When timing meets opportunity, change can occur. For Debra Holbrook Beevers, the time is now and the opportunity is to serve the residents of Williams County as the new county commissioner.
Her candidacy, she says, represents a change from the status quo, a change from business as usual in the commissioners office and in the county.
“I did not go through the county Republican establishment recommendation program. I know I’m not the Williams County Republican establishment’s choice, but I don’t feel I need to have that designation,” said Holbrook Beevers, 65, a Republican and longtime Bryan resident, who submitted her nominating petitions to run for commissioner this summer for a term that begins January 2023.
So far, she faces at least two other GOP candidates in the May 2022 Republican primary — Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dan Yahraus, of Bryan, and local real estate agent and auctioneer Bart Westfall, from West Unity. Yahraus has said he was encouraged to run by “key individuals” in the local Republican party, while Westfall is a well-known businessman and serves on the county GOP Central Committee.
Currently, no write-in, independent or Democratic Party candidates have submitted nominating petitions for the position, which is being vacated by Brian Davis. So if no other candidate emerges, the GOP primary winner, barring unforeseen circumstances, will be the new commissioner.
After four terms, Davis, of Bryan, announced June 24 he would not seek another term, saying after 16 years as commissioner, his family had asked that he consider looking at other options.
Holbrook Beevers, though, said she had already decided to run and expected to run against Davis had he sought another term.
“I was going to run even if (Davis) planned to run again. I met with him and we spoke and I told him I was running. A week later he announced he was not going to run again,” she said.
“I just felt that after 16 years, the county was ready for change,” said Holbrook Beevers, a longtime businesswoman who currently is marketing director for a steel company. She’s worked as a plant manager for an Indiana manufacturer and worked in sales with Chase Brass (now Wieland Chase) from 1989-2006.
Holbrook Beevers has never run for office but said her business experience has given her the temperament to be collegial while still making good, decisive decisions. She noted Davis went into the position without any previous political experience either.
“There’s no way to know everything you need to know for the job (as commissioner). But I have a business background, I listen well, I learn and I’m a problem solver ... There’s no way to know everything that’s involved in being a commissioner ... think of all the things that have happened recently, things you cannot be totally prepared for in the past couple years, things like COVID, (the American Rescue Plan).”
Holbrook Beevers, though, has been preparing for the position, including attending the twice weekly commissioner meetings for about the past six months.
“Since I’ve decided to run, I’ve done a lot of research. It’s a new role, I don’t want to walk in there blind. So I’ve attended (commissioner) meetings ... and I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve gathered a lot of support. It’s all part of laying the foundation (for her candidacy),” she said.
As part of that preparation, she said she has personally and individually met with about half of the county’s department heads, to introduce herself and her candidacy and gain insight into the departments and their processes and needs. She plans to met every county department head prior to the primary.
Holbrook Beevers said she’s also identified some county agencies that she feels may need closer examination by the commissioners. She declined to publicly identify those agencies at this time, but said she will address some of her specific concerns as the election gets closer.
She also said she’s met with Dennis Miller, a Pioneer resident and longtime executive director of the Maumee Valley Planning Organization, which works with the county and the commissioners on a variety of topics, including grant funding, economic development initiatives and public administrative functions.
“He’s been a wealth of knowledge and experience and someone who is key to the grant process, administration and so much of what the commissioners are involved in,” Holbrook Beevers said, adding that Miller told her he was impressed at her initiative, telling her that in all his time at the MVPO, no candidate has sought him out prior to an election.
Holbrook Beevers also said her campaign treasurer is Dick Reed, former president of Citizens National Bank and a man who helped start the Bryan Area Foundation.
“I think it says something that he’s willing to put his name on my campaign,” she said.
Holbrook Beevers said commissioners must take a broad view of actions necessary to make the county a better place to live and work in the future. She said commissions are entrusted to make prudent financial decisions to fund county operations and services while keeping the budget solvent and the county’s credit rating solid.
Some of her key platforms include full transparency and access to commissioner meetings and information; addressing the county’s housing needs; jobs and the job skills gap; water issues and the aquifer; and broadband access.
She notes she was an advocate for continuing to use Zoom digital meetings (which commissioners discontinued once the state mandate ended) and supported the decision to continue to transcribe and post the minutes from the commissioners meetings on their website. She advocates for including the names of meeting attendees in the official minutes, which has been discontinued recently.
For housing, she notes the population of Williams County has decreased 2.6% in the past 10 years, while it’s estimated half of the county’s workforce lives outside of Williams County (according to a 2018 Williams County Economic Development Corporation study). Interestingly, she points out that in the same study, 46% of county homeowners said they would consider paying an additional monthly fee for maintenance-free living.
She said the ongoing studies of the local aquifer must continue, and right now, said she is opposed to the AquaBounty plan to drill into the aquifer to provide 3 million to 5 million gallons of water per day to service a planned commercial salmon farm in Pioneer. She said she will reassess that position based on the data included in the withdrawal and consumptive use application filed with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. A decision on the application is due sometime between now and early January.
Holbrook Beevers also favors more emphasis on providing broadband access to all county households, noting figures show 11,000 citizens in Williams County do not currently have that access.
Holbrook Beevers also said it’s time for a woman to again serve on the board of commissioners. If elected, she would be the first woman to serve on the board since Gloria Osborn (1997-2001). Other women who have served relatively recently include Rosanne Fisher from 1989-1997 and Barb Fisher from 1995-99.
“I think we need some diversity. We have a lot of capable women in the county, and I’m one of them. I’m happy to be a woman ... I’m not a business-as-usual person. I ask questions. I will force discussion, I’m not the establishment-chosen candidate,” she said, noting that as a businesswoman, especially in the male-dominated steel industry, “often there are times when I’m the only woman in the room during business meetings.
“I have no issues with that ... I think there are times when (the men) are more uncomfortable than me,” she said.
Holbrook Beevers has been married for 42 years to husband Steven, who retired in 2017 from Bard Manufacturing in Bryan. They live in Norlick Place and have two adult children and four grandchildren.
She is director of the Joyce Reader Memorial Foundation 501(c)(3); member of the Power in the Purse local giving circle; is a Children’s Warehouse volunteer at New Hope Community Church, in Bryan; is part of the Williams County Mentor Program; is chair of the Communications Committee for the Copper and Brass Service Center Association; and a member of the Association of Women in the Metals Industry.
She said she is still working full-time and making time to campaign, and if she wins, she will retire from her current job at the end of 2022.
“I feel after 16 years it’s time for a change, and a good change will be a capable female,” Holbrook Beevers said.