By BRET BEVENS
Southern Ohio Today
There are two seats up for grabs on the Ross County Board of Commissioners in Tuesday’s general election.
One features former educator and superintendent Dwight Garrett going up against former Chillicothe City Councilwoman and businesswoman Beth Janes Neal.
Garrett, the Republican incumbent, is a lifelong resident of Ross County and graduate of Adena High School. After graduation, Garrett received his Bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio University and earned a Master’s Degree in Education Administration from Ashland University.
Garrett was in the education field for 38 years. He was a teacher, coach, principal and a superintendent. For two years, Garrett served as an Area Coordinator in the field of school finance with Ohio Department of Education.
Garrett said he experience as a varsity coach and administrator for half of his career provides him with a unique skill set that serves him well as a commissioner.
“The teamwork, leadership collaboration, listening skills, negotiating contracts, building projects and budgeting, pretty much runs parallel with the commissioner position,” Garrett said. “One of the main responsibilities (of the commissioners) is budgeting and we do a lot of negotiating with the Sheriff’s Department.”
Garrett said listening to others and capitalizing on everyone’s assets is critical, whether that means suspending someone as a school administrator or considering various ideas.
“The most important thing to do is to shut up and let them talk and listen at what they have to offer,” Garrett said. “Let them complete what they have to say and once they’re done you can give your input.”
Garrett said his background has him poised for the commissioner’s post.
“It’s almost like I’ve gone through training to be a county commissioner, by the jobs I held as an educator,” Garrett said. “It’s almost prepared me for this (commissioners) job.”
Garrett said there is still uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the county has benefitted from some measures taken by the commissioners with federal dollars.
“We received quite a bit of money through the CARES Act,” Garrett said. “We’re distributing money through Job & Family Services and Community Action. We are helping the people who can’t pay their mortgage or rent, due to displacement by COVID-19. We’re assisting those people and that CARES Act money had to be allocated by December 30.”
Garrett also said some CARES Act money could go to schools if they want to hire nurses. Garrett added the commissioners have done their due diligence and strictly adhered to the required use of the dollars.
Neal – the Democratic challenger – grew up on a farm in Ross County, is a graduate of Chillicothe High School and studied at Ohio University-Chillicothe. She is married, has two children and one grandchild.
Neal’s family owns grocery stores in Ohio where she worked as a business manager and human resources manager. She served seven years on Chillicothe City Council and while there championed the curbside recycling program.
She said the city enjoyed a lot of business development during her time on council and she thinks her business experience has prepared her for the job.
“I have 30 years of business experience,” Neal said. “Being in business for yourself gives you a lot of the skills you need as a commissioner. You work with a budget and also my (city) council experience was very budget-oriented.”
Neal said she also had contracting experience, construction experience, and a lot of things could help her be a good commissioner.
She said she has been to Ross County’s township trustee and village council meetings and the constant need is better access to safety services such as EMS, fire, and sheriff.
“My plan is to look at those operations from the ground up and see where we’re falling and what we can realistically do to help those services get better,” Neal said. “The second thing I hear is there isn’t a lot of communication between the commissioners’ office and the townships.”
Neal said she worked hard to communicate with her constituents when she was on city council. She pointed to her “community coffee hours,” which is something she would reinstate as commissioner.
“You don’t fix the problems that are outside of your office unless you get out and talk to people,” Neal said. “The communication and the safety services are two of the immediate things I would work on.”
Neal said she worked in human resources at the family owned stores and they had 400 employees. She said she thinks she understands people and knows how to work with people, communicate with people and how to “dig in” and find solutions to problems.