Trio vying for at-large seat on Hudson City Council
Winner on Nov. 3 will serve one-year unexpired term; Position has been vacant since March
HUDSON — Three residents are competing for an at-large City Council seat in the Nov. 3 election.
Nicole Kowalski, Sherif Mansour and Sarah Norman are running for an unexpired term that ends Dec. 7, 2021. A vacancy occurred on council when member Dr. J. Daniel Williams resigned from his At-Large post in March. Council considered 18 applicants for the vacancy but were unable to reach a consensus on a replacement. Per the charter, a special election is occurring to fill the seat.
Whoever wins will serve for a year and, if they wish to continue serving, must run for a four-year term in the November 2021 election.
Kowalski, Mansour and Norman were among the 18 hopefuls who applied for the vacancy earlier this year.
Kowalski, 29, is the owner and marketing consultant of Kowalski Communications Consulting LLC, and is also an adjunct professor in the Creative Arts Division at Cuyahoga Community College. Kowalski graduated from Kent State University with a bachelor's degree in visual communication design and a minor in marketing. She's lived in Hudson for six years and serves on the Environmental Awareness Committee.
Mansour, 37, is a health care consultant for REN Physician Agents. His family moved to Hudson in 1994. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from Taylor University and a master's degree in secondary education from KSU. He previously worked for ProEd Communications and was also an eighth grade history teacher. After living in Stow for a few years, Mansour returned to Hudson in 2011 and served on the Charter Review Commission this year.
Norman, 54, is a document support staff member at the Cuyahoga Land Bank. Norman earned a bachelor's degree in art/history from Goucher College in Baltimore and a law degree from Case Western Reserve University. She also has a certificate in historic preservation from the University of Florida. Norman was admitted to the bar in both Ohio and Indiana, and practiced for several years, but said her law license is now purposely inactive. She has lived in Hudson for 20 years and is finishing up a four-year term on the Hudson Cemetery Board.
Why they're running
Mansour said he decided to run after council members could not reach an agreement on who to appoint to replace Williams.
"I couldn't believe that our town leaders are so divided that they could not look at  people that applied … and find one that was an acceptable solution or compromise," said Mansour.
When the merger happened between the village and the township in 1994, Mansour said there was an understanding the township would assume some of the village's debt, and the township would receive water and sewer services. Now, Mansour said, there are many residents who "still have septic tanks and they were promised [sewer services]. They still have well water and they were promised city water."
Mansour said these residents were told the city did not have money to provide these services, but when they saw the city spend money on Phase II and Velocity Broadband, "those complaints [about services] began coming back. I think that has been the catalyst for the division we're seeing."
He noted he believes he can bridge the divide because he has "friends on both sides of the factional divide on council," and understands the history.
Norman said the city has not achieved "infrastructure equity" in providing water, sewer and other services to all residents.
"I've lived here long enough as a taxpayer and a landowner that I've seen sort of the unfolding," said Norman."…In my mind, we have not achieved many of the goals that were intended with the merger."
She noted the merger was intended as an "equalizing move for the entire town. We haven't gotten there yet. People are losing sight of that. They see glittery projects like …city hall… [and] Phase II."
Instead, she stated, "I'm going to get us focused on taking care of the people who live here right now and make sure that we have a little more equity in the experience of living in Hudson."
She said she offers an understanding of the city's recent history which will guide her approach to bringing services to more residents.
Kowalski said she became interested in city issues a couple years ago and started attending city council and planning commission meetings "just to keep informed about things that were happening around us."
She noted she's been interested in issues such as the Owen Brown Street railroad overpass, Phase II and Velocity Broadband, and spoken with city officials about those matters.
"I've always enjoyed volunteering," said Kowalski, noting her parents volunteered a lot and "instilled" in her the importance of giving back to the community.
"It just felt like a natural progression [to run for council]," said Kowalski, who added she also sought the Ward 2 vacancy after Casey Weinstein was elected to the Ohio State House. "I've always been interested in local politics and what's going on in the city."
