LIMA — For Lima mayoral candidate Keith Cheney, the incumbent mayor has been in office long enough.
A former chief operating officer for Certified Convenience Stores and the current chairman of the Allen County Republican Party, Cheney said his political experience and business acumen will serve him well as Lima’s chief executive.
Cheney recently sat down with The Lima News editorial board to make his final case for becoming the city’s next mayor. Here is an excerpt:
What do you think are the strengths and opportunities for the city of Lima?
The strengths are our people, without a doubt, the citizens that make up this fine city. The opportunities, I believe, in many cases, have not been there for the citizens to succeed in a manner of which I would like to see them succeed. When I talk about the city of Lima, Ohio, one-third of our residents are living below the poverty line. That is absolutely unacceptable in a Keith Cheney administration.
The strengths which we also have are being in a quadrant of a number of state routes, as well as an Interstate system. So when you look at the ability for businesses to get to Lima or export their product, whether it’s by semi or rail, there are some great opportunities, which makes us uniquely placed. There again, I think our city has not taken full opportunity of that system that’s in place.
I tie that back to the way the City of Lima currently does business. It’s simply in a non-business friendly manner. I have met with a number of business individuals who have either looked to do business in Lima or are doing business in Lima. Whether it was an expansion of their business or a redevelopment of their business, there are just so many cumbersome roadblocks, that it’s quite easier to go somewhere else and conduct business. That has to change for all the opportunities to open up to our citizens.
You’ve talked about some of the weaknesses. What are some of the threats that we face?
The greatest threat we face is competition from other municipalities. The big one we always hear about is Findlay, and it’s forever a discussion, whether it’s in the coffee shops, the restaurants or in people’s homes. They talk about, “Findlay has this, and Findlay has that.”
Let me tell you a couple of things that businesses look at when they decide where they’re going to locate. One of them, obviously, is median household income. What monies are available for individuals to have discretionary spending or spending where they’re going to decide where to shop, eat and entertain themselves? The Findlay median household income far outweighs Lima’s. As a matter of fact, according to the United States Census, over the past 28 years, using equivalent dollars of 2016, the median household income in Lima, Ohio, has declined by $4,177. So that’s one of the biggest threats we have.
The other thing that a business looks at is what are the crime rates because, obviously, they have to look at crime. For a number of years, this administration has attempted to play that off as a myth or a perception. Liars can figure, but figures don’t lie. When you look at the 2016 Uniform Crime Report presented by the Lima Police Department to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it is very simple. Our serious and violent crimes have raised by 10 percent.
So the two threats that face Lima as we look at bringing in new business and convincing people to come here are household income as well as our crime.
You address the first one to get to the second one, and I certainly will address the crime issue in a much more rapid fashion than the current administration has.
Let’s talk money. You’ve talked a lot about adding police to fight crime, and you’ve also mentioned a proposal for building a new fire station. What specific areas of the budget would you cut to make room for these projects?
With crime, you either pay on the front side or pay on the back side. This administration has decided to pay on the back side by the loss of businesses and by individuals who have moved out of this city because they no longer want to be a part of a crime-ridden city. The population has dropped nearly 8,000 individuals. Those are income tax-paying individuals, which obviously lowers your income.
There are opportunities, I am certain, within that budget, and the one thing that I will implement immediately is LCSI — Lima Common Sense Initiatives. That will be where every single city department will have a thorough evaluation to determine their policies, procedures, rules and regulations, which, ultimately, will result in cost-saving measures, not only in finances, but also in time.
There are many avenues where things can be done differently. To address where you’re going to get the money for the extra police officers, first of all, this administration has decided to build up a net worth laying in a bank account of $8 million. That’s on the back of the city residents. That’s on the back of not being willing to provide the safety necessary to keep them safe in their homes and businesses and on the street.
The same thing can be said about fire. This administration closed two fire stations, one on West Spring Street, which dramatically affects the residents of the 4th and 7th Wards. It dramatically increases the response time. A fire burns at double the rate every single minute. The current fire protection for the 4th and 7th Wards comes out of the Main Street fire station. That is a lot longer than having a station in the heart of the 4th and 7th Wards sitting on Spring Street.
The other one that was closed, and is just as concerning, if not more, the response time to Lima Memorial Hospital was literally a minute and a half. The best response time today to get to the hospital sitting in the 3rd Ward is approximately seven to eight and a half minutes. Keeping in mind that a fire doubles every minute it’s alive, that puts a lot of families’ properties and, more important, their lives at risk.
