Representative Jay Edwards visits the Mayors' Partnership for Progress
Representative Jay Edwards visits the Mayors' Partnership for Progress

Mayors’ Partnership for Progress seeks to improve southeast Ohio communities by doing more with less

Daniel Kington
June 26, 2017

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.

The MPP was founded in 1995, allowing mayors to problem-solve together and organize around common needs and goals. Throughout its existence, the Partnership has maintained a relationship with Ohio University and the 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, the mayors in the Partnership used their collective power toward a slightly different end, penning an open letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich requesting that local government funds be restored to their pre-2012 levels.

Amesville Mayor and President of the MPP, Gary Goosman, said communities were hurting due to the state government’s 50% reduction to local government funds, which took effect in 2012.

 “A 50% 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.”

Kasich’s office did not respond to the Partnership’s letter, but Goosman said he was 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. Representative of Ohio’s 94th District, Jay Edwards, wrote a response to the Partnership and attended their recent meeting.

“Representative 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.”

However, Goosman said 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. “That’s the reason the mayors come to the table: to share experiences and problems so they can put their heads together and jointly come up with solutions.”

Currently, the Partnership is putting that theory into practice. They recently applied for and were awarded a grant to employ an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, whose primary role will be to survey the current service gaps in each MPP community and use that information create a database and resource guide of services in all MPP communities to help address specific local needs. The volunteer will also assist with policy development designed to make existing resources more accessible to MPP communities by educating mayors about those resources, connecting those resources to municipal websites and creating websites for communities that do not already have them.

The volunteer selected to fill this position is Jack Frech, who has a long history of public service, having served 33 years at the head of Athens County Job & Family Services in order to fight against poverty.

“I think we’re all very lucky that we have someone this knowledgeable and talented willing to pursue this important project,” Goosman said. “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 is just as excited to join the MPP as the mayors are to have him on board.

“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.”

Although the MPP’s VISTA grant is only for one year, the MPP can continually reapply.

“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.”