September 23, 2014

Elyria
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New public property manager paving the way for Lorain’s future

LORAIN — Crossing into Lorain from Sheffield Township on Clinton Avenue, Hal Kendrick witnessed what Lorain drivers have been enduring for years.

As he entered city limits on his first week on the job, Kendrick, Lorain’s new public property manager, could see the contrast in the condition of the road — pockmarked on the Lorain side.

“We clearly need to do work on these roads. And we will,” Kendrick said as he stood near the city limits Wednesday. “Lorain’s a great town, and it deserves great roads.”

Thanks to voters approving a 0.5 percentage point income tax increase on Election Day, Kendrick will be helping to oversee millions in road improvements. The permanent increase will raise $5.3 million annually with $1 million for annual road maintenance.

Another $1.6 million will be spent on borrowing costs to be paid off in 20 years for a $20 million road project to be completed in the next two or three years. Additional money will be spent erasing a $2 million projected deficit and to hire about five workers to maintain Lorain’s 56 parks, which Kendrick will also oversee.

Devastated by a shrinking tax base, Lorain’s city employees have been reduced from about 600 in 2002, when Lorain was put on fiscal watch by the state, to about 450 now. The Parks Department was eliminated a few years ago, and the Streets Department is down to about 16 employees from about 37 in 1987.

Three workers are responsible for patching all the potholes in a city of about 24 square miles. Kendrick said more money and workers are desperately needed.

“Once you build a road, you need to do a lot of things to keep that road nice,” he said. “It all requires people. It doesn’t do it on its own.”

Paving and maintaining Lorain’s roads — along with improving the parks and reducing blight — are key to Mayor Chase Ritenauer’s strategy for improving quality of life in Lorain and attracting businesses. Kendrick emphasizes that he’s just one of many involved in the effort and will be working closely with the Engineering Department, which in 2009 estimated that Lorain needed $35 million in road repairs.

City officials have not determined which improvements the new money will go toward, but Kendrick said the bumpy stretch on Clinton as well as parts of Globe and Pearl avenues and East 36th Street are likely candidates.

In addition to streets and parks, Kendrick will also oversee Lorain’s buildings, cemeteries, garage and vehicles. He replaces Streets Department Commissioner Chuck Camera, who was fired in April after pleading guilty to records tampering and theft related to a youth baseball league that he served as president. City officials said the conviction undermined public confidence in Camera.

Kendrick’s first day was Oct. 31, the day after superstorm Sandy knocked out electricity to about 20,000 people in Lorain County, including several thousand in Lorain.

But as bad as Sandy’s wind and rain was, Kendrick, 47, has seen worse.

Kendrick is a major and combat engineer with the 37th Infantry Division of the Ohio Army National Guard who managed two units in flood relief in Ohio. He also has managed road construction projects in Honduras and Jamaica and served a tour in Iraq from 2009 to 2010, overseeing logistics for 2,000 soldiers.

Kendrick, an Amherst resident, husband and father of three, grew up in Lorain. He was Amherst Schools buildings and grounds supervisor from 2006 until coming to Lorain. He was Westlake Schools technology coordinator from 1998 to 2006, and was a senior technician for Elyria from 1989 to 1994.

Ritenauer said the circumstances of Camera’s departure along with the high-profile nature of the job made hiring the right person crucial. Kendrick’s hands-on experience as well as managerial experience made him ideal for a supervisor position.

“There’s a culture we want to promote, and Hal seemed to fit that,” Ritenauer said. “The positions need to include attributes such as professionalism, management experience and the idea of holding people accountable and responsible for their actions.”

Kendrick said he learned a lot from his previous jobs as well as how to maximize resources. Kendrick, who will earn about $75,000 annually, believes his experience will help in his new job, but acknowledges the challenges.

“It’s a never-ending, ever-changing process,” Kendrick said. “You never stop learning if you’re doing this job.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.