Melissa Bell: commissioner candidate profile


By Staff Report

Melissa Bell grew up on a small family farm, it was those roots that led her to pursue a career in agriculture, but it was her father, a township trustee, that led her to pursue public service, vying to become the next commissioner of Muskingum County.

The wife and mother of four said she wants to give back to the community that she loves so much and believes her experience in running nonprofits, operating a family farm and being engaged in numerous local groups has prepared her for that role.

A Republican, Bell won a primary contest against Anthony Adornetto earlier this year. She now faces Democrat John Furek – no independent filed. The seat was opened when Muskingum County Commissioner Jim Porter announced his retirement.

For a complete list of all candidates on the ballot this fall, be sure to check out our article, which includes brief information on major candidates and links to all their websites. Early voting started Wednesday, October 12, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.

Bell isn’t a native of Muskingum County, nor is her opponent, John Furek, but like him, she has come to call the area home. It was here she raised her kids, along with her husband, on the couple’s sixth-generation farm in Falls Township.

A graduate of Otterbein College and the Ohio State University, Bell capitalized on her time as a child and young adult on her parent’s small family farm in Deleware County. Her dad, a township trustee of over 25 years, instilled in her the purpose of local government and how to be a good citizen, putting family above self and always willing to lend a helping hand when able.

“It’s where I got my first interest in local politics,” Bell recalls of her now late father. “He truly believed that our township was his little piece of the world that he was responsible for making better and he was truly committed to working for the people that lived in the township. I just felt that was such an admirable thing. As a township trustee, he was directly responsible for so much, such as our local roads and cemeteries.”

That mentorship from her father, which left Bell smiling as she recalled his guidance, she said inspired her to want to make a difference. As a female farmer, Bell isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, she wasn’t when she was little working alongside her father and she isn’t now, working alongside her husband and in-laws. Considered by many to be an underdog when she took on hometown native Anthony Adornetto in the Republican Primary this spring, Bell didn’t let the polls that were showing a double-digit lead discourage her.

Bell said she was approached by many in the community after Commissioner Porter announced his retirement and while she was humbled and excited that leaders in the community thought she would make a fine commissioner, she knew if she wanted it, she would have to work hard to secure the party’s nomination.

“I’ve always been interested in politics, particularly local government,” said Bell. “I’ve seen the impact local governments can have to make things better, I think that is where the most positive things can happen in your local community.”

Asked on election day why she didn’t seem nervous, Bell said she knew she had done all she needed to do – she had put in the work, visiting with officials around the county, knocking on doors and attending the necessary meetings as well as events. That confidence that Republican voters in the county would select her to be their nominee turned out to be right, on election night Bell achieved a slight win and with it a lot of momentum.

Bell opted not for the typical election night party, usually at Bryan’s Place for Republican candidates, but a night in with her family as they waited for precinct results to come in.

“There wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be that night than with my family,” said Bell. “We are a very very close family, most of the time people think my mother-in-law is my mom because we are together so much and we do everything together. It’s a relationship I’m very thankful for and it just seemed natural to want to spend such a special night with them.”

Bell graduated high school in 1992, Otterbine College in 1996 and then spent 10 years working for the Ohio Farm Bureau. While there she received her masters from the Ohio State University in Agricultural Communications.

After that tenure, she left for the Ohio FFA Foundation, spending two years as the sponsorship consultant and 10 years as the agency’s executive director. There, she helped raise roughly $600,000 a year to support various FFA programs around Ohio.

Bell said those experiences were rewarding to her because as a youth she showed steers, hogs and lambs and it gave her a way to not just pay her experiences forward but to help educate and prepare the next generation of farmers.

Growing up, Bell’s family had a small calf operation and she described it as one of the reasons she wanted to get an agriculture education and pursue a career in the field.

“It was something I always enjoyed, loved actually, so it was just natural for me to want to go into agriculture,” Bell said.

The connection to agriculture is also how she met her husband Matt, during the Ohio State Fair at a steer show, while still in high school.

Matt and Melissa, and their immediate family, crop farm 3,000 acres and produce 40,000 fat hogs a year.

The couple has four children, two twins who are studying agriculture at the Ohio State University, a 15-year-old daughter who is a sophomore at Tri-Valley High School and an 8-year-old son who attends Dresden Elementary.

The twins, one boy and one girl, were born prematurely at 29 weeks and is what led Melissa to her involvement locally for the March of Dimes, a non-profit whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality, just one of the many organizations she is apart of.

“I’m great at building relationships, working to solve problems, implementing solutions and networking with other people to find out the best way to move things forward,” Bell said.

One of the most positively received parts of the campaign thus far is when Bell ran into her opponent John Furek at the Muskingum County Fair in August and the two got a photo together.

With the nastiness of state and national politics, citizens from across the political spectrum locally made note of the upstanding character of the two to be polite and cordial around one another.

Like many candidates that run for local office, Bell didn’t want to make any promises as to what she would get done, realizing that if she was elected she will be part of a team of three county commissioners who must work together to get tasks done, however, Bell did say she has three priorities for her campaign.

First, Bell said the announcement of Intel coming to western Licking County will have an impact locally and as we are ‘right next door, we are going to need to be proactive and not reactive to the changes that will bring to our area.’

Secondly, Bell said the issue of rural broadband is very important to those living in Muskingum County. She noted how since the pandemic many students and workers require high-speed internet and that it is something that is ‘vital’ to the growth of the community.

Third, Bell said ‘we know there is a need for a new county jail’ and ‘we will need to address that issue going forward.’

Lastly, Bell added that it is her belief that ‘agriculture plays such a vital role in this county and in the State of Ohio’ and that she ‘thinks it is so important to have an agricultural voice as part of local government.’ ‘Someone that can understand and relate to the needs and issues of farmers but also rural land owners’ because ‘you may not necessarily be engaged in agriculture but as a rural land owner you have a different set of needs and wants than someone that doesn’t live in a rural part of the community.”

Bell and her opponent, John Furek, met in early October at the Muskingum County Library for a candidate forum. To check out the commissioner portion of that event, click here to watch our video.