No decisions have been made yet, but Upper Arlington City Council President Kip Greenhill said last week he believes there will be a nationwide search to find a successor for City Manager Ted Staton, who announced he will retire Jan. 31.

"This is just me talking, but I believe we'll go through a process of looking at internal and external candidates," Greenhill said. "I think we'll go through a very extensive process. This is probably the most important decision any city council makes, the hiring of their city's chief executive."

Staton, who has been undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer, has been city manager since 2011. He announced his decision via the city's website and Facebook page Jan. 15, writing, "For the last several months, I have faced some medical challenges, and following lengthy discussions with my wife, Carol, and other family members, I feel this decision is the best course of action for all."

Staton was hired to replace Virginia Barney after serving as city manager in East Lansing, Michigan, for more than 15 years.

He has been on medical leave since Sept. 17. A month after he took leave, he told ThisWeek Upper Arlington News he was receiving radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer and that he hoped to return to work between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"Therapy, both radiation and chemo, has begun and the prognosis for recovery is good," he said.

Upper Arlington Community Affairs Director Emma Speight, who worked alongside Staton in the city manager's office, said staff members were "saddened" to hear he is stepping down.

"We fully understand his decision to focus on his health and his family at this time, and we wish him the very best in his recovery and future endeavors," she said. "Ted has been an exceptional leader for our organization."

Speight said Staton was "instrumental in helping the city navigate through a period of financial challenge following the recession."

Budget moves

By January 2013, Staton eliminated 10 positions from the city roster in a bid to cut costs. He also was at the helm when the city floated Issue 23, a proposal to increase income taxes from 2 percent to 2.5 percent that voters approved in November 2014.

That has resulted in a $3.5 million annual increase in income tax revenues that's been diverted to infrastructure improvements. The city's income tax collections also have risen each year since 2010.

"He helped right-size the organization while simultaneously facing, head-on, the very significant challenge of addressing a backlog of deferred maintenance of critical infrastructure," Speight said. "His work ultimately led to the community supporting a request to increase the city's income-tax rate to support capital improvements, which enabled the city to maintain the high level of services to which residents are accustomed.

"He is a true leader and a man of integrity and dedication, inspiring his staff to be the best we can be, and working effectively with council at all stages of a community issue or special project," she said.

Speight and Assistant City Manager Dan Ralley said Staton has been "an exceptional mentor" to young people and women, encouraging them to pursue careers in public service and government.

"I think Ted is one of the best city managers in the country," Ralley said. "He brings a wealth of experience to his day-to-day management approach, but more importantly, he utilizes a style of leadership that is compelling in part because he joins his experience with a willingness to try new things and is comfortable with allowing others to help lead these projects and initiatives."

Greenhill credited Staton for leading economic development in the city, including luring the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center to build a 104,000-square-foot facility at the Kingsdale Center and the planned construction of the Arlington Gateway, an 11-story project planned at 1325-97 W. Lane Ave. and 2376 North Star Road that will include 130,000 square feet of office space, 218 luxury apartments and 14,350 square feet of retail space.

"He's going to be sorely missed," Greenhill said. "He's done exceptionally good work for the city. He's an incredibly insightful and knowledgeable city manager."

Controversies

Along with the successes, there were bumps in the road during Staton's tenure.

In summer 2014, residents prepared to put a referendum before voters to overturn a rezoning council approved to develop The Point, a 5.36-acre greenspace at the northern edge of the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center.

Staton and other city leaders sought to develop the unused land with professional offices before council ultimately rescinded the rezoning in the face of the planned referendum.

Similarly, Staton hired outside counsel to defend a lawsuit in the Ohio Court of Claims over 14 minutes of conversations that were redacted from a recording released publicly of a Jan. 10, 2017, council retreat. The city agreed to release the disputed audio recordings in April that year, and two months later, the court of claims ruled the city had illegally redacted the recordings.

Additionally, there were two heated disputes over plans for park redevelopment recommended by Staton's office.

In May 2015, plans were scuttled to build six baseball fields in place of two existing ones at Fancyburg Park after organized residents made their feelings known to city officials with calls, emails and a proliferation of yard signs.

A year later, sweeping redevelopment plans recommended by Staton for Northam Park were revised amid vocal opposition from some residents, but the changes weren't enough to stop a recall effort for four council members after opponents said the plans were too costly, would have a negative impact on the park and that city officials weren't listening to their concerns.

Upper Arlington's only recall attempt in August 2016 was unsuccessful, but it led Staton and council members to call for steps to be taken to improve communication between the city and residents.

'Bold' leadership

Greenhill said the communication initiatives showed how "sensitive" Staton was to serving constituents, and that the disputes primarily were fallouts from Staton and other city leaders thinking outside the box to bring progress to the community.

"I think (the recall) showed we had a leader who was very aggressive on trying to find other means of revenue through economic development," Greenhill said. "I see him as bold, and I applaud him for it.

"When you're bold, you're going to make waves."

Greenhill said those controversies and other disagreements with residents and council members showcased Staton's professionalism.

"We had strong disagreements at times," Greenhill said. "We were able to have discussions and then move on to the next issue.

"He was just the consummate professional and I don't think you'd be able to find a better city manager than what we had in Ted Staton."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate