By Stephen Smoot
Pendleton County voters chose change last week in county commission races while selecting to not support that $500,000 safe schools levy on the ballot last week.
In the race to represent the Western District, Jimmie Bennett ran as an Independent and defeated two-term county commission president Gene McConnell. As Bennett replied to questions in the Economic and Community Development Authority’s election forum last month, he strongly opposes the establishment of wind energy farms in Pendleton County.
Furthermore, he opposes using powers approved by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. City of New London (2005). This case allows local government to seize land through eminent domain for private development. Bennett said, “I do not agree with taking anyone’s land through eminent domain to place turbines or route high voltage lines.”
Bennett also seeks to boost tourism beyond tourists who “play here, but don’t stay here.” He goes on to explain that “Pendleton County offers rock climbing, hundreds of miles of hiking, biking trails, river rafting, and fishing opportunities.” He also found that the county “currently does not promote or take advantage of economic opportunities.”
The race for the Central District county commission seat saw Roger Dahmer gain the victory. Dahmer worked with the USDA Farm Service Agency for 35 years, in the last three years serving as executive director of the Farm Service Agency.
Dahmer ran out of a “desire to help the county, help the people, and find solutions to problems.” He emphasized that he looked forward to working with other commissioners and concerned citizens on issues such as the problems afflicting the rescue squad. He added that while those issues may have “multiple solutions,” that it’s “short-sighted” to claim that the county commission has all the answers. He also discussed the need to rely on the expertise of the rescue squad and concerned citizens as well to forge solutions.
Dahmer cautioned, however, that “there are no overnight solutions.” He pledged to work on expanding jobs in the area to keep young people from moving away during their productive lives and only moving home to retire. “People need to come here as a place to live,” Dahmer said, “not a place to die.” While he sees the potential of tourism to build the economy, “I don’t think that is the complete economic solution.”
Family and faith also guide Dahmer. He said “I am a son, husband, father, and grandfather, and I am aware of what family means when making decisions.” Dahmer serves as a certified lay speaker with the United Methodist Church and discussed the power of prayer in helping him to make tough decisions.
Voters also chose overwhelmingly to oppose the safe schools levy for Pendleton County. Charles Hedrick, county superintendent of schools, predicted that it would be a challenge to pass at the election forum held last month. He mentioned at the time that “no one likes to have taxes raised . . . we pay a lot of taxes already.”
After the levy lost at the polls, Hedrick stated, “It has been historically difficult for our school system to pass a levy.” He added that, “a large percentage of our population are older individuals living on fixed incomes and have a difficult time supporting an increase on their taxes.”
The levy would have paid for four resource officers for each of the county schools, as well as needed safety equipment. While a COPS grant awarded recently will cover some equipment costs such as locks and camera upgrades, Hedrick says “the real impact of the levy not passing was a loss of an additional layer of security for our students and staff.”