City leadership changes hands Monday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 29, 2003

For the last six years, Bob Cleary was perhaps the face that people most associated with the City of Ironton.

As mayor, he was the city's chief executive officer, ribbon-cutter and liaison between the city and other governments. On Monday, he becomes a private citizen. After 6 years as mayor - and 8 years as a council member prior to that, Cleary passes the mayoral torch to John Elam, who voters elected to be the city's mayor earlier this month.

The Ironton Tribune interviewed both men earlier this week - Cleary's last on the job and Elam's first before taking over the position.

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Cleary said of all the accomplishments that have taken place in his six years, the ones of which have brought him the most joy are the establishment of the Empowerment Zone that includes Ironton, the development of the South Ironton Industrial Park, relocation of the Liebert Corporation and the deal to bring 50 Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital jobs to the Ironton City Center.

"When I first became mayor, there were so many opportunities out there, but we needed a funding source to make them become a reality," Cleary said. "This was like a catalyst to make things happen. We used this money to pursue other grants that we could not have gotten otherwise. Many state grants require matching funds."

Cleary said a street repaving project in 2000 would never have materialized with EZ money.

"That project was $600,000, and it required, I believe, a 20 percent match. The city did not

have that kind of money, and without EZ funds this project would never have gone."

Cleary said EZ monies were also used to fund Operation Be Proud for three years, a Global Information Systems mapping of the city and to renovate the Marting Hotel into the Park Avenue Apartments.

"The list goes on and on," Cleary said. "There are so many success stories connected to the Empowerment Zone. It really has been a catalyst for economic growth. The EZ was one of the best tools we had in being able to attract other funding to develop projects."

Cleary said he will always look with pride on the South Ironton Industrial Park, created when the city acquired the old Honeywell property. What once was one more empty tract of land is being transformed into what he hopes will become a tool for economic growth in the city.

He has the same sentiments about the Liebert Corp. That business' entrance onto the local scene happened at a time when the city was losing job and morale was low. Cleary said Liebert brought more than an infusion of jobs and money into the city: Liebert has become a good corporate neighbor, involved in a myriad of civic activities.

Two of the last projects that Cleary has seen come to fruition, or very nearly to it, have been the deal to bring approximately 50 jobs from the OLBH headquarters in Russell, Ky., to the Ironton City Center. He signed the final agreement Wednesday and forwarded it to OLBH officials for their approval. The other is the apparently imminent reopening of a grocery store in the old Tipton's Foodland building.

"When Tipton's closed, it was a real devastation to the city," Cleary said. "(Economic Development Director) Matt Ward and I worked hard on this, and I expect to see a grocery store back in business within the next two weeks."


Cleary said what he has enjoyed most about being mayor is working with the people of Ironton.

"I have been a hands-on mayor, and I try to treat everyone exactly the same, whether they came in with a complaint or a compliment or a problem. I tried to give them my utmost attention," Cleary said. The people here are the greatest asset we have. Other communities just don't have the friendliness that we do, the safety and security. The people here are tremendous."

Cleary said while the road has not always been a smooth one, it has been satisfying, and he was proud to have been the city's public servant.


On Monday, John Elam will change hats. He will exchange the one that read "council member" for a new one that says "mayor."

Elam said the change in position will give him the opportunity to make a difference for the City of Ironton.

"I'm humbled and honored," Elam said of his landslide victory and the voters who gave him their approval. "I'm anxious to prove myself to them, and for them to know I will be working for them."

Elam will take office Monday in a 7:30 a.m. ceremony at the Ironton City Center. In an interview last week, Elam said he has a clear view of what his first days and months in office will entail: getting to know his new staff, improving communications between city hall and the community and implementing a clear plan for economic development.

Forging alliances

Elam said his first days in office will be an opportunity to do some relationship-building. One of his first moves will be to meet with city department heads and get their input on what the city is doing right - and wrong - in providing services and attracting new business.

"I will not micro manage the city," Elam said. "But I will help them in any way I can, and I want to make sure we are pulling in the same direction to achieve the desired outcomes."

The new mayor also plans to visit members of the business community to see if the city is meeting their needs, and to let them know their opinions are welcome at city hall.

"This town has a lot of very intelligent, talented people," Elam said. "I will not hesitate to ask them for their input in solving problems."

Improving communications

Elam said he plans to be an accessible mayor with an open-door policy - literally. He has several ideas for improving communication between the mayor's office and city residents.

First, he plans to have an open house-of-sorts every Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., to give people the opportunity to visit with him and share their concerns. He is also considering implementing town meetings to allow residents another avenue to make their voices heard.

"I realize a lot of times its difficult for people to get into the building to discuss issues," Elam explained. "And if I can't see them then, they will be able to make an appointment."

He wants to have a Web site developed to keep area residents abreast of goings-on, and would like to see at least some council meetings videotaped and broadcast on the Ohio University Southern television channel.

He also wants to improve communication between the mayor and city council as well. "I have been on council so I know that communication can be improved," Elam said.

New opportunities

Asked what his greatest concern is, Elam answered "to better promote Ironton for the good of all residents."

With this in mind, Elam said he said he wants to develop of a central business plan, a blueprint for future growth, both for the downtown and for the city's new industrial park.

"I want to chart a central course of direction by developing a business plan," Elam said. "I want to accomplish long term objectives through short term goals. I'd like to have a plan developed within 60 days, and I would like to have new business in within six months."

Elam said he will review the progress made by Ward, who resigned his position last week, to determine what steps are needed to continue toward economic growth.

"We have to have economic development, whether than comes from a position solely dedicated to it, or it comes from an advisory panel, or it is one of my responsibilities," Elam said.

Readyfor change

Asked what he considers to be the city's greatest asset, Elam answered without hesitation "the people. Far and away, the people of Ironton are the biggest plus we have. And I think the people are ready for change. The things that everyone wants are the things that I want. By working together, we will achieve our goals - our common, shared goals."