All seven seats on the Independence city council are open with eight candidates vying for the positions. John DiGeronimo, Tom Narduzzi, Anthony Togliatti, Jim Trakas, Dale Veverka, and Chris Walchanowicz are running for re-election and face newcomers Kevin Day and John Scheckel.
City council members make $12,000 a year and the vice mayor makes $13,500 a year. The candidate that receives the most votes becomes vice mayor. All council members are eligible for the same medical insurance provided to city employees. The elected candidates serve two-year terms.
Following are questions posed to the candidates by Independence Today magazine. Their answers were limited to 225 words. Below are their unedited responses.
- For what areas should the city be prioritizing its money?
Day: Community and public safety for our residents and business partners, especially on Rockside Rd. Appropriate capital budgeting to provide our safety forces with state-of-the-art technology and facilities to service the community. Continued investment in our community infrastructure and services, including parks/recs through a long-term capital plan.
DiGeronimo: Public safety and infrastructure have been a high priority and I expect that to continue. Infrastructure not only includes new road and utility projects, but also the maintenance of existing roads to extend their useful life. Investing in economic development is vital so that our revenues keep up with the increasing costs of operations that we have been experiencing. Spending on recreational programs and services enriches our community and enhances our quality of life.
Narduzzi: As chairman of the Safety Committee, my first priority is making sure that our safety forces have the latest technology and the tools to keep our city safe, followed by economic development, our city’s infrastructure, and the development of the center of town.
Scheckel: The allocation of financial resources by the city should be prioritized based on a comprehensive assessment of its most pressing needs. Presently, a critical area demanding immediate attention is the mitigation of crime, with a particular emphasis on the Rockside Road region. This locality has experienced an alarming increase in criminal activities, necessitating substantial investment in law enforcement, community policing, and crime prevention strategies.
Togliatti: Independence has been blessed with an opportune location in the “Heart of Cuyahoga County.” Our business districts have been the powerhouse that fuels us, but we must adapt to the remote workforce model to meet the needs of our business community, support entrepreneurship, revitalize commercial areas and attract investment. The city must counter the inflationary impact and focus its spending on needs vs. wants to reduce operational expenses. The top priorities include: 1. Infrastructure improvements completed on schedule. 2. Enhancing public safety by supporting the initiatives of our police and fire department. 3. A focus on economic development.
Trakas: Vital priorities: public safety, emergency response, infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, and sewers) remain top priorities of city government. High priorities in support of these priorities include: appropriate staffing to keep residents and businesses safe, constant improvement of life saving EMS and fire response, dedicating tax dollars to street repair and replacement. Secondary priorities include recreation and community activities for all ages, stormwater flow and flooding abatement, and of course promoting positive economic growth to pay for these priorities.
Veverka: City resources should be focused on building storage facilities for the millions of dollars invested in equipment at the service garage. An addition to the existing service garage would be appropriate. Our existing police station and the unoccupied dispatch center should be upgraded for the police department. Infrastructure (water mains, sewer lines and cross ties) should be upgraded.
Walchanowicz: Working with commercial businesses to retain them in the city of Independence should be a priority, along with attracting new businesses that will continue to enhance the city’s income tax base, while keeping our residents’ taxes one of the lowest in the county. We also need to keep our current city services for our residents to make the city of Independence an attractive place to live.
- How can the city balance its small town charm with commercial development while considering residents’ opinion on both matters?
Day: In the past, Independence has been successful maintaining our small-town charm while growing our economic base. In the future, we need to be creative and flexible with our business partners to maintain our tax revenue and remain relative due to the ever-changing business environment and increased competition from our neighboring communities. Collaboration between our economic development team, businesses partners and residents must occur to keep our small-town charm!
DiGeronimo: It is important to have meaningful involvement with our residents. Our residents have expertise in the ways they use and experience our public spaces and commercial districts – we should tap into this expertise. With thoughtful planning and appreciating residents’ and the business community’s needs, we can achieve a proper balance.
Narduzzi: We are fortunate that the location of our business district rests outside of our residential areas. Our strong commercial base is the life-blood of our city and we need to do everything we can to attract new business while retaining existing ones.
Scheckel: Balancing Independence’s small-town charm with commercial development, while respecting residents’ opinions, is a complex task. Our community’s uniqueness is vital, but commercial growth is crucial for tax relief. One solution is involving residents in property decisions, empowering them to shape our town’s future. This democratic approach preserves our charm and lets those who cherish it guide its evolution.
