BY KAREN GERHARDINGER| MIRROR REPORTER — Always prepared, Jim Bagdonas arrived at his last Waterville City Council meeting armed with facts.
“I’ve worked for three mayors and 19 members of council, attended 280 council meetings and hundreds of meetings for boards, commissions and with other municipalities,” said Bagdonas, who is retiring on Friday, January 4 after 14 years as Waterville’s municipal administrator.
An open house is slated that afternoon from noon to 3:00 p.m. at the Conrad Park recreation building.
On Saturday, January 5, Jon Gochenour, currently the director of finance and administration, will take over as administrator. It’s a job that entails overseeing projects, department heads and an annual budget of more than $10 million.
When Bagdonas was hired in 2004, the mayor was the late Chuck Peyton. Joe Beckler, Lori Brodie, Ann Cherry, Pauline Glaza and Tim Guzman were on council.
“We were lucky. He came to us when we needed an administrator,” said Brodie, who is now in her second term as mayor. “He must have crossed the bridge and fell in love with Waterville.”
A Toledo-area native, Bagdonas earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from The University of Toledo and began working for a consulting firm with public clients. That role took him to Northeast Ohio, where he regularly attended council meetings in Mansfield and Youngstown.
Being away fostered his appreciation for all that Northwest Ohio has to offer – a great place to raise a family and enjoy the outdoors without fighting traffic and congestion. So when the administrator’s job in Perrysburg opened up, Bagdonas interviewed and was hired into the job – serving 23 years. During that time, he also met a personal goal of earning his master’s degree in engineering.
When Bagdonas arrived in Waterville, it was still a village of 4,800. Now, the population is above 6,000 and growing.
“This shows that people recognize Waterville as a wonderful place to invest in a home and raise a family,” Bagdonas said.
During that time, the city has earned millions of dollars in Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC) grants and no-interest loans for infrastructure projects. With experience serving on the OPWC’s executive committee, Bagdonas said he gained a better understanding of how points count for projects, and how to be selective when applying for state and county dollars.
Some of the other highlights during his past 14 years include: the completion of the US 24 bypass, the installation of a waterline from Bowling Green, acquiring properties for the future riverfront park, and working with the Ohio Department of Transportation on planning for a replacement bridge.
“I learned more about sewer and water systems and how buildings are built,” Brodie said of Bagdonas’ style of breaking down complicated engineering projects into easy-to-understand language. He also avoided getting flustered in the face of controversy.
“The role of the administrator or engineer is to give information and advice to the elected officials. Ultimately, the decision is theirs,” Bagdonas said.
While Bagdonas could have stayed a few more years, he decided that it would make more sense for Gochenour to choose new department heads. Fire Chief Pat Wambo recently retired, and Public Works Director Kenny Blair and Police Chief Dave LaGrange are nearing retirement age.
Gochenour joined the city as director of finance and administration in August 2015, after serving as the administrator for Swanton for 12 years and as assistant administrator of Springfield Township for four years.
“He has more experience as an administrator than as a financial director,” said Bagdonas, noting that he is confident in his replacement.
While Bagdonas is making plans for his retirement – spending time with family, playing tennis doubles and traveling – he’s also looking forward to seeing the results of his work.
A joint fire district feasibility study, the completion of the bridge, the repaving of SR 64 and the downtown riverfront park will give him reason to cross the bridge and visit Waterville often.