About 100 residents packed the gymnasium at the Genoa Community Ministry Center Tuesday evening to listen to 10 village council candidates discuss a controversy surrounding an underage drinking sting operation.
It was Genoa’s “Meet the Candidates Night,” sponsored by the Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce and local churches. The ten council candidates are vying for four seats, to be determined in the November 3 election.
Candidates include four incumbents, Steven D. Bialorucki, Dave Fryman, Jennifer K. Kreager, and Betsy Slotnick. Six challengers are Brian D. Best, Carroll M. Bigelow, David N. Brown, Eric L. Hise, John C. Lewis, and Raymond A. St. Marie, Jr.
Eight of the 10 candidates appeared at the forum Tuesday. Not attending were Best and Bigelow.
Lewis is a lifetime resident of Genoa, having lived in the same house. He has been married to wife Theresa 32 years, has two daughters, and has served 35 years as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
Brown is a lifetime resident, has been a little league coach, league officer, parks board and zoning board member, and a member of the American Legion. He has been married to Sue 28 years and they have three children.
Bialorucki has lived in Genoa since 2003, is the director at Oregon Schools’ Career and Technology Center and is a member of the Genoa High School football and soccer fields paint crews. He has been on council since 2008. He and his wife, an intensive care nurse, have three children.
Fryman and his wife Stephanie moved to Genoa in 1985, and he is a captain and paramedic with the fire department, and was appointed to council in June 2007. The Frymans have three daughters, and Dave coaches and umpires softball.
St. Marie’s parents were raised in Genoa, but he graduated from Rossford High School and after earning his degree from the University of Toledo in 1988 returned to Genoa. He is a downtown merchant.
Slotnick and her husband arrived in Genoa 23 years ago to raise “two daughters because this is a small and safe community.”
Kreager and her husband Ben arrived in Genoa in 2000 and have one daughter. Jennifer serves on several committees on council, and says she “has been committed to making things happen and listening to the people of our community, and that includes the time it takes to be a village councilman.”
Hise is employed by an insurance company and is a downtown merchant. He was first elected to council in 1978, was reappointed in 2004, and is currently running as a challenger.
The forum was moderated by Pastor Tim Davies of the ministry center and Genoa Community Christian Academy, who added a word of wisdom.
“I think it is a healthy thing when we have people who care enough to run for office,” Pastor Davies said. “I know you don’t get rich off of it — it’s kind of like being a pastor.”
Genoa Police Chief Randy Hill told The Press earlier this year that on a Friday night his department conducted the sting operation, referred to as “Operation Flagship.” The investigation uncovered five of seven business establishments selling alcohol to a minor who was working with police.
According to comments made during the candidates’ forum, the charges stemming from the sting operation were dismissed. Chief Hill was in attendance, but did not publicly comment.
Regarding the sting operation and the police department:
Bialorucki: “We moved here because of the small town atmosphere and the safety and security it offers. I’ve always based decisions on what is best for the citizens of Genoa.”
Brown: “I’m proud to be from Genoa — great schools, great parks, great people. I currently don’t like the direction the village is going. We creating a bad image and our businesses are suffering. The last thing Genoa needs is to be deemed as a place to stay away from. I’d like to work to restore that image back to being a friendly place where people want to stay.
“Outsiders don’t even want to drive through our area. Do our officers have a quota or earn merit points for all the numbers of stops? This is not the time to give Genoa a bad name. We realize these are tough times.
“I’d like to see my kids want to live here and raise a family. I think everyone up here has a passion for Genoa, but I think it’s time for some new ideas.”
Fryman: “First of all, I believe in open government. There is nothing that should be done behind closed doors as it was done in the past in this town. I’m a firm believer that when something is passed it should be done with three readings — we’ve tried to cut back on passing emergency orders. Secondly, I’ve done a lot of work with the law enforcement in this community, and I would like to see that continue,” Fryman said, adding that he was involved in the creation of the joint law enforcement district.
