A partnership of mayors throughout southeast Ohio has hired a longtime Athens anti-poverty advocate to help identify resources and coordinate information to help the mayors help their communities.
The Mayors’ Partnership for Progress (MPP), a collaboration of mayors and city managers in 13 southeast Ohio counties, is simultaneously working to bring more state dollars into the region and finding ways to help mayors do more with what they already have.
Part of that effort is the hiring of Jack Frech, former director of Athens County Job & Family Services for 33 years, who is joining the MPP through a grant from the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer program.
Frech’s primary role will be to survey the current service gaps in each MPP community and use that information to create a database and resource guide of services in all MPP communities to help address specific local needs. He also will assist with policy development designed to make existing resources more accessible to MPP communities. He’ll be charged with accomplishing that by educating mayors about those resources, connecting those resources to municipal websites, and creating websites for communities that do not already have them.
“I’d been looking for a way to give back to the community that had done so much for me,” Frech said. “The VISTA position offered a great opportunity to do that. I have always been impressed by the dedication that these local elected officials have to their jobs. I am sure I will learn a lot.”
While the MPP’s VISTA grant is only for one year, the MPP can continually reapply.
The MPP was founded in 1995, allowing mayors to solve problems together and organize around common needs and goals. Throughout its existence, the partnership has maintained a relationship with Ohio University and its Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. The Voinovich School has offered technical assistance to the MPP, which has, in turn, provided students and faculty with opportunities to learn about MPP projects and network with the participating mayors.
The partnership enables the mayors to collaborate by providing informal mentoring opportunities and occasional sharing of resources, such as snow-removal equipment. Recently, mayors in the Partnership used their collective power toward a different end, penning an open letter to Ohio Gov. John Kasich requesting that local government funds be restored to their pre-2012 levels in the state budget.
Amesville Mayor Gary Goosman, president of the MPP, said communities have been hurting due to the state government’s 50 percent reduction to local government funds, which took effect in 2012.
“A 50-percent cut is pretty devastating, especially in communities like ours where we are dealing with opioid epidemics and are struggling to find enough money for criminal justice and infrastructure,” Goosman said. “Now that Ohio’s budget crisis is over, we still haven’t seen any return on those dollars. It’s not that money is the answer to every problem, but money helps.”
Gov. Kasich’s office did not respond to the partnership’s letter, but Goosman said he’s proud of the Partnership for speaking up.
“We’re duly elected officials in southeast Ohio,” Goosman said. “You can disagree with us, but we are going to make our voices heard.”
Even if the Partnership didn’t immediately succeed in attracting the attention of the governor, the local impact was more significant. State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, wrote a response to the Partnership and attended a meeting earlier this summer.
“Rep. Edwards didn’t make any guarantees but he lives here, and he understands the challenges that we face,” Goosman said. “He listened to us and is willing to work with us.”
Goosman acknowledged that the path toward more state funding for local government remains unclear.
Yet, the mayors are moving forward. Robert Gordon, Voinovich School research associate and the MPP coordinator, said the mayors are continuing to work hard to improve their communities.
“Essential qualities of the Mayor’s Partnership for Progress include learning from one another, doing more with less, and being as creative as possible,” Gordon said. “
The partnership apparently is putting that theory into practice with the hiring of Frech.
“I think we’re all very lucky that we have someone this knowledgeable and talented willing to pursue this important project,” Goosman said of Frech’s hiring. “He will do an excellent job serving as a liaison between people in poverty and municipalities, while helping both. His ultimate goal is to create a win/win for low-income families and government.”
Frech said he’s just as excited to join the MPP as the mayors are to have him on board. “(Mayors) are trying to provide people with basic services to keep them safe, lights on in the streets, water running, toilets flushing and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s hard to do that for any community but I think it’s compounded when you’re looking at some of the really high rates of poverty in these southeastern Ohio counties.”
Frech said that his role will be to help mayors help their communities by assessing their poverty-related problems and then to hook them up with any services that are left to help them. “To be honest, though, part of what I’m doing is pointing out to them that many of these services are at risk (from state and federal budget cuts) or are maybe gone already, benefits they are losing that’s making their jobs as mayors even harder,” he said.
Goosman said that Frech’s role will be to connect communities with resources and programs that combat poverty. In turn, he said, the communities will connect residents to available resources.
He added that the MPP has been advocating against cuts in resources and will continue to do so. Addressing problems such as the opioid epidemic becomes difficult when communities continually face revenue cuts, both for addiction treatment and keeping proper law enforcement staffing and training, Goosman said.
Goosman said that the MPP hopes to keep Frech on as long as the Partnership has access to the AmeriCorps grant.
“As long as the partnership could keep getting a VISTA grant to help with these issues, then that resource would always be welcome,” Goosman said. “It just gives us a chance to do more.” – By David DeWitt, Athens NEWS
Portions of this article come from a report by Daniel Kington published by the Ohio University Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs on its website, used with permission.