Voters in Williams County will have three candidates to choose from when they cast their vote on Nov. 3 for one of the two commissioner seats on the ballot.

While Terry Rummel is running unopposed for a four-year term that begins Jan. 3, 2021, three-term incumbent Republican Lew Hilkert will see opposition from Democrat Heather Freese, and Independent Jennifer King for the other seat.

The winner will earn a four-year term that begins Jan. 2, 2021.

Hilkert was appointed to the seat in March of 2007, after it was vacated by former commissioner Thomas Strup. Hilkert spent more than 50 years in banking and retail management, as well as serving on the board of the Williams County Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO) and serving as chairman.

Meanwhile, Freese is a former director of the Williams County Board of Elections, who is currently working as a compliance coordinator.

King and her husband, Tyson, and other King family members, are partners in a local manufacturing company, while she and her husband also manage several local real estate properties and buildings.

Neither Freese nor King have been elected to office prior to running for commissioner.

Listed are profiles of each candidate:

Heather Freese

Age: 35

Education: graduate, North Central High School, Pioneer; graduate, DeVry University, Chicago

Family: husband, Ryan

Occupation: compliance coordinator

Previous political offices: none

Party affiliation: Democrat

Reason for seeking office: “I became aware of a necessity for change during my time there (at the Williams County Board of Elections) as offices with boards and elected officials were facing the same problems. I have been a passionate advocate to this community and find it important to keep it healthy and safe, creating transparency in our government, and I am a firm believer that the government is to work for the people.

“In order to keep a healthy and safe community it is important that commissioners keep a great relationship with all departments. There is a long way to go to mending some department relationships. You’ve heard of the ‘Tone at the Top,’ and it is clear that tone needs to change. This will ensure departments, not only work as they are intended, but work better together. Contention should not be allowed to continue between any department, especially, when that department is the head of the county government.

“Over time, it is becoming clear that a small group of individuals are making decisions for this county. Those decisions are made, at times, outside of the public meeting space. Any decision made, that doesn’t compromise safety, should be discussed and voted in that public space. This is to create transparency and dialogue in an open environment. In the infamous line of the Bryan Times, ‘The public has a right to know.’

“Our quickly changing community needs leadership that is going to listen to them, show empathy to their concerns, and perform follow through. The responsibility of a commissioner is to provide funds, a platform for requesting resources, and allowing offices with their own boards or elected officials to operate without the micromanagement being currently done. It is important now, more than ever, to create a welcoming space for county business to be conducted effectively and efficiently.

“Perhaps the most important attribute of a county commissioner is the ability to lead, to listen to the needs of the citizens and other elected officials, to compromise, and to develop a consensus on priority issues to improve the county.” – Williams County Commissioners handbook.

Top goals: Transparency: “That starts with bringing more meetings back to the public space to be discussed and recorded in their intended environment. It is my hope that the other commissioners will follow my lead in this pursuit of how county business is handled. As long as the issue doesn’t compromise safety, then anything brought to my attention will be discussed in the meeting space. My time at the election board made it clear that transparency is key in strengthening democracy!

Mending relationships: “This will be a process that will require leg work. Meeting with elected officials, attending board meetings and continuing my volunteer work will be key in strengthening the bonds to these individuals, groups, and communities! Change takes more than words, it is forged in hard work.

Community involvement: “I have been a volunteer in this community for nearly a decade. That work didn’t start in my election year and it won’t stop after it. Making your community healthy, happy and safe takes more than a couple meetings a week discussing necessary change. It takes hard work and giving your time to the organizations that provide those to the community you serve. This is how we move Williams County forward by being the change we want to see in the community, instead of hoping for it.”

Lew Hilkert

Age: 70

Address: 16806 U.S. 20-A, West Unity

Education: graduate, Lewisburg Area High School, Lewisburg; graduate, Ohio School of Banking; Ohio School of Consumer and Commercial Credit; graduate The Graduate School of Banking, Madison, Wis.

Family: wife, Gayle; daughters, Wendy (Mike) Davis, Tammy Stoll, Lindsay (Aaron) Rock; son, Tyson (Nikki) Hilkert

Occupation: Williams County commissioner

Previous political offices: none

Party affiliation: Republican

Reason for seeking office: “To fulfill the duties required of the position of county commissioner, to establish policies and to create and work with balanced budgets and conservatively expend appropriations.

“The future economic growth of Williams County is critical to the citizens, communities and schools. As a member of the Board of Commissioners, you must be proactive in seeking positive economic growth to build a better quality of life for our citizens, control expenses and reduce and/or keep the tax burden as low as possible.’

Top goals: “Along with the entire Board of Commissioners, to include overseeing a balanced budget to keep Williams County in a solvent financial position; pursuing grants and low-interest funds for the Williams Center and Melburn sewer projects and completing them in a timely manner; and to continue to be involved in drainage issues that allow many land owners the opportunity of having input on their drainage projects and completing them efficiently and economically, many times without county involvement.

“To be actively involved in the development of the much-needed Kunkle and Alvordton sewer projects; and to be actively involved in business and industry expansion via WEDCO to secure more and higher-paying jobs within the county to increase the tax base for much-needed revenues to maintain a financially solvent county.

“I will continue to work with our state representative and senator to channel grant and infrastructure money back to Williams County.”

Jennifer King

Age: 36

Education: graduate, Four County Career Center, Archbold; attended Northwest State Community College, Archbold; nursing program at MedTech College, Fort Wayne campus.

Family: husband, Tyson; five children

Occupation: Homemaker

Previous political offices: none

Party affiliation: Independent

Reason for seeking office: “Generally what spurs people to become involved in local politics is a specific issue. For me, it was experiencing firsthand the deficiencies within certain departments in our county and the breakdown of effective communication. I’ve also had the privilege of connecting with many other individuals and families of this county, in all different walks of life. The general consensus is concern for our county and its future and displeasure in the status quo.

Qualification for position: “As previously stated from both current commissioners Hilkert and Rummel, anyone is qualified for this position in meeting the following criteria: At least 18 years of age, resident of both state and county in which running, a registered voter and U.S. citizen, not convicted of a felony.

“According to the Ohio Commissioners Handbook, county commissioners come from all walks of life, such as teachers, nurses, business owners, farmers and homemakers. I believe the knowledge that I bring to the table with real life experience and the ability to truly understand hardships, allows me to connect with others on a personal level. The determination I possess to rise above difficult situations and make a better way, despite life’s obstacles, is an inspiration I hope to share with others, especially our youth. Having a background now in business and finance will certainly assist me well in this position, although it is not required.

“This position comes with a learning curve, as government works nothing like the private sector. It is through my time in championing for change in legislation relating to my teenage son’s sudden cardiac arrest, that I’ve gained a vast array of knowledge in the operation of government.

“My no-nonsense and nonpartisan approach will hopefully serve the county and ALL of its citizens justly.”

Top goals:

Accountability, reform and transparency.

• “Independent oversight board appointed to Job and Family Services (JFS); specifically child protective service division for accountability and assured safety of the public, as well as social workers. A full-time deputy position stationed within JFS. Along with this comes cross-agency reporting and cooperation. A fully-funded and staffed sheriff’s department is necessity, not choice. The safety needs of our citizens and law enforcement is not debatable.

• “Participation in a safety and accountability audit and/or a county needs assessment to discover gaps within the system or services, correct deficiencies and prioritize funding and resources. Unity and collaboration across the board helps prevent repeat in services or referrals and encourages better promotion and utilization of resources. This is also fiscally responsible.

• “We must create an open line of communication and it starts with the commissioner’s office by way of a resolution, putting specific policy and procedure in place on addressing concerns from all citizens and departments.

• “Accountability for economic growth. Together we must make this county desirable to establish roots in or not break apart from. Williams County is majorly manufacturing and currently has a deficit in skilled workers. I believe one of the solutions is focusing on our youth in promoting and encouraging tech programs and trade schools for those not interested in four-year degrees or the on-campus living experience. This also supports our local community college. Our youth are our county’s future and tomorrows leaders, capable of great things with or without an expensive degree from a prestigious college or university. Some of the most endearing success stories are those of who are self-made, against all odds because someone took a chance on them, like me.”

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