Republican incumbent David E. Faulkner will seek to keep his seat on the Champaign County Commission when he squares off against Independent candidate Barnaby S. Ofori in the general election on Nov. 8.
No stranger to the election process, Faulkner, whose first term in office expires Jan. 1, 2017, earned the Republican nomination for county commissioner earlier this year by defeating Urbana City Council member Doug Hoffman in the primary election.
Faulkner said he applauds Hoffman and Ofori for running for office because having competition in both the primary and general elections not only provides county residents with more options when it comes to selecting their next commissioner, but also makes the candidates work for office instead of simply being handed the role.
“These men are at least stepping up and wanting to make a difference so that (incumbents) just don’t go skating back into office,” he said.
Getting to know the candidates
Faulkner, a St. Paris resident and Graham High School graduate, is on over a dozen local boards and committees. When he isn’t wearing the commissioner hat, Faulkner works as a farm steward, and his free time is spent with his wife, Traci, three children and seven grandchildren.
When his re-election bid began earlier this year, Faulkner said, he decided another term in office would give him the chance to follow up on what he’s learned over the past four years.
“You think you know everything going in, but you realize some of that stuff takes one, two or three years to even make a cycle to where you get the gist of it,” he said. “I’ve been through that now to know what’s expected and what’s coming for some of it.”
Faulkner said, if re-elected, the decision process should be a lot easier given all he’s learned since taking office.
“I spent the first few years questioning everything, because I thought I had the answer for everything. I realized how the system works and that I don’t need to question everything I’ve questioned in the past.”
“People know how to do their jobs in the county, and I thought when I came in here I was going to teach everybody how to redo their jobs or their way of thinking. Everybody here in Champaign County does a really good job from all the elected officials clear on down the line,” he added.
An Urbana resident for the past 15 years, Ofori and his wife, Joyce, have four children.
An ordained minister, he studied agricultural engineering before beginning a 12-year stint in the finance industry, working in New York City for the likes of JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bankers Trust.
A lifelong career on Wall Street, however, was not in God’s plans, Ofori said. After settling in Urbana, he helped co-found Stepping Stones Outreach Ministries, and he currently serves as pastor of Valley of Praise, a church he founded that meets in the auditorium at the old county library at 160 W. Walnut St. in Urbana.
“Some people say I’m a pastor to the county, because I’m all over the place,” Ofori said.
While he has no political background, Ofori said he has some relative experience for the position of county commissioner, having served on the Catholic Social Services Board of Trustees and having worked for the Champaign County Auditor’s Office in the Weights and Measures Department.
“Working in the auditor’s office helped me in a way for this position as I got exposure to the entire county,” he said.
Ofori said the following quote helped inspire his nonpartisan campaign for county commissioner: “Things go wrong when good people sit back and do nothing.”
“Society has to stop always looking for answers from Republicans or from Democrats and take responsibility for our own future,” he added. “I believe there is great potential in the county if we get inspired, get informed, and get involved.”
Faulkner talks funding, drug abuse concerns
When asked for his opinion on the two biggest issues currently facing the county heading into 2017, Faulkner said the commissioners need to take a closer look at the county’s revenue sources while also exploring ways to fight the heroin epidemic.
In terms of funding, Faulkner said, the county’s total budget year after year is often in limbo depending on “the political game played on the state level.”
“All of our revenue is based on someone making a decision on the state level, and you never know what position they are running for or what their agenda is,” he said. “They are good at cutting revenue at the state level, but not at replacing it someplace else. When it comes down to it, you are on your own to figure it out.”
Faulkner added the state at times provides local governments with the tools to try to solve funding gaps like the permissive tax on vehicle registrations, but most of them are “done to make the county out to be the bad guys when it comes to additional taxes.”
As for addressing the funding issue, Faulkner said, a lot will depend on how Washington, D.C. shapes up following the presidential election.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with this election coming up,” he said. “Once you take and change a president and you start changing that whole process and where things start funnelling down from, it can get worse. Hopefully, it will get better.”
Faulkner said the easiest fix would be to let the county government make more decisions when it comes to collecting and spending taxpayer dollars, instead of dispersing funds to local entities through grant programs.
“To me, if there is that much grant money available that they just throw around like it’s going out of style, they are collecting way too much money,” he said. “Let us keep (tax dollars) where it belongs, and let us do what we need to do with it. Everybody would be a lot better off.
“Hopefully, the elected officials in Champaign County know what is best for the county, so let us make our own decisions down here,” Faulkner added.
As for the ongoing heroin epidemic facing communities throughout the country, Faulkner said while the hype centered around it may be dwindling, it doesn’t mean the battle is nearing an end.
“We’ve still got a problem here, and we are figuring out ways to deal with it,” he said. “Our judges and prosecutors here are on top of it trying to figure out the best avenues to take to handle it.”
The problem with the heroin epidemic is two-fold, Faulkner added. Not only is the drug affecting the lives of users and their families, but heroin is costing taxpayers as well.
“I don’t mind helping the people of Champaign County, but we deal a lot with out-of-county people who cost the people of Champaign County a lot of money for things like indigent defense,” he said. “There are people in Champaign County making bad choices, but there is also a lot of people coming from other areas that influence that. My advice to the people of Champaign County is to stop making bad decisions when it comes to issues like (heroin usage).”
To combat the heroin issue, Faulkner said, more attention needs to be placed on a proactive approach, so it doesn’t get to the point where people start using drugs, instead of a reactive approach.
“It isn’t like the problem just showed up yesterday,” he said. “It’s been here, but now it’s out of control.”
In Faulkner’s opinion, a proactive approach is needed to help change the mindset of future generations, which he says starts with “getting morality back where it belongs” in not only the household, but in a school setting.
“It’s a long-term, generational process,” he said. “It just didn’t come here overnight. It took generations to get us here, so it could take generations to get us back on track again.”
Ofori focused on drug epidemic, building brighter future for youth
Whether it be visiting with incarcerated individuals, lending moral support to those in and out of the court system, or volunteering as a hospital chaplain, Ofori’s ministerial outreach efforts have put him in the cross-hairs of the drug problems affecting Champaign County residents.
“I’ve seen firsthand what drugs can do to individuals and their families,” he said. “I’ve known people who have died. People who I was helping died because they didn’t get the help they needed. We can’t be passive about it and pretend things are OK. Things aren’t OK.
“When people don’t have anything to look forward to or don’t have hope, they tend to turn to drugs and stuff like that. It’s my prayer that we can focus, commit and be more passionate about life,” Ofori added.
Ofori said that, if elected, he may not immediately have the answer to how the county can successfully combat the drug issue, but he is willing to work with the community to find a solution.
“Do I have all the right answers? Probably not,” Ofori said. “There are answers out there, and we should do everything we can to pursue them. Being a minister, I will lean toward the transforming power of God.”
Ofori said the county needs to focus on its youth.
“A stitch in time saves nine, so we need to do something about the young kids now to make sure they don’t fall into a pattern of bad choices,” he said.
In his line of work, Ofori said, he’s seen too often youths without positive role models, who then make bad decisions that lead to them becoming another statistic.
“As a community, we need to be creative and come up with ideas to keep kids off the streets,” he said. “We need to give the youth the chance for a brighter future and give them hope.
“Our future is the generation today. If we don’t do anything for them, we have no future,” Ofori added.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.