor.

“I wouldn’t post something on social media that would get a bunch of people really mad at me,” he said.

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Donna Sue Helmick

Party: Democrat

Age: 35

Address: 1038 Lynn St.

Family: three foster children, cares for adult cousin

Occupation: owner-operator of a state-licensed day care

Past offices: first run

Helmick would like to establish a program in which owners of dilapidated structures are forgiven charges owed to the city if they sign the property over to a nonprofit organization to fix up.

“It would relieve the person who’s sitting there collecting these fees that they don’t even know they have” while eliminating blight and providing affordable housing, she said.

Helmick thinks there could be more programs for children if neighborhood churches followed the lead of the Gathering, which welcomed children (pre-COVID-19) in for weekly activities.

“I would love to see more churches open their doors,” she said. “We would have kids not with their idle hands out here in the streets” getting into trouble or being introduced to drugs.

Helmick said she would put her $6,000-a-year council salary back into the district, with input from citizens.

She also proposes a forum, perhaps online, to stay in regular communication with constituents.

“I can’t fix it all on my own,” Helmick said.

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Wendy Rawlins Tuck

Party: Democrat

Age: 67

Address: 1020 14th St.

Family: husband, Steve; three adult children, Andy, Marty, Beth; three grandchildren

Occupation: child development specialist, West Virginia Birth to 3

Past offices: first run

Tuck said she has questions other people may as well. For example, why are some houses torn down while similar structures remain standing?

“I felt like I could be helpful in getting things done and finding out how things work,” Tuck said. “You can jump in with a lot of ideas, but if you don’t know, you can do a lot more harm than good.”

Tuck said she wants to use her experience with nonprofits to help the city build a stronger income base by drawing new companies, helping existing ones or capturing revenues the city should but doesn’t.

“I think a lot of the other problems like homelessness, crime, are usually (reduced) when you have a strong economy,” she said.

Tuck said she sees potential in District 4, from its history to empty buildings that could be used in a positive manner.

“We’ve got an amazing amount of beauty, history, intriguing things in the district, and they’re just not very well developed,” she said.

Evan Bevins could be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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