Mayor’s column: Look for the good; it’s there
Life is filled with many ups and downs and 2023 has been filled with both.
I won’t tell you that I have not been upset by some of what has occurred. One of the most frustrating aspects is watching dedicated, hard working staff who truly understand that being a city employee means public service, not self service.
Patrick Hastings has lived in Sheffield Lake all his life. He is the city’s longest serving employee, having begun while still in high school in the service department. As you know, I served on city council for two terms before being elected Mayor in 2011. I had an opportunity to watch Pat and see how he was developing professionally. I felt then that his talents and potential were being underutilized. When the opportunity arose, I named him Service Director.
He was responsible for helping devise a plan to significantly improve the infrastructure of the city. Back then, basement and street flooding was common. The substations taking sewage for treatment in Lorain were in disrepair. so during storms, raw, untreated sewage poured into the lake – the source of our drinking water, and more.
We were never awash in money as a small residential community so Pat learned how to write grants. In the past 7 years, he has successfully brought in $25 million in grant funds to the city – grants that helped us replace aging sewer lines, resurface every major north-south road and Lake Road, as well as side streets.
We poured millions into improving parks by replacing playground equipment, building picnic shelters and adding benches, picnic tables and grills. We developed walking trails that have become popular destinations not only for residents but visitors to Sheffield Lake. We improved the boat launch and built a bathroom, despite having to constantly battle criminal damage there. We built a dog park and I appreciate those who have stepped up to keep it clean so it remains open and safe for you and your pets.
Yet another grant secured by Pat allowed us to nearly double the size of Hanks Community Center, and the rental revenue generated from its use helps to significantly pay for the cost of its annual operation.
Tammy Smith has worked for the city 32 years, through four different administrations. She holds multiple titles – Finance Director, Tax Administrator and Treasurer.
There’s no such thing as a “typical day” given all her responsibilities. For starters, she’s responsible for ensuring that all revenue due the city arrives and is placed in the proper accounts. Why more than one account, you might ask? You can “thank” local, county, state and federal government statutes and regulations for that and that’s okay because for all these years, Tammy made sure those deposits are done correctly.
Same goes with disbursements – whether a payroll check, utility payment, equipment or supply purchase, postal expense, and so on, Tammy handles and is responsible for all of it.
She develops the city’s annual budget by first forecasting payroll, including salaries and benefits, along with other fixed costs. She then meets with department heads to review their future plans and expenses associated with them. It’s not easy because plans and desired items can outpace available revenue – not unlike what we all face as we manage our personal and home finances. Once the budget is prepared for the some 15 departments within the city, which range from sewer, water, building, police, and fire to the Hanks Center, Mayor’s Court or administration, that proposed budget must be approved by council action and then sent to the County Auditor for certification. During the year when changes are made to the budget, Tammy must ask council for approval as well as the County Auditor who must again certify that there are funds available for any requested changes in city appropriations.
She is also responsible for maintaining all financial data which is reviewed every year by the State Auditor. They recently completed their annual audit of the city’s finances and practices. We look forward to receiving their report and fully expect that we will continue to have a “clean” audit, as we have for the past 11 years in a row. It’s also important to note the city has earned the highest rating possible in the State Auditor’s StaRs Programs since it was implemented in 2019. StaRs measures compliance with Sunshine Laws and also encourages public entities to be open and transparent with the citizens they serve through implementation of identified best practices for being transparent in all of its financial actions.
Tammy also fields resident phone calls and website inquiries multiple times every day. She makes sure an inquiry is forwarded to the appropriate department for handling, but handles many herself. She also helps residents over issues they have with the regional income tax authority.
I think it’s also important to note that during the COVID pandemic, when so many were able to work from home, Pat and Tammy were in their offices every day to ensure the work vital to making this city run got done. The city owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Pat and Tammy for decades of dedicated public service.
City gets an assist to improve HR outcomes
As residents know, the actions of the former police chief resulted in the filing of a lawsuit by three individuals in the police department. That case has been settled and, while I will not discuss settlement terms, I am able to talk about how we will make improvements to ensure that a similar situation does not happen again. We have hired Your Partner in HR to advise the city about human resources matters. Other cities with larger tax bases due to their size, location and resulting business activity, have the ability to hire staff to handle human resources. As a small, largely residential community that is fully developed, we do not have access to the same funds without increasing taxes. Believe me, as a longtime resident, I am well aware of the burden that places on residents. So, we keep administration staff hires to a minimum, which means the few we have wear many hats, and juggle many responsibilities. Contracting with an HR firm to work on a consulting basis will accomplish two things – first, it will strengthen our hiring, supervision and disciplinary practices and, second, it will be done effectively while limiting expenses.
Hats off to our community volunteers
While a few people seem intent on bashing the city, its employees and the administration – frequently without foundation – we just cannot let these few destroy Sheffield Lake and all the good being done by the majority. Let me cite just a few recent contributions by our residents and all of us should be talking about what they do to boost the city. For example, Deb Suarez, and a group of volunteers, have run a free summer arts programs for our kids for nine years. Summer can be a boring, lonely time for kids who miss their school friends and the activities that keep them engaged during the school year. Younger children are encouraged to try their hand at arts and crafts and to meet kids they may eventually see again at school. It’s always a pleasure to attend the art exhibit they hold as a grand finale to highlight the kids’ efforts. As adults, this is a great way to show our support for our kids and the volunteers who donated their Mondays to make the program a success when they just as easily could have been reading a book, shopping or lunching with their friends.
There is a small, but truly dedicated, group that makes Community Days happen. Led by At Large Councilman, Steve Kovach, and working under the umbrella of the Community Civic Council, Amy and Jim McFall, Toni Shanahan, Amanda Herritt, Jess Resch, Chuck Holland and Kathy Kovach work hundreds of hours – often behind the scenes – to ensure that hundreds attending the weekend-long events have fun and are safe.
Last, but hardly least, a fantastic group has turned an area of brown dirt and weeds across the street from Hanks Community Center into a green, thriving garden. It’s not unusual to see these community gardeners chatting with residents who are curious about the garden. Now that vegetables are ready to harvest, I’ve heard multiple stories of how they share their harvest with others, including strangers who just stop by.
There are many terrific volunteer organizations in the city, engaging kids as young as six or seven as well as our senior residents, and I appreciate all they contribute to Sheffield Lake.
There is far more good going on in Sheffield Lake than what a few are spreading on social media. Listen. Don’t listen. That’s up to you. However, I hope you take a look around and ask yourself whether
what you see today across the city is better than it was a decade ago.
My sincere thanks to those residents who contribute to making Sheffield Lake a great place to work and live. I pledge to continue working with you to highlight the positive things being done for the city, your families and you because what unites us is what keeps us strong and moving forward.