By TIMOTHY COX
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.”
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
“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
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,”
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.