The new year will bring with it a new mayor, city leadership, and an abundance of opportunities for change in Reynoldsburg.
Joe Begeny will take over the mayor's office Jan. 1, and Chris Shook will become the next city attorney.
City Council's Jan. 13 meeting will see four new council members and a council president -- all Democrats -- take their seats: Shanette Strickland, Louis Salvati, Bhuwan Pyakurel and Meredith Lawson-Rowe will represent the city's four wards, with Angie Jenkins serving as council president.
The meeting will serve to set committee membership and take care of housekeeping measures for council's 2020 legislative agenda.
The new officeholders were sworn in Dec. 27 by U.S. Rep Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) during a ceremony at Reynoldsburg High School's Summit Road campus.
City Council voted Dec. 16 to approve interim appropriations to cover costs beginning Jan. 1, to allow Begeny and the new council members time to make the transition and finalize an annual budget.
"The interim budget will give us some time to make sure we're making the best decisions we can and give me a chance to sit down with all the departments," Begeny said.
After the budget is finalized, Begeny said, he will turn his attention to working with surrounding municipalities, with a major focus in 2020 on redeveloping the Brice Road corridor.
The city will hire a service director this year to oversee the streets, water/wastewater, building and building maintenance department, including the city's multimillion-dollar street- and sewer-improvement program, Begeny said.
Reynoldsburg has been without a public-service director since Bill Sampson resigned in May.
Begeny said he also hopes to explore federal and state grants in 2020 as a way to better leverage city funds.
Reynoldsburg was notified in December it has been awarded a $4 million grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission for repaving and streetscape work along Main Street. That project is expected to occur in 2021, development director Andrew Bowsher said.
"When you take advantage of grants in the right way, you can make some pretty significant changes to the aesthetics of a city," Begeny said.
Begeny, who said he spent most evenings since the November election attending meetings at City Hall after a full day teaching high school, named the Reynoldsburg Community Association, faith leaders and other area agencies, such as the Mid-Ohio Market at HEART, among the stakeholders he plans to work with.
"We want to determine how the city and these groups can work together for the benefit of everyone," he said. "I want to make sure that City Hall is a place that is welcoming to all.
"I feel like I'm in a race. ... We're hitting the ground running. I'm enthusiastic and I'm ready to go."
Begeny resigned his seat as president of the Reynoldsburg Board of Education in December. Angela Abram was appointed Dec. 17 to fulfill his unexpired term, through Dec. 31, 2021.
Incoming city attorney Chris Shook said his "top priority" in 2020 will be to set up a recovery court, which promotes treatment instead of jail time for nonviolent drug offenders.
Hilliard, Upper Arlington and Franklin County all have similar programs.
Reynoldsburg has been awarded a $48,865 grant from the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health board of Franklin County (ADAMH) to help start the program, Shook said.
Shook said a criminal justice administrator will be hired; that person will operate in a similar fashion as a probation officer to help administer the recovery-court program, he said.
That role will include monitoring community-service and other probation conditions and administering drug tests.
"This will allow offenders to be monitored for probation conditions," Shook said. "We don't have a real effective way to monitor whether someone is using drugs, for example, so if we're going to invest money in this type of program, we need to make sure that those participants are not using drugs.
"We'll begin shadowing the programs in some of the other suburbs before we implement the program and start identifying eligible offenders. We're trying to implement a program that is designed to improve the chances of that person getting sober and staying sober.
"A lot of families out there are affected by this disease, and the more people see it in their daily lives, the more they understand we are dealing with a serious and often terminal disease," Shook said.
Parks and recreation
An $800,000 upgrade at John F. Kennedy Park, 7232 E. Main St., is among the major projects planned for the city's parks and recreation department in 2020.
A new restroom facility, concession stand and playground will be built, with construction expected to be finished in early summer, said Donna Bauman, parks and recreation director.
Bauman said the new playground would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations and would be "inclusive" -- meaning children of varying abilities would be able to use it.
The 2020 Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival will be one of the highlights of summer. Slated for Aug. 6-8, the 54th annual festival will bring back some of the most successful parts of the 2019 festival.
"We are currently reviewing national acts to sign as well as gearing up for the return of the Tomato Wars," said Jennifer Clemens, parks and recreation special-events coordinator. "The residents that participated and those that stood on the sidelines thoroughly enjoyed the rotten tomatoes hurling through the sky.
"Our hope in 2020 is to max out registrations and seek additional sponsors so that we can increase our donation to the local food pantries."
Clemens said 2020 also would bring a renewed focus on festival royalty, with the committee working on adding a scholarship component to the Tomato Festival Queens pageant.
The department is busy planning several new events for 2020, including an Artist and Makers Market on May 30 at the Livingston House and a live music and craft-beer event, Blues and Brews, slated for Oct. 3 in Huber Park.
Returning favorites this year will include the Concerts on the Lawn series and Pioneer Day, both held at the Livingston House; the 13th annual summer Farmers Market from June 4 to Sept. 3 at Huber Park and the second annual Spooky Pooch parade.
The department will kick off 2020 with the Third Thursday Winter Market, slated for 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 16, Feb. 20 and March 19 at the senior center, 1520 Davidson Drive.
"Winter doesn't mean the end of the farmers market in Reynoldsburg -- we just head inside," Clemens said. "While the options are different, you'll still find plenty of healthy and tasty items, including locally produced honey, eggs, beef, poultry, lamb, baked goods, dairy, jams, salsa and more."
Other capital improvement projects planned in 2020 include a $4 million streets and sewers program, with half the budget slated for improvements along Davidson Drive. Work on that project is expected to begin in the summer, following the Jan. 25 opening of the new, 75,000-square-foot community center YMCA.
City leaders said they hope to improve communication in 2020. Begeny said the staff is exploring ways to use email, emergency alerts and technology to better inform residents and provide council with feedback.
Begeny said he plans to deliver a state of the city address in February. Typically, Reynoldsburg mayors have given this type of speech during a chamber of commerce luncheon, but Begeny said he plans an additional address in the evening at City Hall so more people can attend.