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Wilks Institute holds candidate forum for City Council election

Candidates for Oxford City Council discussed their platforms at Wilks' Candidate Forum.
Candidates for Oxford City Council discussed their platforms at Wilks' Candidate Forum.

Miami University’s Wilks Institute for Leadership and Service held “Lessons in Leadership: Meet Your Change Makers,” an event for students to hear from Oxford City Council hopefuls, on Tuesday night in Armstrong Student Center.

The event, moderated by sophomore political science and human capital management and leadership double major Cameron Tiefenthaler, was livestreamed on the Wilks Institute Instagram account.

Four residents are running for Council in 2021 for four open seats. Incumbent councilors Chantel Raghu and David Prytherch are running uncontested to keep their seats, while newcomers Amber Franklin and Alex French are running uncontested to replace Mayor Mike Smith and Councilor Edna Southard, both of whom are term-limited.

During the event, all four candidates answered questions related to their platforms and how they have been influenced by the campaign process so far.

None of the candidates are originally from Oxford, but each talked about how the city has become their home since joining the community.

French is a program manager for Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization committed to ending gun violence. She first moved to Oxford in 2006 as a student. After moving to New York briefly for grad school, she came back. Now, her campaign slogan is “Come Home to Oxford.”

Franklin, an associate professor of speech pathology at Miami, came to Oxford 10 years ago. After serving on Oxford’s Police Community Relations and Review Committee for five years, she said she knows how individuals can influence local governments.

“In a small town like Oxford,” Franklin said, “every voice matters and should have the opportunity to be heard.”

When Raghu, a veterinarian and incumbent councilor, initially ran in 2017, she said she wanted to help the town focus on environmental initiatives and equity.

“This place truly brings out the best in people,” Raghu said. “I ran for city council first in 2017 because I want to live in a town that is sustainable and equitable and thriving.”

Councilor Prytherch, a professor of geography at Miami, moved to Oxford 18 years ago and served on the planning commission for a decade before running for Council in 2017. 

He said change can be slow in small communities, and he hopes to see long-term projects like an Amtrak station and accessible bicycles for the community come to fruition during his second term.

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During his next term, Prytherch said he hopes to focus on responding to community needs.

“I'm hoping to make our government more responsive so that goal orientation is built into it,” Prytherch said.

Raghu said she plans to help make housing more affordable in Oxford and expand sustainability initiatives like curbside composting and clean energy sources during her second term.

Both Raghu and French emphasized the importance of boosting the local economy during the summer months when students are away.

“Having worked in a restaurant, I know what it’s like to stand at that post stand and just watch your door not have anybody come through it for days at a time,” French said. “I really want to be creative in working with some of our committees and our commissions to think about how [we can] really infuse more high impact days over the summer.”

Franklin said her priorities of affordable housing and mental health services will help make Oxford a comfortable place for residents to live, especially Miami’s non-faculty staff.

“A lot of our classified staff, they can't necessarily afford to live here,” Franklin said. “We need to have low and moderate cost housing so that people can afford to live where they work. I also think the mental health piece is crucial … I’m very aware of what this pandemic has done to all of our mental health.”

Despite running in an uncontested race, all four candidates highlighted the importance of voting in local elections.

French said students who didn’t feel represented at a recent special Council meeting to pass a mask mandate can use their votes as a way to be heard.

“Watching the group of Miami students who came to our city council meeting and kind of seeing the Yik Yak dialogue afterwards — there was a lot of passion,” French said. “There were a lot of feelings. A lot of folks … didn’t feel represented by Council. The way that you change that is to vote.”

In addition to voting for City Council, Prytherch urged students to look into the contested school board election.

“If you pay rent, you're paying property taxes in the City of Oxford,” Prytherch said. “And if you want to have great professors who've chosen this town because the schools are good, you have a vested right in the school facilities and teachers being the best they can. Don't let anyone tell you that [school board] is not your business.”

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 2, and polling information can be found on the Butler County Board of Elections website.