COLUMBIANA - City residents took a walk down memory lane Tuesday night as they gave retiring City Manager Keith Chamberlin a warm send-off honoring his more than 20-year career.
Attorney Mark Hutson listed Chamberlin's many accomplishments over the years and credited both he and retiring Service Director Jay Groner for the city's growth.
Groner was appointed by Chamberlin in 1994 and has more than 40 years with the city. Both are retiring at the end of this month before changes in the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System kick in.
"The list of what's happened in this city over the last 20 years is pretty amazing. There is a number of residential developments There is a new sewage treatment plant. Columbiana High School didn't exist, the new addition at the elementary school didn't exist," Hutson said.
He added that while Chamberlin didn't handle all of the projects on his own, he was extremely instrumental with their development.
He explained that with many of the housing developments, property had to be annexed into the city, and Chamberlin was responsible with overseeing that process.
"I'm not here to tell you whether that (annexation) was a good idea or bad idea, but I can tell you that without annexation they wouldn't exist," he said.
Wayne Sitler, who owned and operated two businesses in town, said Chamberlin made it possible for him and Earl Corey to annex land into the city in the mid-1990s. The men later developed the land which is now Jamestown Trace and Saybrook housing.
The property was originally located in Beaver Township and bringing it into town was a year-long "battle," he said. "Beaver Township is very tough to give up land. Even after that annexation it didn't stop there."
He said that even when the property was in city limits residents were still being taxed by the township.
"Beaver was taxing for fire, police, etc., and then we were annexed into the city so we were paying taxes for police, fire, paramedics, and it was through Keith's efforts that we seceded, for lack of words, from Beaver Township to Fairfield Township, which saved thousands for the residents," he said.
He also said that Chamberlin is to credit for the new lift station at Back Bay since he wrote the grants that made it possible.
The "state of the art" lift station serves Woodland, Saybrook and Back Bay housing developments.
Yet another accomplishment was the acquisition and installation of culverts during the two "100-year rains" in the city, he said.
He also thanked Chamberlin for being readily available and promptly returning phone calls.
"He's always been a gentleman in any dealings that I have had with him. I'm excited at seeing where Columbiana is We have a tremendous advantage over other communities," he said.
Mark Brothers, who owns Century Industries, also thanked Chamberlin for helping him keep his business in town.
"Just maybe a year after Keith got the job we were deciding, were we staying in Columbiana or leaving? It wasn't personal, but we were making a large investment to expand and one of the concerns we had was, is Columbiana going to be there to support us in terms of power?" he said.
Since 1971, the business has grown from three bucket machines to 17 and from one plant to two full-time plants. It only recently purchased property just outside of the city that will be annexed in the future.
He said that while there are some retail vacancies in the city, there are no industrial or commercial vacancies.
"You go to town after town you will not see what you have here in Columbiana. (Former City Manager) Albert Wardingley laid a lot of the groundwork, and Keith came in like a running team and picked up the baton and was carrying it," he said.
Former mayor Dick Simpson also thanked Chamberlin and Groner.
He recalled when council was considering hiring Chamberlin as manager.
"We went into executive session and we beat it around, should we hire Keith? We finally came out and ended up in a unanimous vote, and we hired you," he said to Chamberlin. "And you, with your right-hand man (Groner), have done great for this city."
To Groner he said, "Keith couldn't have done what he did without you. I hate to see you both go."
Mayor David Spatholt also wished Chamberlin and Groner well.
"I'd like to say thank-you very much for your service. You're wonderful people and have done great service to the community," he said.
He also read aloud from a letter submitted by Chamber of Commerce President Randall Hart.
Hart said Chamberlin "led the village through considerable growth" over the years and that Groner "provided stability, reliability and wholeheartedly focused his efforts to the city and its future growth. The history of Columbiana would be void without their record of service."
Chamberlin recalled that when he began the 20-year management position his background was mostly in civil engineering and surveying and he learned other aspects of the administrative job over time through the help of his staff.
"I've appreciated working here. I enjoyed coming to work every day. I love the community. I lived here before I started working for this town. It's provided me a good living," he said.
He added that Simpson taught him to approach everything with the attitude, "How can we make this work?"
"You can make things happen, but you have to have people below that can put that together," he said.