By Sue Botos
As a Democrat elected to office in a predominantly Republican community, Rocky River Law Director Andrew Bemer was given an honest welcome to City Hall by former safety service Director Jim Linden in 2005.
“Jimmy stuck out his hand and said, ‘I didn’t vote for you, but you’re the law director, so I’ll work with you,’” recalled Bemer during a recent interview.
From that beginning, Bemer feels he has forged a solid working relationship with city officials, despite political party preference, particularly with Mayor Pam Bobst. He hopes to keep that work going as he seeks a fifth term as the head of the city legal department.
“Pam and I are of the same philosophy. We have a commitment to serving the people of the community, and political affiliation plays no role,” he stated.
It’s that commitment, Bemer feels, that led him to create an actual legal office in City Hall. Before Bemer took office, the law director’s hours were irregular, with no actual office space. “My philosophy is that you must be accountable to the city with a presence in City Hall,” said Bemer, adding that while the position is still part time, he is available every morning, and his assistant is available during business hours.
Bemer also counts among his accomplishments the re-establishment of the city record commission, and the overhaul of the city’s codified ordinances for the first time in 30 years. The ordinances are now available to the public online.
A graduate of Ohio State University, as evidenced by the Buckeye memorabilia in his office, Bemer is co-director of the Government and Public Law Division and director of the Family Law Group for Seeley, Savidge, Ebert and Gourash Co. LPA. He said that he and Bay Village Law Director Gary Ebert, also a partner at the firm, have formed an informal association of local city law directors, and often brainstorm on issues both unique and common.
A native Clevelander and 34-year resident of Rocky River, Bemer served on the school board for 12 years. He then “saw the opportunity to continue his service” by utilizing his background in land use issues, labor and employee law and collective bargaining.
Although negotiating contracts with unions has been a challenge this year, Bemer says he likes that aspect of the work. “You have to understand the relationship between supervisors and workers. Keeping up morale is critical, but I enjoy that a lot. You never know when there’s going to be an issue. Coming to the office is always an adventure,” he stated.
Issues ahead for the city center on finances, and Bemer predicts a 0.5-percent income tax hike in the near future. “The state did us no favor by doing away with the estate tax. We’re losing $2 million on a $22 million budget on top of a 20-percent decrease (in state funds) over five years,” he stated.
Two other issues, regionalization of fire services and privatization of trash collection, are slow-moving projects that are still in the works, according to Bemer. “Regionalization has strong merits. It’s cost-prohibitive to replace fire trucks,” he said.
Similarly, the price of keeping backyard trash collection is piling up. “We made the first overture last spring. The scooters cost more than a police vehicle, and after three years they have to be replaced,” said Bemer, adding that the service department is looking at another type of trash scooter that could cost less. “We are far away from making a definitive decision on this.”
Although two-year terms give that feeling of “always running (for election),” Bemer looks at the short stints as a way to get closer to residents. “You tend not to be resting on your laurels,” he said, adding, “This is fun. I enjoy this to no end. I love the issues that confront the law director.”