As rapid Intel-related development and asphalt plant proposals agitate residents in rural Licking County, local residents are seeking a shift in leadership, with several political newcomers winning seats in Alexandria on election night.
Both mayor-elect Sean Barnes and village council member-elect Carianne Meng are rookies in the political world, and neither had any intention of becoming a politician — they just answered the call to help their rural community.
In the last year, the village of Alexandria has been rocked by Intel growth and proposals for a concrete plant and two asphalt plants. Those proposals brought a dramatic increase in civic involvement and prompted both Barnes and Meng to join the Clean Air and Water for Alexandria and St. Albans Township group, and later run for office to fight potentially harmful development and industry where they live and work.
Meng, a write-in candidate for village council, ran alongside write-in candidate Kelly Reed, and both candidates will serve on the village council after earning 35.94% and 32.81% of the vote, respectively.
Reed did not not return The Reporting Project’s requests for comment prior to election day.
Also on the ballot this cycle was a commission to study the potential merger of Alexandria and St. Albans Township. Both communities voted for a merger commission, with about 60% of St. Albans Township voters and 79.2% of Alexandria voters supporting the commission.
Both Barnes and Meng will serve on the commission.
Mayor-elect Sean Barnes
Barnes, who ran unopposed, never wanted to run for office.
“My ambition is not to be a politician,” said Barnes, a first-time candidate. “My ambition is to farm and take care of my family.”
Barnes moved to Alexandria about 10 years ago and owns Moon Maiden Flowers with his wife, Tracey. The two moved to Alexandria for the rural atmosphere, and Barnes said he wanted to get away from the city to own his own farm. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.
He ran, he said, because the community needed someone to step up, and he didn’t want to see incumbent Mayor Jim Jasper’s hard work go to waste.
Jasper has served as the village’s mayor since 2017, after a tumultuous decade in village leadership. Before his election, Alexandria saw six different mayors in six years, and Jasper faced “a village plagued by controversy, bickering, distrust and an uncertain future,” according to a 2017 article in the Newark Advocate.
Much of that uncertainty remains, as Intel-related development brings worries to residents.
Barnes said he wants to slowly develop a more specific plan for future development in the village, with the inevitable growth coming its way, and hopes to improve the services the village provides while increasing the sense of community pride.
“I think we have the opportunity to maintain a community and grow a community,” Barnes said, “so that people don’t have to be displaced by the growth that doesn’t fit the community.”
Barnes saw a flier about the proposed asphalt plants and started attending township meetings. He saw people come together over shared dismay and shock about the asphalt plants which would have book-ended the village. The big concerns have been potential pollution of Raccoon Creek and an increase in truck traffic through the village.
“It was very much an organic process of neighbors, of community members saying to themselves, ‘We have this problem. What can I do?’ and then actually engaging each other,” Barnes said.
Barnes’ four-year term will commence in January.
Council member-elect Carianne Meng
Meng, who moved to Licking County in 2013, was born in the Philadelphia area and has moved many times throughout her life. Initially, she lived in Granville for eight years and moved to Alexandria in 2021 seeking a home with “rural charm.”
While looking to relocate from Granville, she looked around central Ohio and felt “everything was right on top of each other.” Alexandria, she said, was perfect for her.
“Having space is important to me,” Meng said. “We wanted to have the land we have out back. I keep honeybees, and I have a really big garden and fruit trees.”
Meng thinks of herself as a community builder, rather than a politician, and helped rally neighbors around the fight against the two asphalt plant proposals in the village. One of those proposals has been withdrawn – the one for an asphalt plant on the northwest side of the village – but St. Albans Township officials caution that it could be re-introduced, perhaps at a different location.
“I want to achieve trust and transparency,” Meng said. “It is one [goal] that is more easily achieved when you can express community care and community presence.”
When she first learned about one of the potential asphalt plants, she contacted former St. Albans Township zoning inspector Tom Frederick, who directed her to Benjamin Zanks who lives next to the site on the northwest side of Alexandria where an asphalt plant was proposed. Meng realized, she said, that the fight against this industrialization can’t be fought alone, and, together, the two formed the Clean Air and Water for Alexandria/St. Albans group.
“I do not want to be involved in politics,” Meng said. “I want to be involved in a community.”
Election results will be finalized by the secretary of state approximately three weeks after the election.