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The Daily



10-16-03: Freewalt, Bartlett compete for St. Marys mayor post


ST. MARYS — St. Marys Mayor Greg Freewalt and independent mayoral candidate Bradley Bartlett agree on many of the main issues facing the city. One thing they can’t agree on, though, is the definition of “status quo.”
Bartlett has tossed the term around, telling voters that if they are happy with the status quo, they should re-elect Freewalt to a third term in office. Freewalt takes the campaign barb as a compliment.
“Status quo means setting high standards and achieving them,” Freewalt told the crowd at a debate Wednesday afternoon sponsored by the St. Marys Rotary Club.
Freewalt then took some time to detail exactly what the “status quo” has meant under his leadership. He mentioned the new municipal swimming pool, the city’s sound financial state, 600 new manufacturing jobs in the last eight years, a top-notch park system, many street reconstructions and the replacement of two major bridges over the St. Marys River.
Freewalt, 55, a Democrat, earned the spot on the Nov. 4 ballot after defeating city council member Teena Ward in the May Democratic primary. The former school teacher now works at Omni Manufacturing, 901 McKinley Road.
Bartlett conceded at the debate that if voters are satisfied, they should return Freewalt to office. But for those who want a change, he promised a different way of doing business.
“We have the same vision, but we have differences on how to get there,” said Bartlett.
Bartlett said his lack of political experience could be a good thing. With no knowledge of why things are the way they are in the city, Bartlett said he would tend to ask more questions and look at things from a new perspective.
Bartlett, 42, owns Bartlett’s Drive Thru, 200 E. High St., and is a member of the recently formed uptown revitalization committee that is looking at ways to improve the central business district.
One of the biggest issues facing the city is luring a sit-down, family restaurant. Freewalt and Bartlett have different ideas about how to accomplish that.
Freewalt said city officials have talked with three national chains about locating a restaurant in St. Marys but all shied away after reviewing demographic information. Restaurant chains typically want certain populations and other criteria met before opening a new location.
Freewalt said the existing job base in St. Marys is ideal to support a restaurant. City officials need to convince restaurateurs that there is a “gold mine” in St. Marys, but that has not happened yet, he said.
Bartlett said attracting a restaurant comes down to simple supply and demand. If restaurant owners want better demographics, then the city must produce them to get a restaurant, he said. Creating more jobs would naturally lead to the opening of a restaurant and other businesses, he said.
“Create a bigger demand and the supply will come,” Bartlett said.
The candidates also talked a lot about ongoing conflicts between the city and Auglaize County Commissioners. The city has an ongoing lawsuit against the county regarding which entity should pay for environmental monitoring at the county landfill in St. Marys and another showdown brewing over a municipal court site in St. Marys. The city once had a municipal court office, but officials have been unable to come up with a plan to keep the court open in St. Marys.
Freewalt said he is committed to “forcing the hand of the commissioners” to reopen a court in the city. Traveling to Wapakoneta is not practical or cost-effective for the city’s police officers and private-sector attorneys, he said.
The issue could eventually land in court, Freewalt said, but said for now it is best to “hold the lawsuits back.”
Bartlett said the county commissioners have “shortchanged” the city in the municipal court flap. He said he would work to “exhaust all possibilities” to find an amicable solution. Bartlett also would not rule out a potential lawsuit against the county.
“There comes a point in time where you can’t talk anymore,” he said.
In another development issue, the candidates were asked what they would do with the former Cotton Mill building, a massive brick structure on High Street that was turned over to the city.
Freewalt said the community would probably be best served if the building was torn down.
“I think it’s a building of history. I don’t see many good aspects to it,” Freewalt said.
The mayor suggested that if the building was razed, a path along the Miami-Erie Canal could open up the downtown area. People could walk through Memorial Park and continue following the canal past the Cotton Mill site, he said.
Bartlett said because some of the Cotton Mill building is usable and other parts are not, he would let the community decide what should be done with the structure. The community should come up with one or two solid ideas for the site and then investigate them thoroughly, Bartlett said.


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