Sticky notes on the office chair


I am quite sure that every mayor’s office throughout the state operates in a slightly different, if not totally unique, manner. Certainly, size and population make a huge difference.

Whether being mayor is a full-time job or part-time, like we have in Wilmington, makes a difference. But, the biggest difference would depend on whether the city is led by a mayor or city manager; whether the city operates as a statutory city or a charter city.

Statutory cities operate under the strict guidelines established by the state lawmakers and written into the Ohio Revised Code (state law). The administrative head of a statutory city is always the mayor. However, many cities have chosen to become charter cities.

In a charter city, the residents are presented with a written charter that details how the city will operate. When the charter is approved by a vote of the citizens, it is common that the mayor is replaced as the chief executive with a city manager who is hired by the city council to run the city.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of serving on a panel of mayors to discuss some of our challenges. We did this in front of a large audience at the Greater Ohio Policy Center summit meeting in Columbus.

I sat with three other mayors — Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. We were by far the smallest city represented. It was a lively, interesting panel discussion, but the time we spent together in a private dining room prior to our formal presentation was most interesting.

At that time, the four of us were able to relax, chat and trade stories, bounce ideas around and compare our problems. Interestingly, many of our problems are similar — economic recovery and economic development, shrinking budgets, frustrations with the dwindling support we get from the federal and state government and with the unfunded mandates we get from the state and federal bureaucracy.

But we all agreed that, despite our size differences, one of our biggest problems is related to people, citizens behaving badly, breaking laws and generally, just not getting along with each other.

Neighbors find reasons to get on each other’s nerves whether they live in a large city like Dayton or a much smaller community like Wilmington. Dogs bark. Cat roam and make messes in flower beds. Grass isn’t mowed. Property is not maintained as well as the neighbors would like, and who do they call? The mayor’s office.

We all take our citizens concerns very seriously, but the larger cities have departments who do nothing but deal with citizen’s complaints and problems. In Wilmington, they quite often end up on my desk.

I have an outstanding staff of two who handle just about everything. In the office, Brenda and Andrea do an excellent job of answering calls and solving problem presented by citizens, but often the citizen wants the mayor to know about an issue and wants the mayor to help solve the problem. That’s when I get sticky notes.

To make sure I don’t miss the message, they will put the sticky note on my office chair. A typical day will find three or four notes stuck to my chair. If I’m away for a day or two and it’s a particularly busy week, I come back to find my chair looking like a bulletin board filled with notes, reminders, complaints and concerns.

I love it when my chair looks busy, but sometimes it can be quite frustrating.

The Toledo mayor has a full staff to help. The Dayton mayor has a whole department to solve problems, but here I have two assistants and a chair.

We do our best, but at times we get behind. If you have ever called city hall to talk with the mayor and I haven’t returned your call… I apologize. It wasn’t Andrea’s fault or Brenda’s fault. It wasn’t even my chair’s fault. It was my fault.

We always encourage neighbors to talk with each other and to work out their own problems. Some problems, especially if they are driven by personality conflicts, cannot be solved by the city.

Unfortunately, sometimes we have to advise people to contact an attorney; to get the courts involved.

Unfortunately, solving problems, is not always as easy as pealing a sticky note off of a chair. I wish it was.

Randy Riley is Mayor of Wilmington.