By Jeff Gallatin
One in the quartet of candidates seeking the mayor’s office says he did not attend a candidates luncheon at the Bradley Bay Health Care Center because he did not believe it would be a fair or impartial forum – a claim the facility’s owner said is untrue.
Dave Volle, a former full-time police officer and building inspector and current auxiliary police officer for the city, said the luncheon forum would not have been fair because Bradley Bay’s owner, John O’Neill, favors incumbent Mayor Debbie Sutherland, who is one of the other three candidates, along with substitute teacher Claire Banasiak and former city firefighter and city activist Marty Mace. Neither Banasiak or Mace attended the forum either.
When contacted, Volle said he’s happy to discuss issues, but wants it in a fair format.
“While I strongly believe open discussion, followed by a Q & A session, is a valuable tool to help the voters learn about a candidate, and make an informed choice, I believe it needs to be done in a fair and impartial manner such as that presented by the League of Women Voters this past Tuesday, Aug. 13. If Bradley Bay Health Center and (its) owner truly believed in an impartial forum, they could have arranged to bring those interested residents to the League-sponsored event,” Volle said.
He said the facility had numerous Sutherland signs at the facility and that O’Neill has donated funds to Sutherland’s campaign.
“Yes, the apparent lack of impartiality was a concern,” he said. “This is why, on Aug. 12, I notified officials at Bradley Bay Health Center that I was respectfully declining the invitation to attend the Bradley Bay forum on Aug. 22. For those registered voters at Bradley Bay Health Center who may be undecided, please feel free to contact me at 440-847-9242, and I would be more than happy to sit and discuss my views one on one. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
O’Neill and Sutherland both strongly disagreed with Volle’s contentions.
“We’ve had these forums in several past elections and never had a problem,” O’Neill said. “It’s not a hardball format; the candidates come and have lunch and get to make statements about their beliefs, and interested residents and family members can come as well and talk with the candidates. Afterwards, the candidates are welcome to go and talk to residents, which Mayor Sutherland did do.”
O’Neill said standard practice is for the center to take down any political signs around the center two days before the forum.
“We’ve always done that before for all the candidates,” he said. “If he had concerns before that, he didn’t address them to me.”
Volle noted he did not talk to O’Neill directly, saying he had only talked to the person at the facility setting up the forum on Aug. 12.
Sutherland said she’s comfortable with the format at the luncheon.
“I’ve attended several of them in past years and always find them to be fair for all the candidates,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to present yourself to people and talk with a group of constituents, the seniors, who are traditionally very active and interested in the voting process. I enjoy getting to talk with them and their families.”
She also said even if Volle had concerns about the format or audience, he could have attended.
“Being mayor is not an easy job,” she said. “Sometimes you have to go into situations you believe won’t be easy and talk to people anyway. It’s part of the job.”
After West Life noted Sutherland’s belief to Volle, he reiterated his contention that a group meeting like the League forum was fairer.
“She has an interesting philosophy,” he said. “I’m more than willing to answer questions.”
Both O’Neill and Sutherland also disagreed with Volle’s contention that interested Bradley Bay residents could have been transported from the health care facility to the League forum.
“I don’t think he understands the logistics or needs of some seniors,” O’Neill said. “Some of them can’t be transported from their quarters to that kind of building, and it’s very difficult for others.”
Volle said he understands the needs of seniors and others with impediments.
“I have a 92-year-old mother and a handicapped daughter who we take care of,” he said. “I understand those type of needs.”
Banasiak said she didn’t think attending would be the best for her.
“I have to agree with Dave Volle, John O’Neill is a known Mayor Sutherland supporter,” she said. It was not presented as a luncheon, informal get-together with residents,” she said. “They presented it as similar to the League of Women Voters forum with John O’Neill as moderator; he would be handling the questions from residents to the candidates.”
Banasiak said she didn’t think attending would do any good, saying she also had concerns about the signs.
“I felt it was a lose-lose situation,” she said. “I don’t know why he has signs up, since it’s a business.”
Mace could not be reached for comment.