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Two vie for commissioner seat

October 21, 2012
Morning Journal News

NEW CUMBERLAND - The one thing Jeff Davis and Mark Tetrault have in common is that they both, at one time, have owned Roma's Pizzeria.

That's pretty much where the similarities end.

Davis, 49, of New Cumberland, is a small-business owner and Democratic incumbent who has occupied the commissioner's seat for 12 years. A Hancock County native, he takes pride in the way the commissioners have budgeted the taxpayers' money.

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Jeff Davis

Tetrault, 52, of New Manchester, is an oil-and-gas landman whose life has been touched by tragedy. A Hancock County transplant, he believes commissioners could be doing more for the county, especially when it comes to the promotion of tourism and gas drilling.

The commission president and his Republican challenger will square off in the general election Nov. 6.

Davis got his start in politics in the late 1990s, when he served in the West Virginia House of Delegates for four years. Wanting to stay closer to home, he ran for county commissioner and won in 2000.

Being a county commissioner has been a "good mix," he said, because it allows him to simultaneously stay involved in politics, the community and his businesses. Davis is owner of the Chester car washes Water World and Blue Suds, in addition to owning residential and commercial rental properties in New Cumberland and elsewhere in the county.

"Being in business for 30 years, I have the ability to budget and efficiently manage responsibly the business of Hancock County," he said. "I think we've been extremely responsible in handling the finances of the county."

As proof, Davis points to the rainy day fund, the long-term capital improvement fund and the special projects fund that commissioners have established.

The latter two, he said, have been used as "seed money" to leverage grant money from the state and federal governments for improvements to, among other things, the Hancock County courthouse, public water and sewer systems, and sidewalks.

"We are always looking for the next best thing we can do for Hancock County," he said. "That is what I'm most proud of."

Davis said he likes to think he is accessible to Hancock County residents - "not just during the election" - and available to address their concerns.

In the past year, those concerns have included: the demolition of the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery in Chester; the proposed cleanup of the Little Blue Run impoundment operated by FirstEnergy; and the tentative start of hydraulic fracturing in Hancock County.

Davis acknowledges that fracking is still in its infancy in Hancock County but adds, "Economically, I think gas drilling and what will happen in Hancock County will be explosive."

Tetrault, a landman in Columbiana and Trumbull counties, said, so far, Hancock County has "missed the boat" with the Marcellus Shale gas drilling boom.

"Our elected officials aren't seeing the urgency," he said. "I'm sure the residents of Hancock County can benefit from the (oil and gas) jobs. We need jobs in the area."

Davis said Hancock County needs more infrastructure to support the level of hydraulic fracturing that other counties in the Northern Panhandle have enjoyed. So far, only one well in Hancock County has been fracked, he said.

"Everyone seems like they're doing better but us," Tetrault said. "I feel like we've been outflanked by one side and another. I don't feel like our elected officials have reached out to this industry."

Tetrault said that, if elected, he would contact other county commissioners and "see what they have done and come up with a plan. I feel it's a huge opportunity we have."

Tetrault is relatively new to the gas industry. A native of New Jersey, he first was exposed to Hancock County as a jockey at Mountaineer in the late 1970s. He raced there until 1983, growing to love the area, its people and its values.

"I just thought this would be a great place to raise a family. I thought this was a great county," he said.

Tetrault moved here with his family in 2000, when he bought a horse farm, and for the next five years he raced horses and operated rental stalls. "I saw that Mountaineer was growing and people were coming to the area," he said.

Six months after moving here, his 5-year-old son, Shayne, was diagnosed with leukemia. Shayne died a year later, devastating Tetrault and his wife, Jana.

Losing a son was "overwhelming," he said, but so was the show of support from the people of Hancock County. "It just showed me why we moved here," he said.

In the wake of his son's death, Tetrault sold a portion of his horse farm and decided to go into the restaurant business. He bought Roma's Pizzeria, a business started by Davis in the 1980s, and operated it until late last year.

In April 2010, Tetrault suffered another personal setback when he had a heart attack that required him to have bypass surgery. "Five bypasses," he said.

Tetrault said he "feels great" today, having recently received a clean bill of health from his cardiologist. He and his wife have two daughters, Elise, 18, a student at West Virginia University, and Jillian, 7, and an adoptive daughter, Cristal, 11.

Davis and his wife, Cindy, have two sons, Jeff and Joey, both of whom attend West Virginia University.

Tetrault also takes commissioners to task for taking Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort to court over unpaid hotel occupancy taxes. Tetrault believes the lawsuit is bad for Hancock County's economy, especially its tourism industry.

Commissioners say the lawsuit, in trying to capture unpaid taxes, is part of their responsibility to the taxpayer.



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