Womer Benjamin makes 'fairly smooth' transition into Aurora mayor's seat

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Aurora -- With three months as mayor under her belt, Ann Womer Benjamin believes the transition has been smooth, although "I suspect the staff, City Council and I are all still adjusting to some extent."

"City services continue to be delivered effectively, even in an unprecedented winter, progress is being made on a number of fronts [budget passage and implementation, sign code adoption, Geauga Lake ballot issue May 6], and Council and I are collaborating well," she said.

The most challenging part for her, she said, is it is "a 24-hour-a-day job, so I am still readjusting to a public schedule."

A former four-term state representative, Womer Benjamin -- an attorney -- also served in the governor's cabinet as director of the Ohio Department of Insurance and was executive director of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education before serving a two-year term as an Aurora Councilwoman, then winning in a six-candidate mayoral race in November.

Womer Benjamin said what she has enjoyed the most is "being the person to figure out how to take advantage of the many opportunities Aurora has before it, and implement new projects which will benefit citizens.

"I've been surprised by how much I am enjoying the job, and how it suits my skills and interests so well."

She said she loves "interacting with constituents and working to solve their issues. That is what I liked most about being a state representative for eight years. I encourage people to seek me out, meet with me and raise their issues."

In addition to individual constituents, business owners and developers who have met with her, and others who have come to her office include two Cub Scout troops, a golfing group and the American Legion auxiliary.

"I learned from my prior public experiences that most people just want someone who is approachable," she said. "I am working hard to fit that model."

Womer Benjamin encourages residents to "stop by and see the beautiful and historic Eldridge desk loaned to the city by the Aurora Historical Society, and see your lovely Town Hall, which has served as Town Hall for 100 years this year."

AS WOMER Benjamin said during her campaign, she wants "to provide open, accessible government, make Aurora accountable, control expenses and conserve assets and maximize commercial potential while preserving neighborhoods."

She said her administration is already working on these goals:

• Making sure department heads respond readily to citizens.

• Tackling expense reductions through the budgeting process.

• Assessing city properties and figuring out how to better use them.

• Seeking new zoning via the May 6 ballot issue for the Geauga Lake area to a mixed-use district "not only to provide more desirable development options than currently exist [primarily industrial], but also to enhance Aurora's revenue base through the new businesses and residents that could thrive there."

Womer Benjamin said the goals below will take more time:

• Expense reductions will take time to accomplish and will require ongoing attention from the administration.

• The need to address infrastructure issues [like flooding and the water system] and identify funding sources for improvements, which are being developed.

• Geauga Lake rezoning, "assuming it passes, will require a new set of regulations for that area, which we are drafting, and concerted planning work to accomplish our vision."

• The historic district and Town Center "need some creative reworking and attention, which the administration is already thinking about, to make the area more walkable, ease parking issues, make it more distinctive and attract more use."

• Ensuring the security of Aurora's financial resources will be an ongoing process, she said, through new developments at Geauga Lake, outreach to current businesses and industries, and identification of new prospects and opportunities through the economic development department's and mayor's activity with the Chamber of Commerce, Portage Development Board, Team NEO and others.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

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