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As with the election two years ago, Canton will once again see three new faces on the board.
Voters had a deep bench of candidates to chose from: 10 running for four seats on the board. The only two returning board members are Alderman Eric Dills and Mayor Pat Smathers.
Town politics in Canton have been marked by division the past two years, and the vast majority of candidates running this time claimed they would rise above the fray and bring an end to opposing camps.
The two town leaders most at odds — Smathers and Dills — are the only two returning to the board, leaving it up to the three new board members to forge a new direction.
“I think we will sit around that table and come up with some good ideas and discuss them and come to a consensus hopefully a lot quicker than what was done in the past,” said Ed Underwood, one of the new candidates winning election to the board.
Candidate Jimmy Flynn agreed.
“I just feel like the three new people need to concentrate on bringing everybody together,” Flynn said.
Flynn said personality conflicts need to be put aside to do what’s best for the town.
“They have to concentrate on listening to each other more than talking,” Flynn said.
Two years ago, voters ousted three long-time board members and ushered in a slate of new faces for the first time in years. A power struggle between Smathers and Dills rooted in philosophical differences bogged down progress, according to both candidates and voters.
One voter interviewed for an exit poll, Paul Moore, said he went for a “complete change” when casting his ballot. Moore had supported a change on the board two years ago but was disappointed in what they had accomplished.
“Nothing,” he said.
Luckily for Moore, all the seats on the Canton board are up for election every two years, so he didn’t have to wait long to vote for another clean sweep.
Dills has been among the first to admit that the change promised by candidates two years ago hasn’t come to fruition but says progress was stymied by hold-overs in the town leadership who resisted the change.
“People haven’t been satisfied with the progress that has been made, but I know I will continue to stand in there with their best interest,” Dills said.
Coming to consensus
A hot topic in the race was forging a new place for the historic, blue-collar mill town in the 21st century economy.
“I think everybody in Canton wants Canton to be a vibrant community again,” said Randy Burrell, a voter interviewed on his way out of the polls. “I think all the candidates have that in mind. It is the main issue. Canton has a little niche somewhere and once we find it, we’ll be back.”
Indeed, most candidates made revitalization a central issue — but they differ on how to best target the town’s efforts. Some want the top focus to be on the core downtown. Others want to upgrade water and sewer around the Interstate 40 interchange to lay the groundwork for commercial development. Yet others believe Canton’s strength lies in its neighborhoods and want to clean them up.
Underwood said it is crucial they agree on some priorities, or they won’t be any better than the last board, which was chastised for getting nothing done.
“You hear presidential elections with a mandate. The mandate here was get down there and work together,” Underwood said. “I think if you didn’t hear that message, you got a problem.”
Mayor Pat Smathers published an op-ed piece in a local paper listing 17 priorities he wants to see the town tackle and challenged voters to elect candidates who would follow his lead on them.
Dills said he is going to come up with his own list to put before the board. He said the board should commit to priorities on paper rather than a piecemeal approach that is hard to track.
“We have to come to some concensus and figure out what we want to accomplish the next two years, put it on paper and let’s go do it,” Dills said.
Troy Mann, a current board member who lost re-election, wished the new board good luck.
“If they can fulfill Mayor Smathers’ list of 17 projects, they have their work cut out for them,” Mann said.
Smathers was running unopposed, and nearly a third of the voters chose not to vote at all in the mayor’s race and instead marked no name at all. Another 88 voters wrote in a candidate for mayor, but the names were not available as of press time.
Barry Mull, a worker at the mill, was among those who chose not to vote at all, rather than vote for Smathers.
“I think it’s time for him to slide out of there,” said Mull.
Most voters wouldn’t say who they voted for to avoid hurt feelings in a small community. For Cassie Erwin, 22, members of her own family were split over who to vote for and therefore she wouldn’t share her picks.
Flynn, a safety manager for Buckeye Construction, was the top vote-getter. He chalks it up to his experience working for the town for 30 years in a variety of jobs from the police department to recreation department to streets. He also served as town clerk and assistant manager.
“I think people were looking for experience,” Flynn said.
Pat Smathers (I) 448
Seats up for election: 4
Total seats on board: 4
Jimmy Flynn 364
Ed Underwood 337
Eric Dills (I) 288
Kenneth Holland 257
Carole Edwards 246
Patrick Willis 229
Charlie Crawford 216
Troy Mann (I) 214
Angela Jenkins 195
Gene Monson 171
Registered voters: 2,880
Voter turn-out: 648 (24%)