Downtown Abilene and quality of life were key topics among the four candidates for the Abilene City Commission as they discussed their views, priorities and vision for Abilene at a public forum sponsored by the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Incumbents Tim Shafer and Dee Marshall are being challenged by William Hane, Brandon Rein and Phil Hamilton for three seats on the city commission.
Hane was unable to attend the forum.
The top two vote getters will be elected to four-year terms and the third top vote getter will be elected to a two-year term.
Hamilton said the reason he is running is because he thinks the town of Abilene is venerable.
“It is built out of historic stock which was created between 1870 to 1920. The carrier pigeons used to blacken the skies of Ohio. Now they are all gone,” he said. “Why? Because there was so many, it was open season on carrier pigeons. So they are all dead now. I think the same thing can happen in a community where you take your natural assets for granted. You don’t understand that they are there in the first place.”
He said other destination towns he has lived in are striving to artificially create the things that Abilene has right now.
“It’s at risk. You go downtown. There are vacancies. The conversation usually orients toward I-70 or what you would call the edge of the city,” he said. “The edge of the city is really a breakaway city really from 14th Street to the Interstate. There is a tendency to think that is where all the possibilities are.”
He said his priority is downtown Abilene.
“I feel like it is the heart: cultural, historical, the heart. And it should also be the economic part,” he said. “That is my priority, my main concern and why I am running.”
Marshall said there are a lot of issues presently facing the city commission.
“I think we need to concentrate on a viable water supply for our city, make sure we always have that. We have a storm`water drainage issue we need work on,” she said. “Our northwest industrial area needs to be developed and do things to draw people into that. And we need to take care of our citizens and maintain a safe environment. And remembering our citizens first.”
Rein said the priority is hiring a competent city manager.
“One that understands Abilene. We have very unique advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “I think finding the right candidate for that would be one of my biggest priorities. We need to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that we have made in the recent past. Make sure that candidate is everything we need to make sure they will work tirelessly to make us successful as a town.”
He said there are a lot of issues.
“Bringing businesses into town to keep growing,” he said. “Being stagnant in a small town is as good as dying. We need to keep working to get those businesses into town. I think the Dickinson County Economic Development Corporation is doing a great job doing that.”
But getting a city manager is a big concern right now, he said.
Shafer said the thing that attracted him to Abilene was the quality of life.
“Quality of life encompasses many things. Storm water drainage for the people in the southeastern quadrant of Abilene, that is a quality of life issue,” he said. “People in the northwest who have storm water drainage issues, that is a quality of life issue. To have a police force that is responsive to the needs and protects us and keeps us safe, that is a quality of life issue for us all.”
It is those things that the city does, he said.
“When put together, it provides a quality of life for all of us that we seem to find attractive because we are all here, all interested,” he said. “So we have various milestones to address. But I put them all under the heading of quality of life.
“If we don’t have a quality of life here, we might as well live somewhere else,” he said. “The city commission develops and implements policies which then add to that quality of life.”
In a rebuttal, Hamilton said water issues or financial issues can’t lead the conversation of what a town is or what it should be.
He also said that sometimes money is spent on consultants that are not necessary.
Marshall agreed with Shafer.
“As commissioners, everything we do as commissioners is about quality of life in Abilene and protecting our citizens,” she said. “We have to take care of the citizens first.
“I like all of the pretty things that make downtown very nice and that is wonderful,” she said. “We have organizations that are working on that and we support them every way we possibly can. But our responsibility as commissioners is to make sure we take care of our citizens first.”
Rein said there needs to be an understanding of the role of the commission.
“A lot of these beautification projects should not stem from the city commission itself. There are private groups that are doing that,” he said. “I think the basic quality of life issues we should be looking at but sometimes you get on different tangents and we understand that is not a city commission role.”
Marshall said she would like to attract more tourists to downtown.
“Tourists come through the town every weekend all year long and they just bypass downtown,” she said. “We need to have businesses that cater to this segment of the population: nice little artist shops, green spaces, eateries. Anything we can to attract that dollar into our community. I would like to see reasonable growth. I would like to see the northwest industrial park takeoff in some way.
“I love this town. Let’s keep it nice and friendly.”
Rein said he wants his hometown to be the best place to live and raise a family.
“I am very fortunate to grow up here. I want Abilene to have those same opportunities that I was given as a young child growing up through the public schools. I want to make sure we retain those same functions in the city and make sure every kid has the exact same chance I had growing up. I feel really blessed to have grown up here.”
Shafer went back to quality of life.
“I am going to beat this all night long,” he said. “Quality of life is what keeps us here. I think people that move here by and large come here because of quality of life, so we have to maintain and improve upon the things that we do in the commission that then enhance that. support and enhance our quality of life because that is what Abilene is.”
Hamilton said he agreed with Marshall.
“In order to get to a vital vision of downtown it has to be prioritized,” he said, “vitalize the downtown as the heart of the city. In order to accomplish that there has to be some understanding of the edge of the city between 14th Street and the interstate. There has to be a conduit that takes people from the interstate into the city.
“Right now it is acting as an insulator against the downtown,” he said.
He said the Eisenhower Presidential Library is not necessarily attracting people to downtown.
“These are concerns about the development of downtown so that you can eliminate some of the vacancies and make it attractive. I have a lot of pet projects in terms of a gateway at the north end, a gateway at the south end,” he said. “I will probably draw it up whether I am a city commissioner or not.”
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.