Looking at the economy, where do you see the economy heading in the next few years, and as mayor, what effect would that have on the way you would want to run the city?
In today’s Lima that we live, I don’t see a thriving economy. It reminds me that, starting in 1999, Dave Berger promised that Global Energy was coming to Lima, Ohio. It was going to bring with it good paying jobs, and that would be the salvation to Lima’s economic downturn. He rode that wave for many, many years, for many election cycles — four election cycles, to be factual. As a matter of fact, The Lima News wrote an article, “Where is Global?” back in 2008. His response to the article was, “Those who are skeptical will remain skeptical. That is their privilege,” Berger said. “But I am absolutely confident that it will happen.’”
That was July of 2008. In March of 2015, when they filed bankruptcy, Berger, a longtime supporter of the project, continued to say that he hoped the bankruptcy would help the project. Well, the final result is a concrete pad that lays out on South Metcalf Street that looks like a swimming pool when it rains and cost this community many, many dollars in time, effort and finances and tax monies, and ultimately, we got nothing.
That’s not going to happen. I have already met with investors, entrepreneurs and businesses that have assured me, when I’m elected mayor, that they will come to Lima, bring their business to Lima and do business in Lima. I am confident that will happen, and some of these jobs are not entry-level jobs. But the bottom line is that we have to be a business friendly community. I can change that on day one, to open our arms to the opportunities that are there.
Along those same lines, let me ask you what your view is of the work that the Allen Economic Development Group has been doing.
I think the formation of the new AEDG group is going to be very, very beneficial to Lima and Allen County. When you look at the person they’ve put in place to run that organization, being Jeff Sprague, Jeff is a very sound business-friendly oriented type of individual who understands that we have to be a friend to business. He’s willing to work the long hours, to go out and do the necessary things to make businesses want to come to Lima and Allen County. The same can be said with the leadership on the business end of it, where you have Mike Swick from Lima Memorial and Phil Buell from Superior, who are two very successful, sound business individuals.
The new structure of AEDG, I believe, will give us an advantage in being able to go out and court new businesses to come into Lima, as well as supporting existing businesses that want to expand. I’m very pleased with what I see out of that organization. I look forward to working with them.
Shifting gears a little bit, we know that there are a lot of people in the city who are trying to improve their lot in life, and we know there are some programs in place to try to help them. Some people would say that those are not connecting with each other. So what role should the mayor play in helping bridge that gap?
Communication. Communication is the easiest answer there is. And that doesn’t mean sitting in the glass house or traveling all over the United State with the mayoral association to benefit your personal gains of, “Here’s who I am.” It means being on the ground in the city of Lima, taking those programs, working directly with them and making sure that the citizens understand what’s available.
All too often, it’s simply a lack of communication. You have to go out in the neighborhoods, as I have done throughout this campaign, talk with the individuals, find out what their needs are and then relate those needs to the programs that are available for them. It’s no different than the heroin epidemic or the illicit drug epidemic that we face today.
You don’t see advertising up on billboards or advertising in other formats where it explains to individuals, “Here’s the programs that are available.” That’s shameful. He spends $35,000 on advertising promoting how great downtown is, especially over the last six weeks, great political advertising at the cost of the city.
Look, let’s fix the crime downtown first, make it safe and bring people downtown, but let’s use those those dollars instead to explain the programs available to our citizens to help them.
You’re exactly right. There are many, many residents in this city that are looking for a way out, looking for hope.
How do you convince the African American community that their issues are important to you? Your paths really haven’t crossed.
I personally came up with the theme of my campaign: “A Better Lima for All.” That was easy to do because that’s what I believe in. I’ve watched the current administration every four years go to the black community and say to them, “Come aboard, vote for me and I’ll do this, this and this for you.” I’ve watched that miserably fail.
Today, as we sit here, there is one — one — black police officer on the streets in Lima, Ohio. That department currently consists of 77 active officers and four in the academy. That’s a dismal, shameful percentage of black police officers on our streets. We have a city that is between 26 and 28 percent black. That department should be representative of that population. There’s nothing that’s been done to turn that around in 28 years. In fact, it’s went south.
