Morgenstern challenging Mears in Republican primary race for county commissioner

There is only one contested countywide race in the May 3 primary election.

Republican Cliff Mears is being challenged by David Morgenstern in the race for Richland County commissioner.

Cliff Mears
Cliff Mears

Mears, 68, was appointed county commissioner by the Republican Central Committee last year. He replaced Marilyn John, who was elected as a state representative.

Morgenstern, 59, has run for commissioner a number of times in the last decade.

A Toledo native, Mears came to town in 1981.

"I was recruited out of MBA school to Westinghouse," he said. "I was the last one."

Mears was in industrial relations at Westinghouse, but he spent the majority of his career — 26 years — at RR Donnelley, a printing manufacturing company in Willard, where he dealt with national organizations such as National Geographic.

Morgenstern has had a variety of business experience over the years. He and his brothers started a chiropractic medical facility in the Columbus area years ago.

"We were averaging 800 customers a week," Morgenstern said.

He also started an automobile business in Mansfield. For the last 20 years, Morgenstern has operated a car service business with 500 customers.

Mears started political career on Mansfield City Council

Mears became involved in local politics at the urging of former Mansfield Mayor Ed Meehan, who approached him about running for city council.

In 2006, he ran against Ellen Haring and lost. Mears said he did not plan to run again.

In 2012, however, City Councilman Doug Versaw resigned, and the central committee approached Mears about the position.

"I was appointed," he said. "I didn't have to campaign."

Mears filled Versaw's unexpired term, then won elections in 2013 and 2017. He served as president of council for one year before resigning to become a county commissioner.

David Morgenstern
David Morgenstern

While Morgenstern has not held political office, he started attending commissioners' meetings in 2007 and became a fixture for about 10 years.

"I learned a lot, observing what they were doing," he said. "I was the only citizen that would come to those meetings, which I thought was really sad."

Morgenstern said he was influenced to run when he was a sophomore at Lexington High School in 1979. Longtime Common Pleas Judge James Henson visited his history class.

"He talked about civic responsibility," Morgenstern said. "That compelled me 30 years later to get involved in Richland County politics."

Mears said he loves Mansfield. He and Cheryl, his wife of 41 years, raised two sons here.

"Richland County has been great to me," Mears said.

He also said Mansfield needs a representative on the board of commissioners, noting Commissioners Tony Vero and Darrell Banks live in Lexington and Bellville, respectively, in the southern portion of the county.

"I think we need somebody who's a resident of Mansfield or someone up north," Mears said, adding Vero and Banks have been "exceptional mentors."

Morgenstern pledges dedication to Richland County

Morgenstern said he is "so dedicated" to Richland County.

"My health is 100%, so I feel it's my civic duty to run for office, especially with the incompetence of the county commissioners' office," he said.

Morgenstern is sharply critical of the board hiring a county administrator with an annual salary of $90,000.

"I am not a politician," he said. "I don't want to use this as a stepping stone as others have or others will. This is the only job I want."

Morgenstern has spent nearly $15,000 of his own money on this campaign.

"If I don't get it, I tried," he said.

Despite Morgenstern's claims, Mears said the commissioners have been "stewards of the taxpayer dollars." He points to the county having its best credit rating ever, according to Moody's Investors Service.

"I think we have a very disciplined approach. That mindset is what contributed to that credit rating. If anything keeps me up at night, it's spending someone else's money."

Mears points to an updated 911 dispatch center and a cell tower for Lucas. Commissioners didn't have to borrow money for either project.

Both candidates support law enforcement. Morgenstern has said one of his top priorities is to hire more sheriff's deputies, while Mears said he has a "soft spot" for law enforcement since his son is a district attorney in Utah.


Twitter: @MNJCaudill

This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Richland County commissioners' race features pair of Republicans