Mayors' responsibilities vary by town
LIMA, Mar 03, 2013 (The Lima News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
At one end, is Lima Mayor David Berger, perennially near the top of the highest paid public officials in the region. He makes $117,000, presides over a city of nearly 39,000 and manages a municipal staff of nearly 350.
At the other end is Kalida Mayor Alan Gerdeman, who made $5,720 in 2012. He presides over the Putnam County village of just more than 1,500. About 20 are on the payroll there, and that includes members of Village Council and Board of Public Affairs.
Both answer to "mayor," but the two have very different jobs.
"It's an opportunity to serve the community," Gerdeman said. "Most aspects of the job are enjoyable. Sometimes you make a decision that makes your best friend mad, but you have to look at the overall good for the village."
As The Lima News presents its 20th annual public salary project, the paper looks at what it means to be a mayor, and compares Lima's chief executive job with other similar sized communities.
Berger, serving as mayor since 1989, is running for his seventh term. The city has made multiple cuts in staff during that tenure, including in the administrative offices. For nearly 15 years, Berger has gone without a secretary. That thought would make most people responsible for a $70 million enterprise and 350 employees shudder, but Berger has managed it with technology.
"Without technology, I'd never be able to do any of it. It just wouldn't have been possible. Phone, email, databases, spreadsheets. It's essential," Berger said. "For those who appreciate how much work a secretary does, I think they understand how much work that is."
A check of similar sized communities shows Berger earns a far higher salary than mayors of Findlay, Lancaster, Marion and Warren. However, all those communities have administrative assistants and all those communities also have safety and service directors. Lima doesn't have that extra layer of administration.
Berger said the city tried a safety director's position in the 1970s, before he was mayor, but the experiment didn't go well and the city got rid of the job. Berger did have a chief of staff until Catherine Garlock retired. Berger didn't fill the job.
"That most recent shrinkage was not overcome with technology. It was overcome with decisions about what we would and would not do," Berger said. "We suspended a whole series of activities. Some things just don't happen any more."
One of Berger's priorities has always been economic development. It takes up a large block of his time and often overlaps with other responsibilities, such as external leadership through the U.S. Conference of Mayors or leading local task forces. He has always made it a personal priority.
"The issue of jobs goes directly to the overall quality of life long-term that you either have or don't have," Berger said. "If you're not successful there, you can't get to all the other issues that also need attention."
In Spencerville, P.J. Johnson works full-time and then puts in lots of extra hours as mayor, before and after the job that pays the bills. The list of tasks include running council meetings, chairing the planning commission and holding mayor's court.
"It's considered a part-time job, but it's as much as you want to make of it," Johnson said.
After serving on council, he wanted a larger leadership role in his community and he got it. He's been mayor about a year.
"I'd become acclimated with a lot of what was going on and wanted to apply myself more to the community. You want your town to succeed; you're in competition with everyone else to provide the best services and businesses and quality of life in a community."
As a part-time mayor, Kalida's Gerdeman has worked one of those jobs Berger fought to keep. He's a process engineering manager at Husky Lima Refinery. After 38 years, he plans to retire in May.
Through the years, Berger has received scattered opposition at the ballot box. In 12 years, Gerdeman has never been opposed. He's not sure if it's because everyone likes the job he's done, or if no one else wants the job.
"The more the latter, I suspect," Gerdeman said. "It does take a lot of time, and there's some headaches involved."
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