I also attended every function that I was invited to attend, whether it was the Black Ministerial Association’s town hall or whether it was the two debates hosted by the NAACP. Look, that’s my job, to go out and not pick and choose who I’m going to represent or who I’m going to meet with, as my opponent did, and use some lame excuse that he doesn’t agree with the president of the NAACP.
Do you have any specific ideas on how to recruit more African American officers?
I sure do, and I find it hard to believe this hasn’t been done, but maybe it’s because you don’t have the relationship with law enforcement that I’m fortunate to have. Look, we have a number of black law enforcement officers that have now retired. We have some active black officers on the Allen County Sheriff’s Office. Go to those individuals. Make them a partner with the mayor and the Lima Police Department and go to the schools. Talk to the young people. Explain the opportunities of what a great job that really is.
Also, you can look at not just going to the high schools. Go to the middle schools. It’s sort of funny that, when you go to elementary schools and you talk to students and say, “Who do you want to be?” and I don’t care what ethnic group they’re from, the majority of kids will tell you, “I want to be a policeman.” “I want to be a fireman.” Then, as they grow older, all of a sudden, that changes. So at one time, that may have been a child’s dream.
I believe that, if done properly, and you go and take the job to them, you’ll have a much more successful rate. It’s a case where sometimes individuals are more comfortable talking with people that they can relate to easier than myself. So I would go right to those officers and talk with those kids and let those officers tell them, “Here’s why I made my decision to become a policeman. Here’s how it has benefitted me in my life and here’s what I’ve been able to provide for my family.
In cleaning up neighborhoods, let us know how you’d like to see the inspection of rental properties take place.
First of all, if we’re going to talk about rental properties, we’re going to talk about the landlord proposal. The administration now wants to twist it and say that was just a suggestion that they put out there. No, it was a written proposal of legislation that was very definite in its writing that they presented to Lima City Council for approval of a landlord registration that was invasive to those individuals who were paying their own rent, not government-assisted rent, saying that the city is going to come in, walk through every one of your rooms, go through your cabinets and do an inspection internally of your home.
That’s wrong. I don’t support that. I don’t support a cost factor where you’re going to make a bigger government. Government’s never been able to grow and solve problems that are there in the private sector of business. So I adamantly oppose that legislation.
It was brought up that I made a speech in the spring and talked about the out-of-town slumlords, landlords who weren’t doing their jobs, and I was going to institute a registration. That’s absolutely factual. Here was the registration: If you go online today or you go to the county auditor’s office or the treasurer’s office and you try to find out who owns a number of these properties, it will come up an LLC with an address that’s out of state. Who do I call if there’s a problem there? So what I will mandate is that every landlord assigns a person’s name and phone number who you’re able to contact at a moment’s notice to discuss problems.
But more importantly, this administration has had legislation presented to it in a very strong manner under code enforcement. They’re talking about the internal inspections. What about the exterior inspections? You drive down the street and you look at the condition of a number of these rentals. They already have the legislation in place. They have failed to do their job. And normally, what something looks like on the outside, I imagine it’s pretty convincing that the inside would appear just the same. So their inadequacies of not using legislation that they currently have available has resulted in the decline in home values.
So you’re suggesting that the current code enforcement options are not being enforced?
Absolutely. If they were being enforced, the homes wouldn’t be in the conditions they are throughout our city. You look at the homes that have been identified by the county land bank, they are in every single sector of this community. I don’t care if you’re in the north end, south end, east end or west end. There are houses in every part of our city that have deteriorated to that extent.
Tell us something you’ve learned about the city of Lima while you’ve been campaigning this year.
People. Quite frankly, it has been eye-opening, as well as a great experience, to go to individuals’ homes throughout this city, in every quadrant. Unfortunately, I have not been able to talk to every single resident, but I have talked to a number of them. That has been beneficial to get to know them and understand the issues that they are facing. They are very open about things that they need help with or things that are working. So I think the most beneficial thing that I’ve received in this campaign is to build a greater portion of the citizenry relationship than I had prior to this campaign.
I’m a people person. I love people. I like to be out there amongst them and talk to them. I’ve learned over the years that it’s better to listen than to talk. So it’s been very enjoyable to me.
Keith Cheney addresses The Lima News editorial board during a roundtable. Cheney, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party and a local businessman, wants Lima voters to pick him Tuesday.
Keith Cheney said he’d like to see more efforts spent by law enforcement and code enforcement in cleaning up neighborhoods.
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.