Lebanon’s mayoral race has a field of four after artist-actor John DeMoor collected enough signatures to launch his campaign throughout July.
DeMoor joins Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash, Cumberland University professor Rick Bell and former city councilor Rob Cesternino in the contest, which will be decided on Nov. 3.
“There is a cancer of corruption in the Lebanon city politics and I want to stop it,” DeMoor said. “I’ve been fighting it as a citizen for five-and-a-half years, and all three of my opponents during this five-and-a-half years have been on the council, and one as mayor, and I have taken this issue to the council and to the mayor and nothing’s been done about it.”
DeMoor cited a November 2014 council decision that created a historic district on Greenlawn Drive, which he said violates the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 because there are no historic structures along the street. DeMoor is a current resident of Greenlawn Drive and was living there at the time of the decision.
The ordinance is available on the city’s website and says the Greenlawn Drive properties are historically significant because their architecture represents different time periods.
“As the charter says, when an official complaint is registered, then the city attorney must take it to the city council,” DeMoor said. “Fighting that for a couple of years … I met with the current mayor once across his desk.”
DeMoor also referenced a lawsuit against the city by Cleary Construction filed in 2017. According to media reports, the company submitted the lowest of six bids for a highway project but was not awarded a contract — which Cleary Construction attorney Zach Jones said violated state laws on competitive bidding.
“There’s been a number of citizens filing a lawsuit against the city council and the mayor for violations of the Open Meetings Act,” DeMoor said. “When I’m elected as mayor, the first thing I’m going to do is sit down and look at the legal department, which is budgeted at $307,000 right now, and find out why citizens find it necessary to have to sue the government to protect their own rights.”
Ash said he strongly disagrees with DeMoor’s assessment of corruption in the city government, and Bell said he was not a member of the council when the Greenlawn Drive ordinance was approved.
Cesternino had not returned a request for comment at press time, but he and Bell voted to award Conrad Construction a bid over Cleary Construction in November 2016 because Conrad was the company that worked the project’s first phase.
City Attorney Andy Wright said during that meeting that “lowest and best is what the council decides it is,” referring to state law regarding construction bids.
DeMoor said he believes those incidents are keeping families and businesses from investing in the community, and that he would lead city investigations into any alleged wrongdoing if elected.
“If they broke the law, if it’s within my power as mayor to get rid of them I will fire them,” he said. “If it was an unintentional oversight, I think the matter can be settled right then and there. Why were you not aware of the law, that’s going to part of the investigation. I don’t want to arbitrarily accept excuses.”
Ethics are the largest plank of DeMoor’s campaign, but he also looks to focus on economic development. He said his 40 years of experience negotiating contracts and managing budgets during his career as a recording artist has prepared him to handle the city’s day-to-day operations.
“I will meet with every department head and find out what they need to be absolutely efficient in their department,” he said. “And then I’ll make a list of those needs, if there are any, and I’ll go to work on getting these departments what they need within the budget. Let’s see if we need to cut something in order to fund a need of a certain department, that sort of thing.”
Departments that work with natural resources like water and gas are among DeMoor’s priorities when budgeting, and he also hopes to shore up funding through business.
“My economic plan that I’m going to be releasing in a few weeks, it’s called the DeMoor Prosperity and Preservation Plan,” he said, adding that he aims to publish a full document by Labor Day. “I think we can do both. We have a beautiful city with beautiful old buildings in some areas … the city square is a great example. Let’s maintain preserving these things as we look to build wisely around the areas and try to complement what is in that area already.”
DeMoor said he wants to avoid rezoning residential areas for industry, focus on growing existing industrial areas and organize early meetings between developers and neighbors.
“It’s going to continue to grow whether people like it or not,” he said. “It’s hard for me to say, ‘yes, we have enough industrial area,’ — we may not. Let’s take a look at it on a case-by-case basis and see if we can accommodate.”
The Lebanon mayoral election is scheduled for Nov. 3, with early voting running from Oct. 14-29. Candidates can still qualify for the race until noon on Aug. 20.