Upper Arlington City Council selected its 2014-15 leadership during its first meeting of the year Jan. 13.
By unanimous votes, Don Leach, who served as the mayor and council president in 2013, was re-elected, and Debbie Johnson was tapped as vice president.
The positions are primarily ceremonial; the president presides over and manages council meetings and has the authority to set meeting agendas.
As mayor, the council president also has the ability to perform weddings.
Council’s vice president also has input on council agendas and fills in whenever the mayor/council president is not available.
This year marks the second consecutive year Leach will serve as mayor and council president after former mayor and council president Frank Ciotola agreed to allow Leach to hold those positions in 2013, Ciotola’s final year on council.
Leach, a partner at the Columbus law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl, initially served on council from 2006 to 2009 and was council president and mayor from 2008 to 2009.
He didn’t seek re-election in 2009, but was elected again to council in 2011 after running unopposed.
“I’m honored and excited to serve in that role again,” Leach said.
Johnson is the founding director of Ross Leadership Institute, which provides leadership development resources to companies and organizations throughout central Ohio. She has been on council since 2010; this is her first election to one of the two leadership roles.
“I’m excited for the next two years,” she said. “It’s a great council and we get along very well.
“We don’t all agree on everything, and we’re all very, very comfortable with that. We all want to challenge each other to really look at things.”
In identifying priorities for 2014, Leach and Johnson both put managing Upper Arlington’s operating budget at the top of their lists.
They said the city must continue to find ways to address a decline of nearly $6 million in annual revenue, which has been lost due to cuts in the Local Government Fund by the Ohio General Assembly and the elimination of Ohio’s estate tax as of Jan. 1, 2013.
Both also pointed to the work of the council-appointed Citizens Financial Review Task Force, which is expected to provide recommendations this spring for addressing municipal budget needs.
In line with budget analysis, Leach and Johnson said the city will continue to seek “shared services” agreements with other communities and agencies to make operations – everything from vehicle maintenance to public communications efforts – more efficient and less expensive.
Leach said partnerships with Upper Arlington schools and Upper Arlington Public Library will be expanded this year. Those partnerships include a 50-50 funding agreement that will allow a city police officer to work as a school resource officer and a joint city-school newsletter that is expected to cut publication costs by $14,000 for the school district and $9,000 for the city.
“I’m excited about the enhanced collaboration we have among the city, schools and library,” he said. “I think we owe it to residents to be as efficient as possible.”
Although no contracts have been approved, Johnson said she hopes those partnerships eventually lead to the installation of a fiber-optic network throughout Upper Arlington. That, she said, would modernize telecommunications technology, provide for easier and better communications among city, school and library buildings and help spur further economic development.
“It is better communications,” Johnson said. “There’s also a cost savings because you’re all working on one network. It’s also much more attractive for businesses when they can go on a fiber network.”
Communications with the public also will be key, Leach and Johnson said, as city officials attempt to educate residents and business partners about municipal finance needs and maintain public safety.
Leach noted that residents can now stay up to date with emergency warnings and important local events through UA Alerts and social media.
But in addition to alert capabilities, Leach and Johnson said it’s important that city officials continue to celebrate the community’s assets and the good work being done by residents and business leaders to uphold UA’s status as a high-quality community in which to live and work.
“That’s the kind of community we are and we should be, and we will be, as a council and city, more conscious about recognizing those people and businesses that make us such a great city,” Leach said.
Additionally, Johnson said she hopes to further examine proposals to consolidate the city’s 911 dispatch services with other communities to increase efficiency and reduce costs, as well as continue the work of groups seeking to improve the city’s transportation network and sidewalk accessibility.
“The things we do study, we want to make sure we bring them off the shelf and use them,” she said. “It’s making sure we don’t lose that momentum of some of the ideas that have come forward.”