“It is unfounded that police are finger pointing at businesses. What they do is park downtown and so does the chief. In 2008 in Elmore there were 141 police stops, in Oak Harbor 150, in Woodville there were 1,007, and Woodville’s ratio to citations is three to one, and in Elmore and Oak Harbor it’s two to one. In Genoa, there were 94 citations (in an equal time period) and only two have been for DUIs. The ratio is four to one, which tells me 75 percent of people getting stopped are saying, ‘Hey, I got a break.’
“Back when this ‘bro-ha-ha’ blew up, I talked to a couple county commissioners about this and they suggested going to the state’s conflict resolution department, which they have set up for just this kind of thing. We said, ‘That’s where the town needs to go’ and we wanted to set up a town forum for everyone to get together, but no one from the so-called other side went to the table on this. There’s an old saying that follows, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’”
Hise: ““For many merchants who are here tonight, this is their livelihood. This administration — they still have a policy which they believe is correct, but it’s creating a hardship on the businesses here. For that reason, it’s time to pass the torch because we have absolutely no chance to keep the businesses we have here.
“I believe their intention was to put businesses who serve beer out of business. What we have is a management problem. The officers aren’t responsible, the police department isn’t responsible; it is the current council. If you want to raise some eyebrows, keep them on. If you want to change and get back to what Genoa was, make a change.
Kreager: “We have a good police department. We’ve had some changes and there will be more changes. Eighty percent of the current chief’s work is administrative, and 20 percent is on the road. We have eliminated a secretarial position, which has saved $30,000. We get reports now from the police chief on a weekly basis, which we never got before. Is it enough people are saying it’s not enough, and others are saying it’s too much? I think we’re trying to do the right thing for you, the citizens of the community. It is a balancing act.
“I’m the mom of a 14-year-old girl who is going to drive soon. If you think that I’m going to allow someone serving alcohol to my underage daughter, you’ve got another thing coming. I have no problem with the police department. My only comment is, ‘Don’t break the rules, and you won’t have to worry.’
“I love Genoa and am dedicated to making sure it remains a safe and respectable place to live for my family. I am proud of our administration, our police department, and our village workers.”
Lewis: “Yes, I am very concerned. I’m having neighbors behind me leave because of intimidation. At least one or more of the officers today have been reprimanded. This is not right for this small town. This is Genoa. Granted, I saw his resume and I saw his skills and they are impressive. But granted, they didn’t fit the small town of Genoa.
“Our current mayor and council have created a monster. This is not the small town I’ve lived all my life in. There was an operation called ‘Flagship’ — what a disaster. Is this how we want Genoa to continue? Why not educate citizens instead of intimidate and harass them? It is time to work with the citizens of Genoa and not against them. Please vote for citizens like myself who want to make Genoa a better place to live and not avoid.”
Slotnick: “I also believe in transparency of government. I worked to have the ordinances and minutes put on the web where they are easily accessible to people. I want to see that continue.
“Being on council is like being a member of a team of six. We each have one vote. It is a balancing act. It has opened my eyes in many ways — that’s the only way we learn how to operate is by learning what’s best for you. We’re not perfect. Every once in a while it comes back to us — oops, we shouldn’t have done that. We have a good community and we’d like to present a good image for everyone.”
St. Marie: “I’m running for council because I fell in love with this little town of Genoa. I believe in Genoa, made Genoa my home, I invested in downtown Genoa the first chance I had in 2001. I reinvested when my business went down in 2007. What happens in this village is very important. These businesses, for many of us, are our livelihoods, and for most of us we are hurting in today’s economy.
“Yes, I have concerns and nearly all of the citizens I have talked to have concerns. Shortly after the (new) chief started, there was a 300 percent increase in traffic stops. Police come into the businesses and wait. Oddly, they come into some businesses more than others. This type of community policing costs our village money.
“Shortly afterward, there was this sting operation which was a complete fiasco. I asked what the cost to the taxpayers was, and the answer I got was $57. Ultimately, Operation Flagship was thrown out of court due to lack of evidence. There’s no way to recover how much Operation Flagship cost to our community. The town of Woodville is a bad enough example of what overzealous police can do to a town. A 300 percent increase in traffic stops is unwarranted and a sting operation called Flagship is not it.”
“We need to be the type of welcoming community that trusts others as neighbors and I believe we are going down the wrong path. Education over intimidation. Vote for those who will build, not destroy.”