AKRON — Gun control and the opioid crisis were two of the issues discussed by Summit County Council At-Large candidates during a League of Women Voters program in the city’s downtown library Monday evening.

The event, which was attended by about 60 people in the library’s auditorium, was hosted by the Leagues of Women Voters of the Akron Area, Hudson and Tallmadge. The moderator for the program was Terrie Nielsen of the League of Women Voters of Kent.

Democratic incumbents Clair E. Dickinson and Elizabeth Walters and Republican challengers Cynthia D. Blake and Michael B. Washington were on hand to give opening and closing statements, and to answer questions from audience members.

Republican challenger Nicolas Robert DeVitis and Democratic incumbent John A. Donofrio did not attend the program.

Three At-Large seats are up for election this fall. All six of the candidates will appear on the November ballot. A fourth Republican candidate, Bethany McKenney, submitted her notice of withdrawal to the Board of Elections last month. The board officially approved McKenney’s withdrawal on Tuesday.

Gun control

One of the questions candidates responded to was whether they believed that "common sense gun control can be compatible with the Second Amendment?"

Dickinson said while he felt they could be compatible, he noted, "it’s a little difficult as members of County Council to do anything because the state has purported to close us out of the opportunity to pass local legislation having to do with guns."

He noted Cincinnati and Columbus are working on gun control legislation, and added the county is watching to see what happens with those measures.

"We don’t want to run off and pass something that’s going to not only fail, but require us to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees, so we want to be fiscally responsible in responding as well," said Dickinson.

Walters said she agreed with Dickinson, and added "I do believe that there are hopefully ways that we can collaboratively work amongst city and county governments if the state or federal government refuse to act."

For citizens who want to be involved, Walters encouraged them to contact Moms Demand Action, an organization of mothers who meet once a month and educate voters on state and federal legislation pertaining to the issue.

Noting he is a "Second Amendment advocate," Washington said he has a business that provides courses on gun safety and responsible gun ownership.

"One of the big problems involved in the mass shootings is irresponsible people doing bad things," said Washington. "It isn’t just whether or not they can get ahold of a gun."

He added he thought the Parkland, Fla., shooting "could’ve been prevented" through action by law enforcement or school officials, and said he felt it was a "knee-jerk reaction to want to take guns away."

Blake said she is also a supporter of the Second Amendment.

"I would support looking at legislation about gun shows, about sawed-off shooting weapons," said Blake. "I would look at legislation for us to make laws for gun shows (and) better background checks on mental illness."

Opioid crisis

Candidates also were asked what actions they would take to "defuse the presence of opioids in Summit County?"

Washington said his approach would focus on the tenets of enforcement, education and eradication. Enforcement, he said, could involve arresting and prosecuting drug dealers, and noted education about the problem would have to occur at both the school and community levels.

For people who are addicted to the drugs, Washington said, "They need to be put in a position where they can help themselves with appropriate treatment."

Additionally, people who are facing criminal charges in connection with drug use can be placed "in a pre-indictment situation," where they could avoid being indicted if they complete a rehabilitation program, according to Washington.

Blake said she would work on providing more funding to Project Dawn, an organization which offers educational programs on opioids and provides Narcan, a medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Noting there are parents who are addicted to opioids, Blake said she favors committing resources to help children who are affected by the crisis.

"Whatever it would take for funding and extra resources to help Summit County Children Services, (would) definitely be one of my biggest interests," added Blake.

She noted the opioid crisis "is definitely not something that we’re going to win the war on because it is a free choice."

Dickinson said the county made land available at the former Edwin Shaw property to two nonprofit organizations that are going to provide drug treatment services in Springfield Township. He added the county supports the drug courts in Summit County Common Pleas Court "to try to assist people who have been arrested on drug offenses."

"We’ll continue to look for whatever way we can be supportive at a local level," said Dickinson.

Walters noted county leaders "look for unique opportunities that aren’t necessarily legislation" to provide services. She noted the county last year filed a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

"We determined that we spent $66 million on heroin treatment and the resulting criminal justice expenses over the last few years," said Walters. She added officials are estimating they will set aside another $150 million during the next 10 years. During the last several years, Walters said the county has seen a decline in state funding, and she noted some of that money could’ve been used to fight the opioid crisis.

"We need the state and the federal government to step up with funds to help us treat it better," said Walters.

Some of the candidates for the 27th District Ohio Senate race, the 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th Ohio House races, and the 11th, 13th, 14th and 16th U.S. Congressional District contests attended the event and shared remarks on why they were running for office. They did not answer any audience-submitted questions.

The primary election is May 8 and the general election is Nov. 6.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.