Respect mutual between Delaware, departing city attorney Darren Shulman

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
On Sept. 1, Delaware city attorney Darren Shulman will leave his position with the city, which he has held since June 2011, for the same position in Upper Arlington. He is pictured Aug. 11 outside Delaware City Hall.

Darren Shulman became Delaware's city attorney in 2011, and since then, he says, the city has been in a constant state of change.

"Everything has always been in flux, in a good way. The city has been growing and evolving," he said.

"One of the reasons I liked coming to the city and working here is it continues to grow. It's moving from a small town to mid-size city and there's a lot of interesting kinds of legal challenges that go along with that."

Shulman will leave his Delaware job when he becomes Upper Arlington's city attorney Sept. 1, replacing Jeanine Hummer, who will retire Aug. 31.

Shulman has worked in a wide variety of roles in Delaware.

They have included advising City Council members during their meetings, drafting legislation council has requested and working with other departments in the administration.

He has negotiated easements and land purchases for the city, working directly with residents, and has connected with nonprofit and community groups.

He has worked on cases at Delaware Municipal Court because the city prosecutor's staff is part of his department.

He's even been the co-host of a local, city-themed radio show for six years.

As he prepares to head to Upper Arlington, he said, he is leaving behind an efficient city government that works effectively for its residents and taxpayers.

"The city of Delaware government staff has been fortunate in a few ways and I've been very impressed with it," he said.

"We've had a very good continuity of staff, so people have been in their positions for a long time or been with the city for a long time, so you have that continuity. We have a culture of working with each other, so we're collaborative and friendly ... we don't fight with each other we don't have turf. ... That doesn't mean we just are yes-men and walk in step. We don't agree on everything but we collaborate.

"We work together, and through that we come up with the best, in my opinion, solution," he said.

That sense of dedication is shared by all city workers, he said.

"We're working toward the same goal, and this is not just the directors; this is all of the staff," he said. "I've been impressed that the employees for Delaware really care about the community and doing a good job, and that's everyone from the refuse workers to the economic-development (staff) to community affairs. Everyone has that same goal."

The city is responsive to its residents, he said.

"A member of the public can come to City Council and they can say, 'Hey, I'd like you to do this or I have an idea,' and they can actually get listened to and it's possible for your idea to happen," he said. "And when that happens, my role often is to take that idea and the kind of general consensus from council (and write) the legislation, making sure what were doing is workable and legal."

Examples of that process include limits on massage parlors and exotic animals, both of which were suggested to the city by residents, he said.

"Any time there's a pseudo-controversial issue, you're trying to weigh both sides and make sure you make as many people satisfied as possible," he said.

Before council approved legislation limiting massage parlors, he said, council listened to "others not wanting us to accidentally impact their business that wasn't related to the problem behind the massage parlors."

Shulman worded the legislation to address those concerns -- an example of his emphasis on "avoiding unintended consequences," he said.

The city also strives to make sure taxpayers get their money's worth, he said.

Financially, he said, "Delaware is pretty lean. We take taxpayer dollars seriously, so we don't have extra people laying around. We have to be efficient, because we have just enough folks on board to do the job. ... We're forced to be innovative and lean, because we try to be very responsible with the tax dollars."

Some of his work, authorized by council, has extended outside city limits.

One example is the development of the Tanger Outlets Columbus mall in Berkshire Township, he said.

The township approached the city, he said, asking it to partner with Berkshire on a joint economic-development district and a new-community authority.

Both steps are authorized by the Ohio Revised Code and allow Berkshire to take measures it can't by itself as a township, Shulman said.

The JEDD allows Berkshire to collect an income tax in the district, he said, capturing some income from those working at the mall. An NCA allows collection of millage on property for capital expenses, such as roadwork needed to accommodate the mall, he said.

Not all proposals end up winning council approval, Shulman said. One contentious example was what Shulman calls "the great chicken debate."

Early in his tenure with the city, a number of central Ohio municipalities debated whether to allow "backyard chickens" -- birds that could be kept in residential areas to lay eggs.

"It was a huge issue," Shulman said. "It was probably the issue that got the most public involvement, if you can believe that, in terms of people on both sides of the issue" showing up at council meetings.

In the end, council rejected the idea, except for students involved in short-term projects, such as those with the National FFA Organization.

Shulman is a former assistant prosecuting attorney for Montgomery County and said he has appreciated the chance to return to a courtroom for the city prosecutor.

"I've always liked to do criminal work, and you do a lot more trials in criminal work than you do on the civil side," he said. "So in order to keep that skill fresh, it's been a real blessing for me to be able to keep doing that every once in a while -- keep trying cases in front of a jury to make sure I had all the skills I did all those years ago."

Shulman also has enjoyed co-hosting Delaware City Digest, a radio show airing at 9 a.m. Fridays on WDLR-FM (92.9) and WDLR-AM (1550).

During the shows, Shulman demonstrates his sense of humor, often via barbs directed at his co-host, Delaware community-affairs coordinator Lee Yoakum.

"Perhaps the most important thing, if you've never listened, is I always make fun of Lee's age every episode.. ... I do a 'this day in history,' and somehow Lee Yoakum has been present for everything that's happened, including like Julius Caesar and stuff like that. Lee Yoakum has witnessed and reported on all of it," Shulman said with a laugh.

Yoakum said Shulman's experience as an attorney serves him well behind the microphone.

"I think Darren's courtroom experience helped him ask questions of our guests that got good responses -- that and his sense of humor and timing," he said. "I always said that what made it work was that Darren was Harvard-educated and Mad Magazine-informed.

"I will miss our time together."

City Manager Tom Homan said Shulman has been a valued part of the city's leadership team.

"His skill as an attorney is outstanding and our residents and our entire staff have benefited greatly from his excellent legal expertise."

"I'm really thankful for the Delaware community," Shulman said. "From the minute I got here, they welcomed me with open arms, and I'll always be grateful for that."

Shulman and his wife, Marsha -- who works for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium as a food and beverage supervisor -- have a 1-year-old daughter, Parker.

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