In this segment of the SCPR's extended interview with Canton City Council-at-Large member Bill Smuckler who is running against incumbent Mayor William J. Healy, II in this May's primary election, the focus continues on economic development but with the nuance of zeroing in on what economic benefit a rework of the Stark County Fairgrounds could be to Canton's economy and to the economy of Stark County-at-large.
One of Smuckler's prime supporters is former Stark County Commissioner Tom Harmon (who, for most of his public career, was the clerk of courts for the Canton Municipal Court.
Well, why bring that up?
For several reasons.
First of all, the emphasis of this particular phase of the SCPR's video discussion with Smuckler centers on a proposed "beginning ?" re-development of the Stark County Fairgrounds (Fairgrounds).
Harmon as commissioner (having been appointed by the Stark County Democratic Central Committee to replace Gayle Jackson [subsequently elected in his own right] as commissioner when she was appointed to be a lottery official for the Democratic Strickland administration), pushed the building of a horse show arena as an aspect of "his" economic development plan for Stark. In reality, the plan was not Harmon's at all. Rather it originated with local attorney and show horse participant and devotee Elizabeth Burick. However, Harmon continues to be "the lead" in trying to convince area legislators and commissioners to get behind "the Burick Plan." (Plan).
Smuckler has adopted the Plan as a small part of his economic development plan for Canton. And being the "regionalist" he is, one can fairly say his economic development plan for all of Stark County.
In the video that is located at the end of this blog, yours truly and Smuckler spar over what the scope and the vision of the Plan should be.
To The Report, Burick's plan is way too small and parochial to qualify for city/county support as being a major piece in the area's economic development re-work.
And to be fair to Smuckler, he refers to the Plan as "one small part" of his bigger overall economic development objective of bringing into Canton/Stark County "outside-the-county" dollars.
The reason The Report pushes the matter with Smuckler is that the Plan does have the seeds of greatness in it. However, it seems that Canton/Stark does not have the leadership in place to grasp the enormous potential of taking this green space more or less in the heart of Canton (which, in turn, is the heart of Stark County with Canton being the county seat where the commissioners are based) and meeting two critical needs:
- the phased-in replacement of crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated, horribly out-of-date buildings (which present potential safety problems to users) which populate the fairgrounds presently,
- the creation of an economic development showcase (a la Clark County, Ohio) which could - with innovative, creative and driven leadership - link up with Stark's other touristy assets (e.g. Professional Football Hall of Fame) that makes Canton/Stark County the talk of northeast Ohio, if not, all of Ohio.
Which brings the SCPR to a second point.
Why would Smuckler want to have in his inner political adviser circle a man who is steeped in "the good ole boys" politics of the Stark County Democratic Party?
Before proceeding, let's get the niceties out of the way. Personally, The Report likes Tom Harmon. He is a friendly, urbane guy that seems to be well-liked throughout Stark County who did good housekeeping work for years as Canton's clerk of courts. However, liking or not liking someone is not a valid basis to assess whether or not one is an effective leader.
To The Report. Harmon does not embody the kind of bold, imaginative leadership for Canton/Stark that has the promise to propel the area out of the economic and financial doldrums. So it is somewhat disturbing that Smuckler has Harmon in his retinue of key advisers. A background as a long standing, competent clerk of courts is hardly having credentials to be a driving force for solving what ails Canton.
Is Harmon the best Smuckler can do?
Last week yours truly had a discussion with some leading Stark County public officials as to whom was going to win between Healy and Smuckler in the Democratic primary.
And guess what the discussion boiled down to? Smuckler does not inspire, but anybody other than Mayor Healy.
It's too late for Smuckler to rearrange his leadership team now, but he definitely - if he is ultimately elected mayor of Canton - needs to bring in folks with a more creative, stimulative and visionary mindset than the likes of Tom Harmon.