Candidate Spotlight: Russ Balthis (At-Large — Cuyahoga Falls City Council)
The CF Dems Club will be spotlighting our 2021 candidates through November. Be sure to keep stopping by to learn more.
Meet Russ, candidate for At-Large City Council in Cuyahoga Falls. Here’s a little about them:
I currently serve the residents of Cuyahoga Falls as our Councilperson at-Large. I have been on Cuyahoga Falls City Council since January 2020, and was nominated to serve on Council by Mayor Don Walters. My job is to understand your needs, hear your voices, and translate community feedback into policies that work for us all.
Before joining City Council, I was part of Mayor Walters’ team and served as the City’s Law Director. Serving as Law Director with Mayor Walters was a wonderful experience. I learned so much about how our City operates. As a member of the City’s Board of Control, I reviewed and voted to approve financial investments in our roads and parks. One of the most exciting projects was working with the community to take the idea of opening up and revitalizing Front St. from the drawing board to reality.
I worked with our safety forces and other employees to negotiate union contracts. In that process, I learned a lot about how our safety forces and other employees do their jobs to serve our community and neighbors.
In my time outside of City Council, I serve on boards for organizations that help to improve our community, like the Workforce Advocacy for Youth, Jobs for Ohio’s Graduates, and CHC Addiction Services. I am the oldest of three children and have two nieces and a nephew. They live out of state, but I love them a ton and visit as often as I can.
To learn more about Russ, please see our entire Q&A below.
What has motivated you to enter public service?
I learned very early in my life that the leadership of our neighborhoods, communities, and region have a direct impact on our quality of life as residents. My dad passed away from cancer when he was only 32 years old, leaving my mother to raise my brother, my sister, and me alone. It was a difficult time for our family, and we relied on social security survivorship benefits and the support of our family, friends, neighbors, and community to get through it. If my mother had not been able to access that social safety net, it’s easy to imagine that my siblings and I would have faced hunger, housing insecurity, and other negative outcomes. I want to make sure that every family in Cuyahoga Falls has the resources they need to secure their best possible quality of life.
My family’s story is not unique. Families all over the country and here in Cuyahoga Falls have similar stories of hardship or challenges. Whether it is the premature death of a family member, the loss of a job, or healthcare challenges, including addiction, I believe, as a community, we should help each other when we can. I know government is not always the answer and it cannot solve every problem, but the right public servants can and do find a way to improve the quality of life for everyone in our community. I entered public service to serve the community that helped my family through our toughest moments, and to help create and implement policies that improve the economic, educational, and social opportunities available to all of us.
What issues are most important to you and our community?
I want every Cuyahoga Falls resident to feel safe, welcomed, and proud to be a member of the community.
Public safety needs have been top of mind over the past several months especially, and I’m proud to know our public safety forces very well. Our amazing public safety employees go to work every day trying to make the community a better place for us all. As a councilperson and before as the city’s law director, I took pride in building my relationships with those folks, and I have gone on multiple ride-alongs with both our fire and police departments. We need to continue to support programs like the Quick Response Team (QRT) to provide help to people and families suffering from addiction, and offer our public safety teams as well as the community every resource to help maintain our safe and healthy neighborhoods.
The Neighborhood Excellence, Communication, and Community Outreach Department at the City works every day to showcase the opportunities in Cuyahoga Falls for living, working, visiting, and raising a family. Municipal efforts like these are important, but equally important is making sure that the opportunities in Cuyahoga Falls are available to all. I have participated in many community meetings and though people may not always agree, it is important everyone have a chance to be heard and to listen.
We need to continue to build on our amazing neighborhood parks and growing downtown! I have taken so much pride in helping to open up Front Street, and maintaining our libraries, parks, and other communal spaces. These assets not only bring new economic and educational opportunities into Cuyahoga Falls, but they create our sense of what it means to live here.
Tell us why Cuyahoga Falls is home to you.
I was born and raised just minutes from Cuyahoga Falls’ city center, and some of my earliest memories include visiting the Natatorium with my grandfather. Those visits to the Natatorium were meaningful to my mom because she got a break from single parenting, but also to my siblings and I as we began to shape our ideas about what it meant to live in and interact with our community. While the pool I loved in my early life has been replaced, my loyalty to Cuyahoga Falls and the future we can build together remains permanent.
Our city is big enough to have the amenities and attractions of an urbanized area, and small enough that we can all enjoy real connections with neighbors, small business owners, entrepreneurs, public servants, and others who shape Cuyahoga Falls. We have amazing parks and city services, as well as great restaurants, shops, and public spaces to share.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in Cuyahoga Falls?
This is hard, there are so many great places, I am going to say Flurry’s. The food is amazing and I can walk there.
Where would you like to see Cuyahoga Falls in 10 years?
Given the progress in just the past few years on Front Street, I can only imagine what it will look like in ten years! I am excited to be working with the City Administration and Ward 3 Councilperson Meika Marie Penta to take some of the successful programs used on Front St to the South State Road Business District!
We need to continue to invest in our streets, park facilities and other infrastructure. Investing in our city’s infrastructure benefits all of us now, as well as future generations to come.
It is also important that we have a community driven planning process for the parts of our City near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the valley. The National Park is a great asset for our community and we need to work, within our planning code, to encourage green space preservation and trails, with the right kind of development.
Why are you proud to be a Democrat?
I became a Democrat at a young age, when I realized that it was the Democratic Party who fought for things like Social Security, the Civil Rights Act and Medicare. Social security has already made a difference in my life and for my family! These aspects of the social safety net help every family to find stability, economic opportunity, and the chance to build back better. Our community will always be stronger when everyone has access to free education, affordable healthcare and equal employment opportunities.
What do you do to unwind at the end of the day?
When the weather is nice, I enjoy siting on my deck and enjoying the Cuyahoga River and all the activity in Downtown Cuyahoga Falls! I’m glad to live close to our new Front Street area, and enjoy visiting all the opportunities for good food, unique products and services, and building relationships with friends and neighbors that it provides.
Favorite song & why?
I grew up listening to country, and Dolly Parton has always caught my ear. As an adult, I appreciate her dedication to community service and improving the lives of her neighbors. I’ve always enjoyed “9 to 5” because it gets me excited to go to work for my community!