September 2, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
66°F
test

Baird’s retirement represents end of era in Elyria Council

ELYRIA — Get close, but not too close. Ask questions, but not so many that you confuse everyone and yourself. And for God’s sake, don’t let anyone sneak up behind you during a Council meeting.  Two-and-a-half decades of public service teaches you a little something about people and politics — and proper etiquette — as outgoing at-large Elyria Councilman Jack Baird can tell you.

Baird said strange things happened during his 25 years on Council, but none stranger than the day a man walked up behind him in the old Council building on Broad Street and said … nothing.

“He just came up behind me and was going to deliver something,” Baird said. “He wasn’t mad or anything.”

It was a standard Council meeting, one of hundreds that Baird attended in 25 years on Council after first being appointed to fill a vacancy in October 1972.

The resident had walked up behind him and stood there, quiet and still.

“You aren’t sure if they’re going to come up and hit you or shoot you or what,” Baird said, chuckling. “Maybe he just didn’t know the rules of decorum.”

The man left as peacefully as he came, but Council rules changed after that — no one could enter the area where Council members sit. The event was a footnote in Baird’s political career but telling nonetheless.

A former banker and one of the few Republicans to sit in an Elyria City Council seat, Baird’s style seems to be non-reactive on the surface, but thoughtful beneath.

His advice to incoming Council members reflects that. He cautions them to approach Council with an open mind, weigh all the facts and then decide what’s best for Elyria — despite all the conflict it might create.

“You start out that way, but sometimes — with a lot of people talking — you can get confused,” Baird said.

For the same reason — to avoid confusion — Baird was never one to get too close to city employees or their grievances.

“It’s by design,” Baird said. “They expect you to intercede.”

Baird comes from a family of men who had a hand in Elyria politics. His grandfather was mayor of the city in the 1930s, and his father served as city solicitor.  

An Ashland University graduate and bank employee in Cleveland, Baird dove into politics in 1972 when a Ward member stepped down because of conflicting interest concerns over property he owned.After that, Baird made the seat his own — for a time.

“I was elected and then re-elected to that seat,” said Baird, a lifelong Elyria resident.

He lost a third bid for Council in 1977, but returned in 1979 after securing an at-large seat.

It was a similar pattern throughout his Elyria political career: A seven-year stint to start, followed by a brief defeat, then a 10-year stint followed by a few more defeats, then his current eight-year run, which ends Monday. 

Every year from 1973 to 2005, win or lose, Baird’s name was on the ballot. He served a combined 25.2 years as an Elyria councilman.

“I found that I enjoyed it,” Baird said. “Once you’re on Council, you try to serve everybody.”

City projects Baird had a hand in included the new Elyria City Hall, the new police department on Lake Avenue and the new courthouse that opens next month. The biggest project over the years was the $49 million sewage treatment plant — nothing glamorous, but still crucial to a city’s being.

“It made Elyria more up-to-date,” Baird said. “We’re ahead of the curve on that one.”

Baird spent 20 years as a banker before retiring and landing a job with Ohio Lottery’s Lorain office, where he worked as a sales representative.

He’s now retiring from the lottery, so he figured it would be a good time to retire from Council and spend time with his two adult daughters and his three grandchildren.

“I’m still in good health,” Baird said. “I’ll enjoy not having to get up at 6 in the morning.”

And he probably won’t miss staying for those late Monday night Council meetings.

Other outgoing Council members include Herman Larkins, D-5th Ward, and Bonnie Ivancic, D-4th Ward, who were both defeated in November.

Baird spoke fondly of his colleagues, both the outgoing and incoming.

“Elyria is fortunate, in regard to the mix of people who have service in Elyria City Council,” Baird said. “I can’t think of anybody who didn’t have the city’s best interest at heart.”

Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.