During a recent interview with ThisWeek Hilliard, Mayor Don Schonhardt talked about the future of his city and his own political future, which might include a run for a third term in office.

During a recent interview with ThisWeek Hilliard, Mayor Don Schonhardt talked about the future of his city and his own political future, which might include a run for a third term in office.

The following are his edited responses.

TW: How long have you lived in Hilliard?

Schonhardt: I've lived in Hilliard and the school district since the 1990s. I actually ended up annexing my property into the city.

TW: Will there be more annexation to Hilliard in 2010?

Schonhardt : I'd like to think there will be some additional annexation. We grew our land area quite a bit this year, but it's mostly agricultural property that's there for potential future development. There's still some land out there to the west and the north, but I think we picked up the majority of it that was down to the south and west.

I think the philosophy of bringing in the land and having control over the development of that land in the future is wise, and I think it's one shared by (city) council. So to the extent that a property owner is willing to annex to the city of Hilliard, we are certainly more than willing to bring them in.

TW: Why would that property owner want to be part of Hilliard?

Schonhardt : First and foremost is the provision of utilities. Without water and wastewater services, you're very limited on what you can do with your property. Annexation doesn't change your school district - that land is already part of the school district. There are a lot of quality of life benefits to being a Hilliard resident - we have a terrific parks and recreation system. We have 21, about to be 22, really nice parks in the community. We have a lot of recreational programs that are available, and there is a cost differential for resident vs. non-resident.

There's a clear benefit to being a resident of this city. The services that our community provides far exceed those of any of the areas surrounding the city of Hilliard. We do a terrific job on snow removal, leaf pickup and road repairs.

We've learned a lot about development and controlling densities and trying to make sure that we grow in a smart fashion as opposed to just grow. There was a lot of that in the 1990s: uncontrolled growth. We've managed our growth very carefully over the past six years, and I think we've really worked to develop our community in a logical and controlled fashion.

TW: This is your second term as mayor. Are you considering a third term?

Schonhardt: Up until November of this year, I didn't have a choice. With the passage of the (city) charter amendments, the choice is available now to me. I haven't made that final determination, but I'm certainly talking to people who I've counted on to advise me in the past.

The things that would push me into the consideration of an additional term is that I've really worked hard on Old Hilliard to make that vibrant once again. We did the streetscape back in 2008. In 2010, we will have the groundbreaking and the dedication of First Responders Park. Because of the economic conditions, I've not found a way clear to get Hilliard Station Park moving, and that is something I think is absolutely essential to the economic redevelopment of Old Hilliard. That would be something that would make me want to hang around and push hard to get that park done. I'd like to see the whole Hickory Chase/Erickson community brought back (from foreclosure). There's a lot of history I have with that and I think the concept of the senior housing that was originally proposed is still valid. I think it's something that will be good for the community - we've just got to get it back on track. That will not be a simple task.

I've been here in the best of times and I've been here in the worst of times, and I think everyone who takes pride in what they do wants to leave a place in the best condition possible, and that's hard to do when you're in the worst of times. I would like the opportunity to make sure this community is well-grounded financially and that things are back on course so that when somebody new comes in, they're not faced with a multitude of issues that I had to face when I walked in the door.

All those things I have to take into consideration as we approach the end of next year.

TW: I've been told that politics in Hilliard were different before you came on board.

Schonhardt: It was a lot more contentious than it has been. I don't really know what you can attribute it to. I have over 30 years of experience in governmental accounting and finance and if I didn't have that experience, things would be a lot tougher around here than they are. We've taken what I know about running a business and we've employed it here to make sure that as economic conditions have changed, that we've changed our mode of operations accordingly, so that we can weather the tough times. I came on the scene at a time when there was a great deal of turmoil in the community, but we also saw declining revenues, we saw a lack of development, and these were not in the kind of economic times we're dealing with today, and I just felt the need to get involved, to change that direction. I think we've completely reversed that direction. We are reaping the benefits now, because the community would be in far worse shape under the current economy had we not taken the steps we've taken in the last six years to build our commercial development, to build our job base, build our income tax base.

TW: How did you get into Hilliard politics?

Schonhardt : I got involved with a group called the Heritage Rail-Trail Coalition, a nonprofit organization that was created to acquire and make improvements to the old abandoned rail trail that ran northwest towards Plain City. I am a runner - that was my interest in getting that old rail trail developed as a linear park. That kind of piqued my interest in the whole process. I found myself offering answers, and it just ended up being a nice fit. That led to an appointment to council, and ultimately a successful run for council and mayor.

It took 10 years for the railroad to agree to redevelop the rail trail. (Future) plans incorporate the continuation of that linear park through the community and then ultimately over to the Griggs Reservoir Park and that would tie us into the Columbus Rail-Trail pathway, so that you could go from Old Hilliard to downtown Columbus on a dedicated pedestrian pathway. That's always been a dream of mine. That's absolutely essential to the future of this community that we have that pedestrian connectivity.

TW: What other transportation changes do you foresee for residents and commuters?

Schonhardt : People are going to find it necessary to live closer to places that they work. The cost of commuting is going to continue to rise and the inconvenience of commuting is going to continue to grow. It's most cost-effective for them to live near where they work, and find alternate methods of transportation to get there, whether it's the bus or more economical forms of mass transportation.

Hilliard is well-positioned to accommodate that kind of arrangement because as we've grown over the past decade, we've tried to integrate residential and commercial properties together. We have BMW, which is on the northeast side, but we've included with the zoning of that entire area, housing close by so that people who work there have the opportunity to live nearby.

If you look at Hilliard, you've got Cemetery Road, Davidson Road, Rome-Hilliard Road - some major north-south routes. We've incorporated pedestrian walkways into all of these major roadways.

Our comprehensive plan calls for a mass transit station over along Britton Parkway near Cemetery Road. I hope to see some form of light rail operate between downtown Columbus and the suburbs. We've even bandied about (an automated tram) system.

TW: You use your own car for transportation instead of one provided by the city. Why?

Schonhardt : I have no city car. I have no city expense account. I don't ask for reimbursement - other than going to two professional seminars. I carry two cell phones - personal and city. I don't have my own assistant. The office isn't exactly filled with luxurious furniture. I don't do well behind a desk. Every time I come to city hall, I take a different route (to see what's going on).

I'm here to do a job, and I'm trying to do it the best way possible, and at the lowest cost. I don't want to be a drain on the public coffers. I try to run a very tight ship.

I believe in the concept of public servant. Granted, there was a salary increase at the beginning of my second term, but I clearly didn't take this job for the money, and I don't anyone should ever take this job for the money. That's not what this job is all about - it's in large part about the opportunity to give back, creating the kind of environment that you would like for future generations and that includes my children.