Sturgill says more city government involvement needed

January 22, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Newly elected President of Portsmouth City Council Steve Sturgill says there are several things city government needs to get involved in.

“Obviously over the course of the next eight months, we’re going to be changing governance and how it’s going to happen in Portsmouth,” Sturgill said. “We’re going to have a city manager. The city manager is going to have to be the chief executive officer of the community, and this Council becomes, for all intents and purposes, the city’s board of directors.”

As a result of the change to the City Council/City Manager form of government set to begin in 2014, Sturgill said there are things the city must do differently.

“We have sat on our hands way too long in this community, and it’s time for someone to step forward to lead,” Sturgill said. “I look forward to that and I know that there are challenges ahead, but I think that this Council is ready for someone to make that step. I look forward to it.”

Sturgill addressed the issue of multiple jurisdictions working together throughout the county.

“To be very honest with you, one of the things on my agenda, over the course of the next year, is to try to bring back a government legislation committee, we can work with and develop a network with the Scioto County Commissioners, the village of New Boston,” Sturgill said. “It has been years since we all have been able to sit down and talk with each other about what our issues are, and how we can together address these issues.”

Sturgill said the Southern Ohio Port Authority is the vehicle by which the county can continue to be involved in economic development.

“The county on its own; the city on its own; the village of New Boston on its own do not have the resources to hire people to do that,” Sturgill said. “The Port Authority is the vehicle to do that. Over the course of the last 10 to 12 years, as far as I know, the city has had no representation actively on that SOPA board.”

Sturgill said there were people assigned to SOPA probably 15 years ago, who were actively involved at the time, and they continue to be the city’s representative on that board, even though they are no longer active in Portsmouth city government.

“So I certainly believe that is one of the things we need to be involved in,” Sturgill said. “We catch a lot of grief about what we are doing about economic development in the city of Portsmouth. We haven’t done anything, and the problem is, we haven’t had any government officials actively participating in any of these groups. I want to be a representative, not only to work with the county and New Boston, but I want to go to the Chamber (of Commerce) meetings.”

Sturgill said the city needs to quit worrying about only economic development and instead to begin to ask what the city can do to help businesses that are already here.

“That should be one of our tasks from the city’s perspective, being involved in SOPA in whatever form that may be,” Sturgill said. “But on the other hand we need to have someone working with our local existing businesses, asking, ‘what can we do to help you?’ We just haven’t done that. We have been so concerned with just trying to make government work that we have failed to realize that there are a lot of things that we have just forgotten about.”

Sturgill said the city has also forgotten about Shawnee State University and what it can bring to Portsmouth.

“I’m interested in the growth of Shawnee State University,” Sturgill said. “I’m going to do everything that I possibly can to work with them and to understand what they need to do to make Shawnee State a more integral part of the economic development in our community. There’s going to be a conversation about closing Third Street.”

Sturgill said SSU has already been before the city’s traffic committee and that he looks forward to learning from the university why that is a good idea for economic development in downtown Portsmouth.

“We have forgotten about all of the opportunities that might be here in dealing with opportunities for barge travel and river travel; what can we do along the campground and the entire floodwall area,” Sturgill said. “We’ve forgotten about that. We need to be actively involved in developing a network of government entities to work together.”

Sturgill said out of the necessity of lowering the cost of operations, it could be time to work even closer together.

“I think it is going to happen that we are going to have to combine more and more of the services of the city and the county together to one of these days maybe to the point where we have a countywide government,” Sturgill said. “Folks have been afraid of that. We tried it 20 years ago, and for whatever reasons, someone probably got their feelings hurt and the conversation died.”

Sturgill said it comes down to one thing.

“In small communities like ours the only way you get the best bang for your buck is to network,” Sturgill said. “And that is going to have to be one of the things that we are going to have to consider.”

Sturgill said more committees are needed because more involvement is required by City Council on a daily basis.

“I have made the comment several times about surprises,” Sturgill said. “It’s amazing to me that I really don’t know what’s going on when I get to City Council meetings. I get my agenda on Friday night, and by that time I may have read email, but I have no idea what is going on in somebody else’s mind. I would like to see us get to the point where we have two or three standing committees on Council. One, being the government committee; another being the legislative committee, and the other being the financial committee.”

Sturgill said City Council members need to know more about the finances of the city.

“We don’t at this point,” Sturgill said. “I have made the comment in Council meetings before - I’m not sure what questions to ask anymore because it takes too long to get an answer. The Auditor is in charge of the city’s finances. I hope to be able to work with him in greater detail.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com