State Rep. Zack Milkovich and his ally Ernie Tarle don’t live in Norton and have no personal stake in the continuing fight about who should pay for the city’s new sewers.
Yet, the two men, no strangers to acrimony in Akron, circulated petitions for the first ballot issue that was ultimately rejected by voters in the Aug. 6 election.
It was a close vote and would have changed the financial structure of the city. The measure would have ended property tax assessments for water and sewer lines, ceased tap-in fees and capped water and sewer bills for residents to $35 a month, with a maximum increase of 2 percent a year.
Tarle and Milkovich have a history in Akron, challenging the mayor, opposing charter amendments, threatening charter amendments, and Tarle has dabbled in charter schools, too.
Why did they move their sportive politics from Akron to the suburbs? It depends on whom you ask.
Milkovich, who lives in Barberton and is the Democratic candidate for Barberton clerk of courts, turned down repeated interview requests by the Beacon Journal over the past month.
Ernie Tarle, a former Akron councilman who is helping with Milkovich’s campaign, said he is “proud of the work we did in Norton.”
“The people of Norton should have the right to choose,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I am always for having the right to choose.”
Tarle said he isn’t for or against the sewer project, but thinks people should “have the last say.”
Others, though, think Milkovich may have gotten involved to help him in his Sept. 10 primary for clerk of courts against former Summit County Councilman Jon Poda, which Milkovich won handily. The Barberton court district covers Barberton, Norton, Green, New Franklin, the village of Clinton, and Copley and Coventry townships.
Diana Stevenson, the current Barberton clerk and a Republican, said she’s noticed more Milkovich signs up in Norton’s Nash Heights neighborhood — the center of the sewer dispute — than her signs.
“There are a lot of Milkovich signs,” she said, adding that she also has support in Norton, including being endorsed by the Norton police.
Stevenson said she wouldn’t get involved in a dispute like this.
“I don’t think in my position we should insert ourselves into that political arena,” she said.
Dennis Pierson, who was one of three committee members listed on the petitions circulated by Milkovich and Tarle and Tarle’s wife, Amy, said Milkovich and his allies attended a January meeting on the sewer issue and got involved after that.
“No one else seemed to pay any attention,” said Pierson, a Nash Heights resident and Norton council candidate. “It was welcome for someone to listen to the people’s point of view.”
William Paluch, another Nash Heights resident, led the charge for another ballot issue, somewhat different from the first one but still centered on who should pay for the sewers, that will be decided in a Dec. 10 special election. Milkovich and the Tarles weren’t involved in the second petition drive.
Pierson thinks Milkovich’s involvement with the first ballot issue helped him build a base of support in Norton. Though Pierson is a Republican, he said he will be voting for Milkovich.
“I think people recognize people who truly have an interest in their future and are not a bunch of blow-hard politicians,” Pierson said. “He will do quite well in Norton.”