By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
INDEPENDENCE - The pay is low, and the hours are long.
But that hasn't stopped a record 16 candidates from seeking local office in fast-growing Independence.
The 16 running for Independence City Council include a husband and wife making their first bid for elective office, a former mayor and a retiree who helped lead the recent fight against a city insurance tax.
The field will be narrowed to 12 in the May 18 primary, and voters will choose six in November.
Would-be officeholders range in age from 30 to 70 and include newcomers to the community along with some who've lived here for decades. Many of the 11 nonincumbent candidates say they were drawn into the race because of concerns about tax and spending issues in a city that saw its population jump by more than 43 percent between 1990 and 2000.
"I think it's just an indication that everybody wants to be in on all the positive things that are going on in the city," Mayor Chris Moriconi said of the crowded field.
Although Moriconi is not up for re-election this year, five incumbents - Jim Bushong, 61; Carol Franzen, 33; Donna Yeager, 70, Thomas A. Brinker, 39; and Mary Pat Behler, 48 - are vying for a two-year term that pays $3,000 a year. Eric Dupps, who replaced Otis Ketron when he resigned from council last fall, is not seeking re-election.
One of the issues that some incumbents see as a major accomplishment is the construction of a municipal complex that will bring most city functions under one roof and give the police department a permanent home.
But the project has been criticized by some challengers because of its cost. While the $3.8 million construction bid came in under the $5 million a previous administration had borrowed for the project, some challengers questioned its need.
Challengers include Jim Kudera, 68, a former council member and interim mayor, and 10 political newcomers.
They are Daniel E. Koch, 40, who serves on the city's board of adjustment; George Sanders, 61, a retired pressman who's pro police and wants to ensure the city has a balanced budget; Dave Millward, 57, a Convergys retiree and member of the city budget committee whose goals include maintaining a safe and highly efficient police department and maintaining and improving city services; Randi Gerig, 36; Mike Little, 41, a member of the city budget committee and someone who advocates fiscal responsibility and increasing business opportunities in the city; Jeff Hemsath, 30, a Fidelity Investments employee who vowed to oppose any new taxes that can't be justified; Kent Kelso, 43; long-time residents Marcus Cook, 58, and Margaret Cook, 55, who want to offer "a fresh set of eyes to look at city issues," and JoAnne Cobble, 56, who has been critical of recent city spending and tax proposals.
Cobble said that she and four other candidates - Hemsath, Little, and the Cooks - are running largely to make sure that their local government doesn't try to impose an insurance tax. Last year, Cobble helped organize opposition to a proposed insurance tax. In November, a divided council approved a $12-a-year auto tax instead, which costs most residents less but won't raise enough to offset a projected shortfall.
"When we went door to door with petitions, the vast majority of people didn't want an insurance tax," Cobble said.
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