In addition to Downtown Phase II, other issues the candidates are concerned with are: Velocity Broadband (the city's high-speed internet service), bike and hike trails, financial spending, government transparency and the divide on council.
Norman said she was concerned about how costs rose on the city's acquisition and renovation of a building for a new city hall.
For the amount the city spent, Norman said, "you should either have an astounding, state-of-the art…city hall or else you should have a more modest city hall and perhaps an open swimming pool or a recreation center … [There was a] hard reset because of COVID, we didn't expect it, but are we getting a return on our investment? No, because our employees are not all there all the time."
Norman said she was concerned about a series of public records posted by a citizens group on a website called The Hudson Files. Many of the records posted are emails among some city administrators, council members and citizens who are discussing issues such as Phase II and council campaigns.
"There was a lot of collusion … to affect particular outcomes that weren't to the benefit of everybody," said Norman about the records that have been shared. "That's really troubling to me."
Norman said, "parameters are set in my DNA" to refrain from doing political campaign work while she's at her job.
"We have had people on council and people in the city administration who are … really behind the curve when it comes to really basic elements of citizen rights and responsibilities of the government towards those citizens," said Norman. "I bring a much better hand to the table."
Norman noted she hears residents share concerns about the divide on council. She said residents who discuss this division "either they realize there are people striving to get good things accomplished … and they appreciate that … then there's another group … they don't completely understand what all the issues are, so they don't really know what all the fuss is about."
Kowalski said she thought council should focus on trail connectivity and road projects "as much as possible," while noting it was important to be "mindful of the way we're spending."
She said she thinks the city's done a "pretty good job" of evaluating road conditions and prioritizing the projects.
"The only place I can see improvement on is the city and our council educating residents on why they're prioritizing one project over another and then setting those realistic expectations for the completion of projects," said Kowalski.
Kowalski said she felt Velocity Broadband was "an important asset to the community" from an economic development perspective.
"I think it would be a positive … if neighborhoods already along the lines of the [fiber] infrastructure were to be able to connect [to Velocity service]," said Kowalski.
Kowalski noted the fiber lines are set up along many of the main roads, and noted there are both small businesses and home-based businesses that would benefit from the service.
"It would be nice … if they could ... allow some of those smaller businesses access to that infrastructure," said Kowalski."… I like the idea of them expanding the business to some of the homes or small businesses in the area, as long as it would be profitable."
Kowalski said she is also concerned about the "divisive nature" of council and wanted members to get "back to the basics of serving the people," and remember why they ran for office.
"I would just encourage everyone on council to remember that this name-calling and finger-pointing isn't productive and I think the people in Hudson are tired of it," said Kowalski.
Mansour said since he views internet use in 2020 as a utility rather than a luxury, "I am OK if [Velocity] isn't fully standing on its own feet because it seems to be coming so close to it."
"If we can get it to a point where [Velocity] has a few more customers, that we can begin making payments on the principle … I think that would be spectacular," said Mansour.
He added he would like to see the city "slowly, responsibly, surgically increasing its area of service" because "it seems that individuals really want to have broadband."
As an example, Mansour said if a homeowner's association for a neighborhood along an existing fiber line says "60 percent of our neighbors want to get this service … let's expand into that neighborhood."
He added the problems with Velocity "seem more insurmountable and that's what tends to get talked about." Mansour said there are areas of the city that are years away from having the service or may not ever have access to it.
Mansour said he would like to see trail connectivity viewed from a different perspective.
"The problem with a sidewalk that starts downtown and then goes in any direction, with every foot of sidewalk that is laid, it becomes less important to more people," said Mansour. "If you had started that same sidewalk on the edges of town and built it in, with every foot of sidewalk that is laid, it becomes more important to more people."
He said he would like to have a route installed to allow his family to walk or bike safely to an activity such as the Farmer's Market.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.