Upper Arlington city attorney Jeanine Hummer reflects on 31-year career
After serving her entire adult life in the public sector, Upper Arlington's longtime city attorney will retire Aug. 31.
As she looks back on her life and career, it's still a bit unreal to Jeanine Hummer.
Over the years, which have included 31 with the city of Upper Arlington and 18 as city attorney, events have unfolded in ways she hadn't expected.
Hummer frequently jokes that after obtaining a criminal-justice degree from Ohio State University and a law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law, she was involved with a "transition" boyfriend and the job with the city was to be nothing more than a stepping stone.
As life played out, the boyfriend became her husband, and Upper Arlington became her life professionally and personally.
"I love UA and will always love UA," Hummer said. "I owe this community an enormous debt of gratitude. Council hired me, but this community always supported me, and I understand public service."
Along with her husband, Mark, Hummer put down roots in the community as she rose to the ranks of a city administrator and raised four children -- Amira, Daniel, Andy and Emily -- who all graduated from Upper Arlington High School.
Her career in Upper Arlington followed eight years in which she worked as a congressional page, at Ohio State, for U.S. Sen. John Glenn and in the Franklin County Public Defender's Office. Her retirement comes as her youngest child, Emily, prepares for her first year of college and competing on the Ohio State women's golf team.
"I've been in public service for 39 years," Hummer said. "I'm ready for the next chapter. My youngest graduated from Upper Arlington High School this past May, and the timing just worked out."
Hummer, 59, was raised in Toledo by immigrant parents. Her mother was from Damascus, Syria, and her father was from Beirut, Lebanon.
Her pursuit of a career in law was inspired by her father's work as a janitor who cleaned the Toledo police station and Lucas County Municipal Court.
"My dad would put me in the chambers of the municipal court while he cleaned. I said, 'I want to be here one day,' " Hummer said. "I feel like I've been able to live the American Dream."
Hummer and her office have been involved in crafting city laws and advising Upper Arlington leaders on policies and government standards.
There have been challenges along the way, including a failed 1.5-mill levy in November 2002 that would have paid for the construction of a community center on city-owned land at the Kingsdale Center, which at the time suffered numerous storefront vacancies and was seen by some in the community as an eyesore.
Hummer cited the August 2016 recall election, when a group of residents unsuccessfully attempted to remove City Council members John C. Adams, David DeCapua, Kip Greenhill and Debbie Johnson from office, as a low point of her career because of the divisiveness it brought to the community.
"I felt that was an unnecessary act," she said. "It bothers me and will probably bother me the rest of my life."
But the highlights far exceed those struggles, Hummer said, and she's proud that she's been an integral part of identifying solutions to problems in the city's government and in the community.
A proud moment came in May 2019, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Tree of Life Christian School's lawsuit seeking to force the city to allow it to open a school at 5000 Arlington Centre Blvd. Rejecting the appeal meant Upper Arlington was able to uphold its zoning that prohibits schools from operating in areas zoned for office complexes.
Hummer said she's also pleased to be part of the work to bring a 104,000-square-foot Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center outpatient-care facility to Kingsdale in 2016, as well as the pending development of the Arlington Gateway, an 11-story, 132,444-square-foot multiuse project at 1325-97 W. Lane Ave. and 2376 North Star Road. Groundbreaking is expected before year's end.
Additionally, she's proud the city established the first suburban drug court in central Ohio in September 2016, with the goal of helping addicts change their lives and obtain employment, as well as other diversion programs to address domestic violence and zoning code violations.
"The list of notable accomplishments for the city that relied heavily on the expert legal guidance of Jeanine and her team over the years is extensive," said Dan Ralley, Upper Arlington's assistant city manager. "A few that immediately spring to mind: the Tree of Life outcome after many years of litigation; the many economic-development agreements that have strengthened our business base and boosted income-tax revenues for the city; shared-use agreements with our community partners that have enhanced services and realized cost savings; and the launch of several, forward-thinking diversion programs that have become a model for other communities.
"She has been a tireless advocate for the city and the kind of lawyer that you were always glad was on your side of the table when it came to difficult negotiations or situations."
Ralley, council President Kip Greenhill and council member Michele Hoyle all pointed to Hummer's devotion to the Upper Arlington community in lauding her public service.
"Jeanine Hummer's love for our community has been apparent in every day of her service to Upper Arlington," Hoyle said. "Whether we've agreed or disagreed, I've always respected Jeanine's rational and thoughtful opinions and her focus on the best interests of UA.
"I know she'll be missed as our city attorney, but I have no doubt she'll find another way to serve our community."
Greenhill said he knows of "very few people who bring the dedication and loyalty" Hummer has brought to her work.
"Her interest and concern for Upper Arlington, I think, is inspirational."
In looking back, Hummer said there were far too many people to thank and recognize for helping her develop professionally and grow personally.
But she singled out Jack Allen and Virginia Barney, who as council members recommended hiring her as an assistant city attorney; former city attorney Craig Mayten for hiring her; and former council president David Varda, who recommended that she be promoted to city attorney.
Looking forward, Hummer plans to take a few months to rest and relax and "put away laundry that hasn't been put away for 31 years."
She also looks forward to spending more time with her family, including watching Emily golf for Ohio State.
Eventually, she hopes to find volunteer opportunities in the community, possibly providing continuing legal education to practicing lawyers.
"I'm going to enjoy not having a lot of pressures, not having a 4 a.m. call from the police about something," she said. "I'm proud to have been part of it, and I'm glad people had faith in me -- not bad for a girl from Toledo, Ohio, with parents who didn't speak English. I have loved my job.
"There've been bad days, but I never disliked my job or my work. I'm super lucky. Not everybody has that, and I know that."