By Jeff Gallatin
Former three-term school board member and mayoral candidate Karen Lieske is seeking the Ward 3 city council seat in this November’s elections.
Lieske is seeking the seat being vacated by incumbent Scott Pohlkamp, who is running unopposed for the council at large post being vacated by Jim Scott. Lieske faces Bob Ziebarth, who announced his plans earlier this year. Her last run for office was in 2005, when she placed second in a field of five candidates in the mayoral race. Incumbent Debbie Sutherland took the top spot by a wide margin over the other candidates.
Lieske said she is excited and enthused about being a candidate for public office again in Bay Village. She said Bay Village is a very special place for her and her family.
“We have lived here since 1980 and have not found another place like it,” she said.
She said she is running for city council because she loves Bay and is confident she can provide the leadership and professional management skills that Bay residents want. Lieske believes her experience on the board of education in developing collaborative partnerships and forming consortia to reduce escalating health care costs will help her find ways to cut costs for the city and save a shrinking reserve fund.
Lieske sent out one press release Aug. 15 criticizing Sutherland and her use of the city reserve fund. The paragraph reads as follows:
“She is critical of Mayor Deborah Sutherland who has dipped into this fund to balance the budget and purchase a car that is exclusively used by her for ‘city-related’ business. ‘This is not right,’ Lieske argues. ‘Sutherland should use her own car and be reimbursed for travel expenses. This is a small symbolic step toward fiscal responsibility. But, it would set an example and help get us back on track.’”
Lieske then sent another release Aug. 19 with a header entitles Corrected Press Release, in which the paragraph about Sutherland is gone. In an e-mail she said she had computer problems and sent the wrong release earlier. Later on the phone, she said she hadn’t heard from the paper and sent the second release.
Sutherland said Lieske doesn’t apparently understand the city budget.
“In her nearly decade-long absence from the school board and complete silence on municipal issues, Ms. Lieske has apparently forgotten or doesn’t understand that the fundamental role of city council is to appropriate funds,” Sutherland said. “They, not the mayor, approve using reserve funds and, additionally, approve all major equipment purchases including the vehicle used by the mayor.”
She said the city saves money by having her use a city vehicle.
“The mayor’s city vehicle cost approximately $17,000 and replaced a 10-year-old Ford Taurus that was passed on to Senior Transportation,” she said. “I drive around 12,000 miles per year and use about $2,000 worth of gas annually responding to emergencies, making house calls, attending meetings around the county and state, and traveling between our many buildings, facilities and projects. At today’s IRS reimbursement amount of $.55 per mile, the cost to the city would be $6,600 annually. After 10 years the total cost of a city-owned vehicle is $37,000 versus mileage reimbursement of $66,000 and no vehicle to hand down to other city departments. Council crunched the numbers and came to the same conclusion. I am not a fan of taking empty “symbolic steps” that might make me look good, but would cost the city and taxpayers more money.”
Lieske said she is dedicated to political and fiscal reform over the long haul. She was first elected by Bay Village voters on a platform of educational reform to three four-year terms on the board of education from 1994-2005. During this period she served in leadership positions six of the twelve years, three as board president and three as vice president. In her last two bids for re-election, Lieske was the top vote-getter.
Lieske said her formal education and work experience have prepared her well for the city council position. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Cincinnati, as well as a bachelor’s degree in political science. She notes that a Master of Public Administration is the degree that most city managers hold. Lieske said her commitment to serving her community and residents is shown through her education, work experience and personal values. Her varied and diverse work experiences have given her the ability to work and communicate with people from all walks of life, she says.
In addition to serving on the Bay Village Board of Education, she taught at a prison where she was voted by co-workers as “the employee most likely to help someone out.” She also served as project manager for leadership and development at Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs; executive director of the Cincinnati Rehabilitation Finance Corp.; housing programs coordinator for Hamilton County, Ohio; and president of the Ohio chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. Currently, she is a career coordinator at Cleveland State University’s Career Services Center.
Lieske said she is proud of her many accomplishments on the school board. She notes, for example, that she and her colleagues on the board were responsible for managing a district school budget of approximately $25 million, which at the time was about double that of the city. Lieske also points to the many collaborative efforts between the board and the city beginning when Tom Jelepis was mayor. These include the high school’s fitness center; Bay Family Services, a counseling and outreach program for students and their families; and the addition of a community gym to the middle school. She also notes that the Bay Village Board of Education played a crucial leadership role in establishing a consortium with other districts to cut costs and negotiate lower health premiums.
Lieske and her husband, Dr. Joel Lieske, have lived in Bay Village since 1980. Her husband is a professor of political science at Cleveland State University and shares her ethic of community service and civic engagement. He is a past member of the Bay Soccer Club Board and coached numerous in-house and travel soccer, baseball and basketball teams while their children were growing up. Their children attended Bay Village Schools for their entire education. Their daughter Kristin is an associate at a leading New York City law firm. Their son John will graduate later this month with a B.S. in economics from The Ohio State University.
Lieske said she is a fiscal conservative. She believes this philosophy is crucial in addressing the declining reserve fund and the pressures of providing excellent city services while at the same time looking for cost-effective savings. Taxes, recent flooding, aging homes and the condition of city-owned buildings are also concerns of residents, she said.
Since Lieske first ran for office, her campaign theme has been “Do What’s Best for Bay.” She promises to follow the same standard if she is elected to city council. She said she takes pride in being an independent thinker and doing her homework. She also believes in working hard, listening to the opinions and concerns of everyone with whom she comes in contact, treating everyone with respect and maintaining a sense of humor and humility. She says she is running because she loves Bay and wants to make it an even better community. “By working together,” she said, “we can continue to be the kind of community that everyone can be proud of.”