With mayoral win in Aurora, Womer Benjamin to explore recreation center possibility

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In her next term leading city of Aurora, Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin promises a continued focus on infrastructure and parks and recreation improvements, including discussion of a possible recreation center.

Ann Womer Benjamin
Ann Womer Benjamin

After defeating challenge Keith Packard 2,807 to 1,289 votes, according to final, but unofficial results from the Portage County Board of Elections, Womer Benjamin is getting to work on plans for her next term.

"We are just now evaluating a demand study on a recreation facility," she said. "We can start having a discussion surrounding that."

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Packard, who made a recreation or community center central to his campaign, said he's happy the idea of a recreation center has come to the forefront of city plans.

"I've been talking about a rec center since day 1," he said. "The last couple weeks before the election, [Womer Benjamin] mentioned she would be willing to reconsider it. I think it's an amenity the city and schools are sorely missing right now."

Considering he was facing two-term incumbent mayor with a background serving in the Ohio House of Representatives and other state posts, Packard said he's not disappointed in the outcome.

"There were a lot of good things that were brought up, a lot of good things that happened," he said. "I'm hoping some of the things we discussed come to fruition."

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Packard said he would not rule out running again, adding he would build on the lessons he learned in this first run for a mayoral office.

"I think that's very possible right now," he said of a future run for office, either for City Council or mayor. "With the run I did this year, there was a lot to do in a short time. I think next time, I'd make sure I'm better prepared and prepared sooner."

Womer Benjamin said ballot issues supporting a recreation center have failed twice in the past 20 years, but she said the city's demographics continue to shift.

"Ultimately, the community has to buy into it, literally and figuratively," she said. "It would require at the very least a levy to fund construction of such a facility, and there may even be an operations component to that, as well."

She also said she hopes to continue talking to the Industrial Commercial Properties about creating public access to Geauga Lake's waterfront as a recreational amenity for the whole city. She also hopes to continue work on a possible trail along the former Norfolk & Southern rail corridor, now owned by FirstEnergy, which has granted the city an easement for recreational use.

That would be part of a comprehensive trail design for the city, which also incorporate trails connecting the city's existing parks and preserved properties.

In the next few weeks, though, she plans to work with city officials to put together a budget plan for 2022.

New representative Duguay to serve Ward 1

Brad Duguay
Brad Duguay

After more than 40 years in public service, Ward 1 City Councilman Jim Vaca will be stepping down after losing the Ward 1 race to newcomer Brad Duguay, who received 328 votes compared with Vaca's 197 votes, according to final, but unofficial results.

"It's different," said Vaca, 78. "I won't have to go to meetings, I'll get used to it. It's about time to go into retirement."

Duguay acknowledged he's got big shoes to fill.

"Jim's been on for 25 years," he said. "He's done really well for the citizens of Ward 1. He's well-respected and well-known."

Duguay attributed his success to a thorough door-to-door campaign within the ward.

"I was happy and excited and a little surprised, but not too surprised," he said. "I hit every house in Ward 1. I got a good feel for what the city and residents in Ward 1 want."

As his first order of business, Duguay plans to learn as much as he can by talking to department heads and digging into the details of issues council is discussing.

One of his big priorities is protecting the lakes and waterways in Ward 1 by addressing stormwater issues affecting Geauga Lake and Aurora Lake.

"Some of my plans are just really listening to the residents of Ward 1 and seeing if I can address their concerns," he said.

Vaca said he's going enjoy having time to read and tinker with his vehicles which range from a 1924 Model T to an '87 Cadillac that was his father's car.

He said he may try to get a 1967 Chevy pickup back on the road again, something he didn't have time for while serving on council.

The Portage County Board of Elections is set to certify election results on Nov. 23.

Also winning election was incumbent Pete French who won an at-large seat in a race against Richard Duncan. French received 2,575 votes, and Duncan received 973, according to the board of elections.

Also re-elected are Reva Barner in Ward 3 and Kathi Grandillo in Ward 5. Neither faced challengers.

Do you have a business or healthcare story you'd like to share? Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com and @bobgaetjens_rc.

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: With mayoral win, Womer Benjamin to explore recreation center