Wilder Mayoral race sees incumbent face council member in November

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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Wilder Mayor Robert Arnold, elected in 2018, is seeking his second term in office. His challenger, Valerie Jones, who has sat on the Wilder City Council for eight years, is looking to be elected to a new role this election cycle.

Arnold has been a Wilder resident for almost 30 years, the city where he chose to raise his family.

Four years ago, Arnold said he decided to run for mayor and was elected on the platform of “developing and implementing a comprehensive strategic plan” and moving the city forward with that plan. 

“I am running again to continue the progress we have made so far in order to keep real estate values high and real property taxes low, as has been the tradition here in Wilder,” Arnold said. 

Part of that progress, Arnold noted, was the new City Center Park. He said that despite the pandemic, the city had created new economic development opportunities and amenities for the town. 

Jones said she was inspired by her mother, who served on the Wilder City Council for 12 years, to give back to the community by running for a government seat. 

Further, she said she chose to run for mayor, instead of the council, this cycle after growing concerned over “proposed spending, decision making and the aspects of the city’s direction.” 

Jones told LINK nky that several residents, employees, and council members encouraged her to run for mayor. 

“I love this city, and I wanted to protect its small-town charm,” Jones said. “I want to grow smart and responsibly and use the desire to maintain this small-town appeal to guide our decisions and direction with a focused eye on development.” 

Jones said her bachelor’s degree in business management and 38 years of experience in corporate America managing hundreds of employees across multiple states makes her the best-qualified candidate.

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Her experience working in a large corporate job gave her expertise in negotiating, contract management, human resources management, and working in a team to draw on the strengths of others, she said.

Jones said she would “listen, encourage visionary thinking, and engage citizens through town hall meetings or questionnaires” to influence where tax dollars are spent. 

“The climate has changed since the pandemic, and we need to adjust accordingly,” Jones said. “I think transparency is paramount and must be consistently demonstrated. I want economic viability that will sustain the health of our city far into the future without compromising the services our residents expect and deserve.” 

Jones’s approach to development, she said, would include a cost-benefit analysis for capital-intensive projects and would involve councils’ input. 

Arnold said he was the better candidate for mayor because of his 35 years of professional experience as a small business owner, attorney, and university professor. He said his four years on the Wilder City Council before being elected mayor and guiding the city through a global pandemic made him more qualified.

“With that experience, I bring a skill set and vision that has moved the city forward in the last four years and have the momentum, as well as the commitment of the city employees, to continue that progress,” Arnold said. 

These are what Arnold said he considers to be his most significant accomplishments since being elected to office:

  • The completion and implementation of the city’s first comprehensive strategic plan in about 20 years.
  • Fiscal responsibility. Arnold said they had run a budget surplus for the last two years. With that, they have created a capital account for future planning and long-term investment in the city.
  • The city partnered with SD1 for environmental cleanup of sewer overflow, which opened seven acres of city-owned property for development along the Licking River north of Fredericks Landing.
  • Starting the catalyst for a “generational transformation” of the city center by creating City Center Park and bringing a sit-down restaurant to Wilder as the “northern gateway to the city Center.”
  • The city providing “community-centered” activities like the seniors’ picnic, movie night, concert in the park, community gardens area, and pickleball courts.
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Should Arnold be reelected, he said his top priorities would be the safety and care of Wilder residents.

“As evidence of that, over the past four years, I have stabilized and fully funded our police force, constructed a state-of-the-art fire station, and added a new ambulance for our first responders,” Arnold said. 

He said his other priority would be continuing to implement the city’s comprehensive plan “with a focus on strategic economic development within the city with the goal of keeping real estate property taxes low.” 

Jones said one of her most significant accomplishments from her tenure as a council member is the new Wilder Fire Station. She said the former mayor (Stanley Turner) appointed her fire department liaison, and the chief at the time told her they needed a new fire station. 

“From that day forward, I led the entire effort of researching, meeting with other fire chiefs, documenting their suggestions, learning about the deficiencies, building a solid business case, and gaining the support of my fellow councilmembers, unanimously, in a council meeting,” Jones said.

She said they consolidated two outdated facilities into a state-of-the-art station adjacent to the city building.

Jones also noted the pandemic premium pay program she developed and was approved by the council. 

“The city was at risk for losing highly trained essential workers; morale was low,” Jones said. “One council member reminded the group that the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was intended for first responders. I spent over two weeks researching this and countless hours working with our clerk, who worked hard to provide the data I needed to create a qualifying premium pay plan for the well-deserving staff, although the essential workers were the priority.”

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Should Jones be elected Mayor, she said her top priorities include working with staff to understand projects on the table and areas in staff departments that need attention along with their priorities. She said she would work with the city administrator to prioritize those things and build a roadmap.

Her other plans include collectively re-evaluating the capital budget and emphasizing the 25-plus-year-old fire engine, which she said needs to be replaced. Jones also said she wants to create a road repair schedule and re-examine the economic development initiatives to “ensure they align with citizens’ feedback.”

“I oppose the mayor’s proposed use of 82.5% of the remaining ARPA funds for an expensive capital project,” Jones said. “When citizens, during the Oct. 3 meeting, were asked to raise their hand in favor of this project, I didn’t see one citizen raise their hand in support. I also conducted a survey in January, and the project ranked very low on the resident’s wish list.”

Jones said she created a sample annual report for transparency and would like to publish it at the start of the fiscal year to communicate the residents’ goals, city accomplishments, police and fire metrics, expenditures, and revenue sources.

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