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Gary Edwards, Charlie Adkins, Mike O’Brien, Chris Chimel, Mark Sullivan, Paul “Smoke” Barrett and Robert Baughman, candidates for Athens County Commissioner, all spoke at an open panel at the Athens Community Center Tuesday. (Brien Vincent | Staff Photographer)

Race heats up as 7 Dems chase 2 county seats

Chris Chmiel addressed Athens County residents by asking, “Who do you want to run your business, the business of county government?”

Chmiel, a Democratic candidate for Athens County Commissioner, posed a question that voters will have to answer when voting in the March 6 primary to decide which two of the seven current Democratic candidates will vie for seats in the general election.

The three Athens County Commissioners serve as the administrative body overseeing all other aspects of county-wide government, and two of the seats are up for the taking in November’s election.

Candidates Charlie Adkins and Gary Edwards are running to represent the Democratic Party in the race against incumbent Republican commissioner Larry Payne.

The term for this seat will begin Jan. 2, 2013.

Robert Baughman, Paul “Smoke” Barrett, Chris Chmiel, Mike O’Brien and incumbent commissioner Mark Sullivan are all running for the seat that begins its term Jan. 3, 2013.

One possibility for why the seat currently held by Sullivan has more candidates than the other is because his seat is “more vulnerable” in the eyes of running opponents, forum coordinator Edward Baum said.

Sullivan has held the seat of County Commissioner since 1998 but has run into legal troubles in the past year, including allegations of growing marijuana in his backyard, domestic violence charges and pleading guilty to persistent disorderly conduct.

Each candidate was allotted two minutes for an introductory statement, 90 seconds to respond to questions posed by the media and the public and two minutes for a closing statement.

With seven candidates, time posed a problem — only one question from the audience of more than 70 people was allowed before the meeting was called to a close.

“There were some issues we’d liked to have known that weren’t addressed,” said Melissa Ervin of Nelsonville. “Such as what they all thought about Senate Bill 5 or Issue 2 or the right to work.”

Baum addressed the concern by saying future forums would take into account limited time constraints and allow more time for questions from the audience.

The seven candidates provided similar opinions about current job conflicts and how much time they would devote to the position, unanimously stating that the job entitled full attention and that they would work above and beyond a 40-hour work week.

“I currently work 40 to 60 hours a week,” Sullivan said. “A lot of prep work is done at home. … You’re not only going to be in the office eight hours a day.”

Candidates also had similar opinions about what would be first on their agenda if they were chosen for the position, addressing concerns about hydraulic fracturing, economic development and job creation.

“Budget concerns come and go, but ‘fracking’ is forever,” said self-proclaimed “proactive progressive Democrat” candidate O’Brien.

The topic of lethal injection versus euthanizing dogs by carbon monoxide in the Athens County Dog Shelter caused dissent among the candidates. Most agreed a no-kill policy is best, but some candidates differed on whether or not to tear down the current gas chamber.

Chmiel said that it would be symbolic to demolish the $10,000 building, but it is more practical to just put a lock on and see what happens in the future.

There will be no more candidate forums held by the Athens League of Women Voters, but Baum said he hopes they provided an opportunity that promoted voter education across the county.

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