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New members begin terms on Norton Council

1/9/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Danny Grether
Dennis Pierson
Rick Rodgers
Paul Tousley
NORTON — With four new members taking office this month, a majority of Norton City Council members are new to the job.

But the four men said they are ready to serve and face the challenges that come from their new roles. Rick Rodgers (Ward 1), Danny Grether (Ward 2), Dennis Pierson (Ward 3) and Paul Tousley (Ward 4) were sworn in at the Jan. 2 organizational meeting after winning in the Nov. 5 General Election. They joined at-large members Scott Pelot, Dennis McGlone and Charlotte Whipkey on Council.

Rodgers, 67, the new Ward 1 Councilman who was elected president at the Jan. 2 meeting, is a retired member of the Akron Fire Department as well as his own home improvement business.

In the election, he defeated Ted Weinsheimer with 64 percent of the vote. Incumbent Todd Bergstrom did not run for re-election.

Rodgers said he wanted to bring new leadership to Council.

“After going to some meetings and seeing how things were going, I thought we needed some changes,” he said. “I hope I can make some changes for the better.”

Since the election, Rodgers has been studying the city’s charter and budget, as well as the city’s plans to install sewers in the Nash Heights neighborhood due to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates to address failing septic systems.

“I’ve really spent a lot of time on the sewer issue,” he said. “I know we have an agreement with the EPA at this point, but I’m seeking out a less costly remedy for the problem.”

He’s also concerned with the state of the city’s roads, costs for the city’s fire and police departments and the issue of vacant homes.

Rodgers said he knows most of the new Council members. He added he believes the new members will not hesitate to jump in and start working immediately.

“There’s no time to sit back,” he said. “We have to jump in and be proactive on everything and move this ball forward. We’re at a turning point. We want to do some things that are achievable early on so residents get an idea that we are doing something. We’re not going to sit back — you’ll see a very engaged Council.”

In Ward 2, Grether is the new Councilman. The Norton native, 40, grew up in Barberton and settled in the city with his family. He works as a manager of quality assurance for SJBS Manufacturing.

“I just wanted to give back to my community the best I could, and the only way I knew to do that was to volunteer some time,” said Grether, who previously served on the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Commission. “I noticed a lot of anger being built up between residents and elected officials. To me, it wasn’t being handled correctly on either side. I didn’t feel like there was a friendly relationship there.”

Grether won in November with 61 percent of the votes over incumbent Don Nicolard and Steven Fannin. He said he was surprised to have won by such a wide margin but said he felt he had the community’s support after walking the ward twice while campaigning.

“The biggest thing I heard is people want jobs in Norton,” he said. “They want the opportunity to work here at home, and they want their kid to find summer employment here.”

Since the election, Grether said he has plunged into researching loans and grant funding to help the city move forward on sewer projects. He’s also talked to state Sen. Frank LaRose (R-District 27) about support at the state level.

He added he’s also looked into and is impressed with the formation of the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District, which seeks to alleviate flooding issues in the Barberton, Norton and Copley areas.

“I’m ready to hit the ground running,” Grether said. “I’m one of seven, so I hope I’ve got others on [Council] that share the same ideas and passion I do.”

Pierson, 54, the new Ward 3 member, is a lifelong resident who has been an active member of Citizens4Norton. He is self-employed as a manufacturer’s representative.

Pierson defeated incumbent Bill Mowery and former mayor Joe Kernan to win his seat. He said he wants to truly represent his constituents as a Council member.

“The city is being totally, up until this point, mismanaged, and the people have not been listened to too much,” Pierson said. “Folks have been ignored. They do pay the taxes, and they are the real decisionmakers. The people in Ward 3 are being burdened with a sewer project that is totally out of control.”

Pierson said the planned construction of sewers in Nash Heights is the issue he plans to focus on the most while in office.

“I know the sewer project better than the people who were sitting there the last four years on City Council,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with the EPA on more than one occasion. I’m well-versed on it.”

Pierson also wants to be involved in the search for a new city administrator. Former administrator Rick Ryland resigned in November. Pierson said the city has received 68 applications for the job.

“I believe if we are going to set this city on the proper path, we need a qualified person in the position of city manager who understands he works for the city and the Council,” Pierson said.

Among the other issues that Pierson said he plans to address is the need for a road program in the city. He also wants to take a hard look at the city’s finances.

“We need to put the city on a stronger path and take a look at the different divisions, such as roads, fire and police,” he said. “People are going to have to start managing the money they have to operate on.”

New Ward 4 Councilman Tousley, 40, is a quality-control coordinator for TSRD. The Medina County native has lived in Norton for 10 years.

He said he was humbled to win the election in November, in which he defeated incumbent John Conklin.

“The main reason [I ran] is I felt there wasn’t a voice for the people,” he said. “And I wanted to be a voice to represent people.”

He said being on Council will be a learning experience for him but he doesn’t plan to sit back, at least on the issue of sewers.

“I don’t believe we have time to feel our way,” he said. “We immediately have to look into every alternative or option we have for [Nash Heights residents].”

Like some of the other new members, Tousley wants to make sure residents are being heard when it comes to city issues.

“My very biggest hope to accomplish right away and/or over the four years is to put the people first and put the power of the decisions in the city and the pocketbooks into their hands,” he said.

He added that building relationships is also important to him, as is striving to bring businesses to the city.

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