New city manager Rob Hillard’s first month on the job has been busy.
Hillard, whose first day was Dec. 5, has met with all the city’s department heads and most of it’s 110 employees as well as touring most of Oberlin’s departments.
Hillard has also met with business people, city council members, Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov, college faculty, and nonprofit groups such as Oberlin Community Services and the Oberlin Project. He’s also attended community events, including a play at the First Church in Oberlin and the Shop-With-A-Cop holiday gift giveaway at Wal-Mart.
“It’s been very busy and I’m loving every minute of it,” Hillard said. “Department heads, employees, also the community members — they’re a passionate group of individuals. Clearly, they care about their community.”
Councilman Kelley Singleton is one of those Hillard has met with individually. Singleton said their two-hour discussion included talk of distribution of rebates to Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System customers from pollution offset credit profits. They also discussed establishing a “choice” system that would allow customers to donate rebates to the utility’s Sustainable Reserve Program for conservation and energy efficiency efforts.
Other topics included the hiring of a new electric director and police chief, plus the college’s plan for a theater addition to Hall Auditorium and its impact on parking; the ongoing establishment of a stormwater utility program to reduce flooding and water pollution and comply with federal Clean Water Act regulations; and Oberlin’s opposition to the proposed NEXUS natural gas pipeline.
Singleton said Hillard is a good communicator who’s not afraid to ask questions if he’s unsure of something.
“We’ve made a very good choice,” Singleton said. “He’s going to fit into the role nicely.”
Similarly impressed was Janet Haar, Oberlin Business Partnership executive director. Haar, who met with Hillard after a partnership monthly meeting, said Hillard was thoughtful and a good listener. “I had a really good feeling after talking with him that we could work together,” she said.
Hillard also met with David Orr, a retired Oberlin College environmental studies professor and a counselor to Krislov. Orr founded the Oberlin Project, a college-city environmental and economic development initiative. Environmental sustainability is a major priority for Hillard.
Orr said project members and city officials will be working in 2017 on implementing Oberlin’s Climate Action Plan. It calls for the city to be carbon-free by 2050.
Orr, who wanted an outsider to be hired as city manager, said he values Hillard’s experience and perspective. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next few years,” Orr said.
Hillard, 51, came from Allegan, Mich., a city of about 5,000 where he was city manager from 2005 through July. He was previously city manager in Yellow Springs.
He and his wife, Kathy “Kass” Hillard, are living in the city manager’s residence on Morgan Street. They have four adult children.
Hillard said Oberlin, with about 8,300 people, provides more services than Allegan. He said Oberlin has a more “level playing field” in terms of how department heads are chosen because the city charter divides hiring responsibilities between council and the city manager.
Because Oberlin is bigger than Allegan, community outreach is more challenging. But Hillard said it’s one of his top priorities.
Through better communication, he said he can better comprehend what residents need and they can better understand what services Oberlin provides. Hillard said he’s working on a neighborhood outreach effort and residents are welcome to set up appointments to meet with him.
Hillard said it will take a while to get to know Oberlin and its people and he expects the busy pace to continue, but that’s OK.
“I’m loving Oberlin,” he said. “I’m really enjoying the community, the people and the job and I’m very appreciative of the support I’m receiving. “
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.