My name is Todd Wolfrum and I’m running for a reelection to a second term as Van Wert County Commissioner in the Republican primary being held in March, 2016.
When I ran four years ago, I talked about stopping our population loss, rebuilding our villages and bringing a higher education presence to the county. At that time, almost no one was prioritizing these things. But, along with my fellow commissioners Stan Owens and Thad Lichtensteiger, we were able to change the dialogue and make good progress in all of these areas.
I was one when my family moved to Van Wert County. My dad had taken a job as a high school math teacher and baseball coach at Lincolnview. It was a homecoming for my mom, whose father was then the minister at Kingsley United Methodist. My grandfather prior to that had been a pastor at a church in Convoy and my mom was in Crestview’s first graduating class.
I spent time roaming the country, but I never wanted to live anywhere else. Eventually I got through college and law school and opened an office in Van Wert. I’ve built a successful law firm from nothing and still practice part-time when we are not in the Commissioners’ Office.
We’ve tackled a lot of problems in my first term as Commissioner. We found nearly a half million dollars in annual health insurance savings by exhaustively searching for a new carrier. We’ve maintained the budget in a surplus by not significantly increasing taxes or spending. I’ve been able to use my legal background to first, find insurance coverage for a $365,000 grant that the state wanted paid back due to a mistake made years before, and second, to design the Phoenix Initiative, a program to tear down dilapidated properties.
But our efforts in economic development garnered the most attention. We created a county economic development office to confront issues that weren’t being addressed. We discovered a demographic problem that is going to leave us short of workforce in the future and developed the first programs to deal with this problem: Middle School Physics to foster creative youth and a website for employers to post available jobs to begin drawing people back.
To keep more talented young people in county, I worked with Northwest State’s president in helping that institution seek designation as our community college provider. Until last year, we were one of the few areas in the state with no community college designation. With this, Northwest State is now able to expand its programs in our county. Having a campus at the Starr Commonwealth or downtown Van Wert could be a next step.
The education goals are part of a plan for branding I call “Science County USA”. The blueprint will be to develop and advertise the county’s unique education opportunities in STEM courses and robotics and provide a college portal, bringing in multiple universities to teach their prime classes in a consortium with Northwest State as the anchor. This would not only keep our kids close to home longer but also would make college more affordable for them.
In many of these efforts, we met resistance from Van Wert’s old status quo who would have us all believe that the last twenty-five years have been a success for the county. If you’ve lived here, you know that this isn’t the case. Wages have been stagnant, population has declined at a rate that has become predictable, and the number of run-down properties in the county has escalated. The establishment offered no answer to any of this. They resented it being notice.
Last year’s city elections ushered in a new group that wanted to join efforts with us. Although there are obstacles and competing interest in combining city and county efforts, there’s nothing that shouldn’t have been easily set aside long ago for the common good. We’ve already worked through most of this in the first weeks of 2016 with the new city administration.
The merger will create efficiency with one lead person representing the entire county and all parts of the city instead of giving all prospective businesses one option – moving into an industrial park created by the old status quo. (And by the way, if you locate there, I know a guy that can build your building and another guy that can do your financing, and another guy can, etc.) Abandoned and decaying parts of the city will get a new look.
Most importantly, everything will be open to discussion. When we took office, the economic development board didn’t include one person from the business community. Membership on that board had become a resume builder topped off by annual banquets where the elite would give each other awards. We argued that there could be better efforts made.
Of course, we angered some people in undoing this established order. My columns in the paper infuriated them. They never argued that anything I said wasn’t true, they were just mad that I said it. They had wanted a cheerleader and they got a writer. I’ve heard it said there are four or five people who decide who holds elected office in this county. This group is openly endorsing my opponent in hopes of regaining proxy control over our community.
According to public records, the candidate they are promoting against me in the Republican primary voted Democrat in both of the primaries when Barrack Obama was elected president. At last look, she was still registered as a Democrat. My personal opinions are on full display at toddwolfrum.com. I write semi-weekly columns and do a weekly radio show to keep the public informed and involved. I’m a conservative who believes in small government both locally and nationally and I’m a Republican out of conviction, not just to get elected.
I hope I’ve changed the job description for Van Wert County Commissioner in my first term. The new challenges we face as a county have required something different of the position than it has traditionally been. Working with Thad and Stan to affect that change and accomplish what we have already accomplished has certainly been a life highlight. We spent my first term undoing an ineffective establishment. Now it’s time to unify and build on a new vision.