The candidates for Summit County executive this fall want voters to check out their leadership records.
Incumbent Russ Pry, a Democrat, points to his tenure heading the county for the past five years.
“We’ve got a good record of success … and want to continue to do some of the work we started,” he said.
His opponent, Frank Larson, the Republican mayor of Munroe Falls, points to his tenure heading the city government for the past nine years.
“I have a good history of taking over a government that is into a deficit and cutting the waste and the cost, and using the taxpayers’ money the way they want it to be used and not playing the political games,” he said.
Pry, 54, who is single and lives in Akron, was appointed to the job in mid-2007 by the Democratic Party to complete the term of former Executive James McCarthy. At the time, he was a private practice attorney and had headed the county Democratic Party for a decade.
Pry then won election in 2008, defeating Republican Jim Laria.
Larson, 67, who is married, was first elected in 2003, defeating incumbent Mayor Brad Sisak. At the time, he was a school bus driver who had never held elected office.
But Larson was familiar with being in the public eye. He led a successful effort to defeat a plan to do away with the income tax credit in Munroe Falls.
And in the 1970s, he headed the Summit County Council for Retarded Children, a citizen advocacy group that often clashed with the county Developmental Disabilities agency.
The executive, who is paid an annual salary of $119,512, leads the fourth-largest county in Ohio. He oversees an annual budget of $488 million — although nearly half of that is controlled by such independent social agencies as Children Services and Developmental Disabilities.
The Larson record
Larson took over a city with financial troubles in 2004. Since then, he said he has restored services that were cut and been able to save money.
Munroe Falls expects to have a $1.7 million fund balance at the end of the year.
The city, with just more than 5,000 residents, created a police academy and mayor’s court in 2009 that helped bring in revenue. It also established a community improvement corporation.
Earlier this year, the city opened the Lehner Community Center.
Larson said he has been proactive in seeking community collaborations. He cited the city’s use of a dispatching center in Cuyahoga Falls and participation in the Metro SWAT team.
The city also is talking with area mayors about ways to share little-used but expensive equipment, he said.
The Pry record
Pry’s campaign speech sounds a lot like it did four years ago.
He points to the construction of a $2.9 million animal shelter in Akron and a $2.2 million administration building for the Veterans Service Commission in Akron. Both projects had languished before he took office.
There are also public-private partnerships that led to construction of a $100 million technical center for Bridgestone Americas and the ongoing project to build a new worldwide headquarters for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Pry also cited improved relations between the executive and the 11-member County Council.
“One of the biggest things that we’ve done is that we’ve been able to bring people together to solve problems,” he said.
The next county executive will be hamstrung, to a degree, because of falling revenue.
In 2008, revenue was $111 million. Next year, revenue is projected at $99 million.
The county has laid off workers and cut costs but still has engaged in deficit spending the past several years, eating through $28 million of reserves. The county also has $25 million set aside in a rainy day fund but doesn’t want to dip into that.
“You are still going to have the ongoing issues of dealing with tight budgets,” Pry said. But all communities are facing the same difficulty, and there are opportunities to collaborate, he said.
Pry cited dispatching as one such area for collaboration to save money.
“People can’t just sit back and be comfortable now,” he said. “We have to be creative.”
One of the biggest challenges for the next county executive, Pry said, is finding a new home for the Department of Job and Family Services, which must move out of its main office in downtown Akron to make room for the Austen BioInnovation Institute.
Larson said it’s important that the county start balancing its budget. He said he has a record of saving money, while Pry has blown through the county savings.
He added he’s not in favor of dipping into the rainy day fund.
“Hard cuts need to be made before you start doing that,” Larson said, adding that he would have to analyze where those cuts could be made.
Larson said that he and Pry are exact opposites.
“He’s a career politician, head of the Democratic Party, and he sort of became exec as a right of passage,” Larson said. “I have a background of saving money, where he has spent money. And I don’t run a political machine.”
For more details about Pry, go to www.russpry.com. Larson does not have a campaign website.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.