Pete Gerken revealed Wednesday what his top priorities will be if re-elected as Lucas County commissioner. A Democrat and third-term commissioner, Mr. Gerken said he plans to focus on improving the water quality of Lake Erie and partnering with communities for a regional water system, criminal justice reforms that would include addressing the heroin and opiate epidemic, and retaining and creating jobs for continued economic growth.
“This is the platform I am going to run on between now and Nov. 8,” Mr. Gerken said during a news conference at Seagate Convention Centre. “We are going to protect water. We are reforming the criminal-justice system. We are going to continue to work on the heroin epidemic. We need to make sure workers are ready for jobs. We are going to have public-private partnerships to create those jobs.”
He is opposed in the election by Mike Bell, a Republican and former Toledo mayor.
Mr. Gerken said the platform was put together after talking and listening to citizens at “community conversations” hosted by his campaign during the summer in Point Place, Maumee, and Toledo.
He said the Toledo algae crisis in 2014 was a wake-up call to the importance of clean and safe drinking water and the need for a regional water system. Mr. Gerken said he would work to urge the federal Environmental Protection Agency to declare Lake Erie’s western basin an impaired waterway.
“We are going to collaborate with all the mayors, all the townships, and all of the communities to build a unified water distribution system that is fair and equitable to everybody,” he said.
Mr. Gerken said criminal-justice reforms are part of his plan to protect county residents safety. He said the $1.75 million Safety and Justice Challenge grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will be used to control the jail population for deciding who should stay in jail and who can be released or receive treatment for opiate and heroin addictions.
“I will make criminal-justice reform a reality and turn up the volume on the opiate crisis,” he said.
Mr. Gerken talked about his blue-collar background working at Jeep to introduce his ideas on work force development to keep the local economy moving.
He said the nearby former Hotel Seagate and efforts to redevelop the structure into an operating hotel again is example of the commissioners’ efforts to revitalize downtown Toledo and build on the momentum of the future ProMedica headquarters, Fifth Third Field, and Huntington Center.
“I am and will continue to be a big proponent of the necessary public-private partnerships that move good communities forward,” Mr. Gerken said.
When contacted by the Blade, Mr. Bell said the top issues to be tackled if he wins voter approval will be to emphasize financial accountability, regional cooperation, and economic development.
“If you are going to raise people’s taxes make sure they are getting good services,” he said.
Mr. Bell, who was mayor from 2010-2014, said discussions have been ongoing about replacing the county’s aging jail since 2000 along with regional water distribution, but his opponent has failed to do anything during the 12 years he has been in office.
Other ongoing issues to be addressed in a new term, Mr. Gerken said, would be the future of the county Canine & Control building on Erie Street. He said the county is reviewing the building and other county office buildings to replace the services elsewhere in new facilities or reinvent in the current structures.
“This will lead us to a decision very soon. Do we reinvest or do we go to lease or buy other places,” he said.
Mr. Gerken said the county is in the midst of a national search to hire a new director for Canine & Control. He said more than 160 letters were sent to shelters across the country to solicit interest in the position.