Togliatti: Rockside Road and Pleasant Valley Road are the districts for large commercial development, while the Downtown District should be the home of smaller boutique shops, non-franchise restaurants and a welcoming community gathering space. The city must protect our quaint Downtown District by supporting viable economic development initiatives while preserving its historical charm and green space.
Trakas: Independence has maintained this balance effectively, but fissures are starting to become cracks. Highway access supports convenience and economic activity, but also criminals have been taking advantage of I-77 and I-480 access, necessitating more police and security FLOCK cameras in commercial district. The development of Rockside Woods Blvd. and Northern Brecksville from Rockside further erodes this balance. Independence must assure the security and tranquility of our neighborhoods, encouraging business travelers to stay in their areas, and to closely monitor criminal behavior. Legislation I co-sponsored will keep short term rentals out of residential neighborhoods, assuring more privacy and less potential criminal activity.
Veverka: The importance of a variety of community events (i.e. Home Days, Tree Lighting etc.) with an assortment of activities for a broad spectrum of ages brings residents together. The former middle school property could be utilized for events to continue interactions between residents. We are fortunate that most economic development is concentrated in a few areas of town. Future economic development will be separated from the center of town where locals can interact.
Walchanowicz: We are fortunate to have two distinct areas in the city of Independence. One is our commercial area on Rockside Road and along the Cloverleaf, while the other is our residential area. Balancing these two areas with new commercial development and new residential housing would be our goal. The residents want to keep the small-town feel of our city, and that is why downtown development with limited commercial and residential would be the best solution. I believe that is what our residents would like to see.
- If elected, what is one thing you hope to accomplish during your term?
Day: If elected, I would use my business expertise and personal knowledge of Independence to ensure we live within the approved annual operating and capital budgets and five-year capital plan. Another priority is to partner with the community to develop a realistic plan and vision for our downtown district. Frankly, downtown should be a vibrant area and a focal point of our city, enhancing the quality of life for our residents.
DiGeronimo: I hope to encourage more of our residents to participate in community service: volunteering one’s time, donating to local causes, or attending city and school meetings are all great ways to make a positive impact on our city. There are a number of ways that our community and residents can be better connected, but it requires our willingness to participate. In this town, one person can make a difference.
Narduzzi: I would like to continue to work closely with our police chief to ensure that our residents, the work force within the business district, and visitors, can live, work, and enjoy their time in a city that is safe.
Scheckel: If elected, one of my foremost priorities during my term would be to foster a balanced focus on both economic development and public safety. Striking this equilibrium is vital for our community’s growth and well-being. On the economic front, I aim to promote initiatives that attract businesses, create jobs, and strengthen our local economy. Simultaneously, I am dedicated to enhancing safety by supporting law enforcement, implementing crime prevention measures, and engaging with our community to address safety concerns collaboratively.
Togliatti: During this coming term I would like city council and the administration to work collaboratively with the residents to bring new life to the Downtown District. The city, as the majority landowner in the district, has controlled the future of the district for decades. It is time to work with the residents to bring a redevelopment to fruition.
Trakas: I hope to accomplish much more than one policy, but enhanced safety measures including upgrading our police station and considering a satellite facility to interdict crime in the business district is a high priority.
Veverka: It is critical for council and administration to reconnect in planning for the advancement of Independence. Some of the areas that will need a cooperative effort are the expenditures of the city’s resources in light of a stagnant level of income which must provide for dramatic expense increases. New employee hires have increased over a million dollars a year. Costs for vehicles have skyrocketed. Rubbish trucks that cost $220,000 5yrs ago are nearly a half million dollars. Interest rates have increased dramatically making borrowing huge sums for building new facilities to be imprudent. What will the city’s finances look like for our children’s future?
Walchanowicz: Continuing to keep the safety of the city’s residents is one of the most important things to have as a priority. Keeping our police department fully staffed and visible within the community would continue to create a sense of security for our residents, and it would let criminals know that they shouldn’t bother coming into our city. ∞
Occupation: Western Reserve Group-Chairman of the Board
Occupation: Vice President/Family Business Owner: Precision Environmental Co.
Occupation: Small business owner
Occupation: Local Business Owner
Occupation: Government Affairs Lobbyist, Military Officer, Small Business Owner
Dale A. Veverka
Occupation: Retired teacher
Occupation: HVAC Installer & Technician