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Candidates seeking seat on Hancock commission

NEW CUMBERLAND — Despite differing approaches, both candidates for Hancock County commissioner can agree on one thing: Curb appeal is important when creating job growth, although it isn’t the county’s place to tell businesses how to do it.

Eron Chek is challenging Joe Barnabei for his Hancock County Commission seat.

Barnabei, who retired from Weirton Steel after four decades of service, currently serves as president of the board of commissioners. He is a former longtime Hancock County school board member and also served on the West Virginia Regional Education Service Agency.

“I am seeking re-election, because it is important to me that Hancock County be a nice place to live, work, play and raise a family. I want to continue to use our hotel/motel tax to promote tourism and recreation,” the Democrat said, toting improvements to Tomlinson Run and the Gas Valley Road sports complex.

The infrastructure is a top priority for commissioners, who believe that could help to attract business prospects, he explained.

Chek, a Republican currently serving as president at Freedom Work LLC, does confirm that her qualifications exist in the private sector not politics.

Freedom Work LLC is a for-profit company that revitalizes and repurposes empty commercial buildings.

“In my own business experience, I recognize that poorly working systems and failed government goals are holding people back from starting a new business, growing existing ones and building anything new,” she explains. “I would like to shine light there in order to encourage entrepreneurial collaboration that will promote growth for businesses of all sizes.”

Talking about his lifelong residency in Hancock County, Barnabei said that is his biggest asset. “I am knowledgeable on the strengths and weaknesses of Hancock County and its surrounding areas,” he explained, adding he also is a member of the Brooke Hancock Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission (currently serving as vice president) and chairs local officials assigned the West Virginia Northern Panhandle Workforce Development Board.

While Barnabei touts his experience, Chek admits that she can provide a fresh approach. “(If I am elected, we get) fresh new leadership. I am excited to look at operations with fresh, new eyes and a fresh, new perspective. I am excited to hold listening workshops and gather perspectives from those within our organizations.” She continued, “It is critical to listen to and apply their perspectives, so our organizations run more efficiently and effectively.”As vast as their experiences differ, they agree that things can be done to counterbalance the loss of jobs and income at large employers, such as Homer Laughlin and Mountaineer.

Barnabei said that Hancock County and its surrounding area needs to attract new business to strengthen job growth. “Commissioners cannot create jobs, but what we can do is continue to try to provide infrastructure and services that will attract investors and business to come to our area, which will create jobs,” he continued. “Our location has river and railroad access, and the Pittsburgh airport is just a short distance from both ends of the county. We have no interstate to serve our area, so it is very important to improve our main access roads throughout the county.”

Chek agrees that if elected, she would need to get to work immediately on encouraging individuals and businesses to be more entrepreneurial. “It is not the business of the county to tell private businesses what to do, but it is the business of the county to maintain an environment that businesses can thrive in. Tell me what you need to reach your full potential, and let’s make that happen together.”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a lot of concerns regarding broadband accessibility to the forefront very quickly, and both candidates share their concerns and visions in solving this dilemma.

While the sitting commissioner Barnabei explained that commissioners are pursuing C.A.R.E.S. Act grant dollars to assist with the issue that impacts so many individuals working from home and virtual learning students, Chek takes it a step further, showing a lack of confidence those dollars will be earmarked to improving broadband access. Saying that she sees no evidence of that allotment to cure access issues, she said, “We still haven’t seen one dollar of the $1.25 billion federal assistance to improve road access to hospitals. I could go on, but the point is that we get pushed aside. The pandemic that concerns me is poor communication and lack of transparency in our government,” Chek continues. “Take the New Cumberland road project that has been debated for 30 years. Everything looked ready to go, and Charleston defunded us without so much as a virtual meeting.” She described herself as a “professional relationship builder” and “relentless communicator,” who would be an advocate for Hancock County.

She added, “It seems to me that Hancock County has been waiting to become a priority to Charleston, and that ‘strategy’ isn’t working out so well for us. We need to be a priority to ourselves.” The incumbent describes his approach as a commissioner as one that seeks to move Hancock County forward not backward. “I will continue to look at the glass as half full, not half empty,” Barnabei concluded.

(Ujhelyi can be contacted at sujhelyi@reviewonline.com)

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