Four years ago, Kenneth Panek ousted Arbela Township Supervisor Joseph B. “Joe” White from office.
Come Tuesday, White aims to return the favor, with the township’s 2,292 registered voters asked to settle the rematch and give the winner a four-year term.
Four incumbents run unopposed seeking re-election four-year terms: Clerk Mary Warren, a Democrat; Treasurer Jody A. Hunt, a Republican; and Trustees William G. Jacobi and Wayne Schults, both Democrats.
“I think I was able to help a lot of people,” said White, 71, a Republican who said he served for 16 years as township supervisor in Arbela Township, where White also was township assessor and zoning administrator.
“For example, take the process you have to follow to sell a piece of property,” White said. “If you’ve never done that before, it’s kind of a foreign thing: Who do I go see, why do I have to pay so much?
“Everybody’s got their hands out, and to help walk people through that process – for no charge – I think they appreciate that.”
Panek, 57, a Democrat, said White played favorites.
“He wasn’t even-handed with his help,” Panek said. “The ones he did help, yeah, they probably liked him, but look at all the ones that he didn’t help and the enemies he made for a lot of reasons, that I can see, such as with property assessments.
“Or one person’s road got lots of work while another person’s road didn’t.”
Panek said the township enjoys “a lot healthier situation now” compared with when White was township supervisor, assessor and zoning administrator.
“I think he did all those jobs quite poorly,” Panek said. “I spent the last four years fixing all that mess.”
Panek said the township paid about $56,000 to a business that reappraised all of the township’s 1,660 property parcels in 2015, prior to a state audit of township tax assessments. White questioned the cost of the reappraisal.
But Panek has said the township “picked up over 2,000 outbuildings in that reappraisal, too, that weren’t on the tax roll.”
The township’s property record cards, under White’s tenure as supervisor and assessor, “were terrible, as far as I’m concerned,” Panek said.
“We ended up having to visit all of those properties and document, take note, of everything that’s on those properties, and create new property cards for about 1,660 parcels,” Panek said.
White has said the property record cards were “in very good shape.”
“I don’t think (Panek) is an assessor, so I don’t think he would know what’s good or bad,” White said.
White, elected supervisor in 2000 and re-elected twice before Panek defeated him, said his 43-year career with General Motors Co. – about 38 years in supervision of employees – helped him as a township leader.
“You get a lot of opportunity to see how things work and how they’re put together, and see responsibilities,” White said. “You get a good chance to work with people and make things come together.”
White figures he compares favorably with his opponent.
“I think it’s a pretty good choice between my style and anybody else’s style,” White said. “Hopefully the guy – or maybe it’s a gal – who has been stealing my (campaign) signs for the last four or five weeks is happy with their adventure.”
White said the wholesale theft of his signs is “unbelievable,” saying he has lost about 27 signs so far.
Panek said he’s not surprised at removal of the signs, noting many of them “were all stuck out right along the stop signs and yield signs, right along the edge of the roadway, so I think you can expect that if you put ’em in those places.”
Besides, Panek said, White “made a lot of enemies when he was in office, so I could see where that’s bound to happen.”
Panek figures the condition of township gravel roads greatly improved during his four years as supervisor, saying the township fixed roads where travel was banned when he became supervisor.
“I don’t see where residents on gravel roads were getting their money’s worth on it,” said Panek, who with his wife, Brenda, own Crest Haven Manor assisted living facility in Arbela Township.
“If you talk to somebody that’s on a gravel road, tell me what they think, because there were sections of two roads that were closed when I took office,” Panek said.
Panek said he noticed a disturbing trend after becoming involved in Arbela Township politics.
“If Joe (White) liked you and you lived on a gravel road, you lived on a little high spot, but if he didn’t care much for you then you had a hole in the road out front,” Panek said. “If he liked you and you complained about your road, he’d have some gravel dumped in front of your house.”
White said that because of the several roles he filled as a township leader, “I kind of had my feet in all of the opportunities to help people, working in zoning and doing (property) splits for people.”
White said that during his time in office, “I worked with a lot of people on what their houses were going to look like in the future, and I think I did pretty well.”
White urged Arbela Township voters to think it over before picking a supervisor.
“This particular township, if you know the politics of it, most folks here are labor people,” White said. “A lot of straight (party) tickets are voted, but (voters) have just got to make up their own minds about what type of health they want at the township level.”
When asked his priorities if voters elect him, White said “There are several things that are going on, but in order to get there the people have to put me into office to have those done.”
White’s unaccustomed to dealing with a challenge, Panek said.
“I don’t think he’s had very many elections where he’s put (campaign) signs up – not that I know of,” Panek said. “He’s never had any challengers.”
Panek noted that “the township clerk (Mary C. Warren) is pushing to get (White) back in there, but they’re both getting up toward 80 years old.”
White figures experience has made him a better township leader.
“I live in this township and I’ve lived here for a long time,” White said. “I think it’s a good township and I think that if you pay attention to the township and to the people, you can help out over time.”
White hopes to make a difference in the coming years.
“It’s kind of a diverse township but unfortunately with the corporations receding, a lot of our younger people are moving away in order to get (jobs),” White said. “But I have kids and grandkids, and this is a good opportunity for people to continue to build for the future.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org