For the first time in Gambier’s history, a Kenyon student has been elected to Village Council. Ben Nutter ’21 joined the council on Monday, Jan. 13 following a special election held immediately before the council’s first meeting of the year. Leeman Kessler ’04, who was elected mayor last November, had to vacate his seat on the council to step into his new position. This left an opening that could be filled by any qualified community member. While Kenyon students had run for the position before, none had ever been selected.
At the meeting, Nutter stood and announced his intention to run. He answered questions from the Council about his other commitments; his ability to attend during academic breaks; and his willingness to stay in Gambier a semester past graduation in order to complete his term. At each point, Nutter reaffirmed his willingness to serve effectively on Council.
Alison Furlong, a Gambier resident, had previously announced her intention to run, but she withdrew before the vote took place. Nutter ran unopposed and was elected unanimously. He will serve on the council until new councilmembers are chosen in Dec. 2021.
Nutter admitted that he was surprised to have been elected. “I wasn’t expecting to win,” he said. “When they said another person was running, I was like, ‘I’m not going to win.’ And then [that person] receded.”
Kessler believes that Nutter is qualified for the job. “I’m excited. I’ve been talking about how I think it’s important to have as much student engagement in local government [as possible],” he said. “I have faith in Ben — I think he has the imagination, the wherewithal and the empathy to be engaged and to think long-term.”
However, Kessler thinks it can be difficult for Kenyon students to engage with the broader community. He recalls his own time as a student, when he rarely left the confines of Middle Path. Much of being a councilmember is listening and responding to people’s grievances, and in order to do that effectively, Kessler feels that people must be present in the Village.
“You kind of have to be around to know what folks are talking about. ‘Oh, you’re right, there should be a crosswalk there! You’re right, there should be a stop sign at this particular intersection!’” Kessler said. “I think a big challenge for Ben now is to get off campus in the Village. The more keyed-in he can be, the more he can hear [residents’] perspectives, the better he’ll be able to serve.”
In addition to serving as one of the six councilmembers, Nutter will sit on the Village’s Finance and Income Tax (Budget) Committee and the Police and Personnel Committee. While Nutter is nervous about the scope of his responsibilities, he is optimistic that his position on council will tighten the bond between Kenyon and the Village of Gambier. He hopes that having a student on the Council will make it easier for other Kenyon students to have their voices heard in local politics.
“A particular thing that I am focused on is renegotiating our contract with the Sheriff,” Nutter said. “Just because of all of the emotionally impactful and differently treated situations that the sheriff has put students of color in. So that’s a thing that I think is important to look at very very carefully, and to discuss with the various councilmembers in depth to see what our options are.”