BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Minutes after Richard Bingham was sworn in as mayor of Whitehouse, he outlined a plan to tackle the village’s two most pressing issues: a dwindling General Fund and a charter that permits one of the latest elections filing deadlines in the state.
“I promised to make sure we’re compliant, so we don’t have the fiasco that happened in this last election,” said Bingham, who was one of four candidates in a special October 3 mayoral primary election that cost the village over $17,000.
During the January 2 council meeting, three new council members – Dave Riggenbach, Carrie Tuohy and Larry Yunker – were sworn in along with returning member Steve Connelly. All agreed with Bingham’s assessment that the Charter Review Commission should move quickly, with advice from solicitor Kevin Heban, to see whether the charter should be changed to meet state and federal guidelines.
Any change to the charter would require citizen approval at the ballot box, and Bingham wants to have time to educate the public on possible changes before the November 2024 election.
The other “elephant in the room” is finances, Bingham said. He proposed a three-pronged approach to tackling the issue. First is to offer economic development grants for current businesses to hire more employees and generate more income. Second is to look outside the area and even globally for businesses that would want to locate in Whitehouse – with input from state and local governments, the chamber and economic development consultant Dallas Paul.
The third strategy would be to have council members go door to door in the spring to talk to residents about why they defeated in November a proposed .5-percent income tax increase to boost the General Fund, which has been depleted due to unfunded mandates, increasing costs from the county and inflation, Bingham said.
“For some reason, people are not supporting increasing revenue,” he said. “Economic development will help us in the long term but will not help us in the short term, and we’re getting down to our last strikes.”
He also plans to hold several community outreach meetings such as “coffee with council” to provide citizens an opportunity to ask questions. That outreach could also include engaging youth and parents from the schools, possibly offering a “mayor for the day” or “council member for the day” program to educate younger citizens on how a village operates.
“We need to do some positive things. There is something going on with negativity in our community, and the only way to change it is to get out there,” he said.
During the meeting, council also:
• Congratulated those who earned promotions. As part of a long-term reorganization, job positions and responsibilities have shifted, giving employees opportunities for promotion. This will not result in any increase in cost to the village but will result in better operations, Bingham said.
The promotions include Mike Hill to superintendent of Public Service; Brad Baker to captain and Charles Kessinger to lieutenant in the police department; and in the fire department, platoon chiefs Jeff Hibbard, Joe Miller and Kevin McNutt and lieutenants Dustin Richardson and Justin Gault. A promotions ceremony is planned for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 16.
• Agreed to review during a January 9 Committee of the Whole meeting all of the applicants for the council seat vacated by Bingham when he was elected as mayor. Council will vote on a new member during the Tuesday, January 16 meeting. (See related article.)
• Selected Louann Artiaga as president of council.
• Heard that Ardagh is set to close by Wednesday, January 31. Bingham is working with the Anthony Wayne Regional Chamber of Commerce and other entities to host a job fair for displaced citizens.
• Approved Bingham’s committee appointments, including Rob Casaletta and Larry Yunker, Charter Review Commission; Steve Connelly, Tree Commis-sion; Amy Schultz, Records Commission; Ed Kaplan, Fire Dependency Board; Dave Riggenbach, Carrie Tuohy and Connelly, Personnel Committee; and Riggenbach and Bingham to the Planning Commission.
Tuohy was also named to represent the village on boards that govern the joint economic development districts with Monclova Township and Waterville Township and the joint economic development zone with Spencer Township.
• Heard Police Chief Allan Baer say that a suspect has been charged in a rash of Christmas Eve car break-ins around the area of Temperance, Texas and West streets. The stolen property was recovered, and a search warrant was issued for Tyler Sexton.