Barb Bruno And Rod Frey Exit Waterville Council

Waterville City Council members Barb Bruno and Rod Frey are departing with a combined 20 years of experience. They shared insight on their tenure and what it takes to serve on council. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As Waterville City Council members bid farewell to Barb Bruno and Rod Frey on December 11, John Rozic used Frey’s words to describe the experience: “It’s been great fun. And when it hasn’t been fun, at least it’s been interesting,” Rozic said.

The Mirror asked both Bruno and Frey to share some insight into their combined 20 years of experience on council.

Mayor Tim Pedro calls her a firecracker. Former Mayor Lori Brodie calls her a truthteller. Barb Bruno knows she’s a little bit of both after serving 16 years on council, starting back when Waterville was still a village.

“It gets in your blood – serving people,” said Bruno, who put her interest in government into action as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals before beginning her first term in 1996. “I think everybody should have to serve in some capacity as a public servant at some point in life because it’s a great lesson in seeing how the process of local government works.”

While Bruno brought with her an understanding of civics and administration, she learned just how much goes on behind the scenes to keep a city operating: plowing and paving streets and providing police and fire services. Being on council means understanding and making decisions on the budget and overseeing the administrator to ensure checks and balances, she said.

“It’s a huge learning curve for anyone stepping into that position – a lot of procedural and administrative things,” Bruno said. “You need to know the budget and how those monies are distributed to all of the departments. You need to know Robert’s Rules of Order and procedural stuff like moving, seconding, tabling, executive sessions and emergency measures. It’s all part of the learning curve.”

While she took a 10-year break, it was the lack of Independence Day fireworks that sparked a decision run for office again.

“We had gone through the recession in 2008 and 2009 and people were cutting budgets. Waterville cut its fireworks, and one of the things I heard most often on the campaign trail was, ‘Bring back the fireworks!’” she said. “I recruited an incredible group and together we raised $20,000 in a short amount of time, doing community fundraisers and getting donations. It was very exciting.”

Elected in 2009, she began her first of three consecutive terms in 2010. A charter amendment approved by voters includes term limits – meaning Bruno is prohibited from seeking another term without a break.

The last 12 years had a fair number of big projects come before council, including the opening of the U.S. 24 bypass, the Nexus pipeline and the amphitheater permit.

“Those are very divisive issues. It’s all about an education at the end of the day – an education in land use, public utilities and ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation),” she said.

As a member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, Bruno has worked with Tom and Peggy Parker to make sure that the $150,000 gift from his late mother Maryann Parker aligns with Maryann’s vision for what that downtown square should look like. Bruno also pushed for the rehabilitation of Waterworks Park, with drainage work and ballfield repairs unveiled last summer.

“It was the right thing to do to restore it,” she said.

Most of what is done on council is ordinary, she admits – reading through the council packet, attending meetings and committee meetings could take about 10 hours a week. Some issues prompt phone calls and research. When the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department shut down parks and other services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruno said she dove into research because of her concern about overreach on the part of other governments.

“Going through COVID was a real shocker. I wanted to protect the city and its home rule. Look at how much the federal government can come in and start dictating your life,” she said.

The conditional use permit for the amphitheater was probably the most time-consuming project during her long tenure on council, she said, with council members on the phone and answering emails on a full-time basis.

“It was hours and hours spent, but your heart is in it. You’ve got to keep your head in the game,” she said.

The project is likely to move forward with another developer and some modifications. Bruno said she hopes those coming on council aren’t just focusing on one issue.

“I’ve seen people who go in on a single issue and they don’t enjoy their experience,” she said. “You have to serve all of Waterville. You have to serve those in the community who are concerned about the obnoxious weeds in the park, drainage issues, zoning concerns, garbage not being picked up and the like. I can honestly say that it has been my sincere honor in serving Waterville and the many incredible citizens that live here.”

Now that she’s off council, Bruno said she has time to devote to some other specific projects, such as trying to find a way to keep some of the Roche de Boeuf Interurban bridge and working with others to ensure that the city’s opioid settlement money is used in a way that raises awareness and promotes recovery and support.

In 2011, Rod Frey started sitting in the front row during Waterville City Council meetings, paying attention and taking notes – prompting some of the council members to wonder, “Who is that guy?”

“I wanted to know what was going on,” Frey said during the December 11 meeting.

Eventually, Frey was appointed to the Charter Review Commission, and when a seat was vacated on council in 2017, he was appointed to fill out the term until successfully running for re-election in 2019.

“This has been a lot of fun,” he said.

It’s also been quite a learning experience. Even though he brought a banking and finance background to his council seat, Frey said city finance is a lot more complicated and time-consuming to understand than he would have expected.

“I am walking away with a greater appreciation of what city finance directors do,” he said.

That’s why he advises any council member to understand the numbers and understand that the government process is much longer than in the business world – that’s why patience is a necessary virtue while working with council members and citizens to achieve a goal.

“You also have to realize that you won’t be able to make all people happy, and you just can’t allow that to get you down,” he said.

Council members do much more than go to a few meetings a month. The role involves researching issues and talking to citizens, attending committee meetings and keeping other council members informed. 

Appointed to be on the board of the Fallen Timbers Union Cemetery District as it was formed in 2019, Frey worked with representatives from Whitehouse and Waterville Township on the care of five area cemeteries, overseeing the budget and upkeep. This was time-consuming but also one of the most rewarding experiences during his tenure, Frey said.

“The time I spent on council was very rewarding to me for all we accomplished, bringing new businesses and homes to our city, working with business leaders, developers and investors,” he said. 

Still, it wasn’t without its challenges – including a year of conducting meetings on Zoom due to the pandemic, and of course the hot-button issue of the amphitheater.

“I found it interesting that the community really doesn’t get involved with governing or have much of an interest until something confrontational comes along. In our city, this has happened a few times over the last 40 years,” he said. “Then people want to make themselves heard, which is a good thing. It’s helpful to have citizens involved and provide feedback and ideas as long as it’s constructive, which unfortunately hasn’t been the case with the amphitheater issue. This has created a divide in our city that has never been seen before and has done much damage to the city’s image and reputation.”

Frey said council members have to be willing to roll up their sleeves and work together.

“You must be willing to work with many people and different personalities to get to that end goal and accomplish good results,” he said.

With his term now finished, Frey said he plans to continue being involved in the city he’s called home for 36 years.

“I truly care about this community, so I won’t be riding off into the sunset,” he said. “I want to see our community grow and have balanced growth and plan to do my part to see that continue.”

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