As Geauga County commissioner for five years, Tracy Jemison can chalk up well over 500 meetings on county governance.Beyond the many decisions the board of…
As Geauga County commissioner for five years, Tracy Jemison can chalk up well over 500 meetings on county governance.
Beyond the many decisions the board of commissioners has to make, the plethora of figures, projects and the concerns of county offices and residents, Jemison said one huge event with ongoing consequences marked his tenure: the recession.
Jemison, appointed commissioner in 2008, surprised many by announcing during a meeting at the end of September that he needs “new mountains to climb.”
Last Thursday, he bid adieu to his seat at 470 Center Street and headed to Florida for a few weeks of rest and recovery.
“The last 31 years have just been remarkable,” he said that Thursday, crediting the many county employees for their support from his positions as maintenance supervisor, operations manager for the county’s computer system, county auditor and, finally, commissioner.
The recession, which may be letting up, looms large on the landscape of his recent past.
“Probably our biggest challenge was when the recession came in September 2008,” Jemison said from Florida Monday during a phone interview. “We’d heard rumblings from Wall Street, but we never thought it would hit so quickly.”
Once it was clear the county needed to cut $2.2 million out of its budget to stay in the black, adjustments were made to various departments and projects.
“All the staff members worked together to get us through it,” Jemison said.
A former county auditor, he felt the county had always been fiscally conservative and that experience served him well.
“The recession really surprised us,” but officials managed to lower expenses to meet the available income, he said.
In the end, commissioners decided to take out a loan to fund the county sheriff’s 800 radio emergency system, Jemison said.
It was a capital project for which commissioners were saving about $4 million, but borrowing the money for it insured the county would stay solvent and continue to serve residents as they expect to be served, Jemison said.
His role in getting wireless broadband coverage for the Troy Township area was a project he took on personally.
Its success has benefitted a number of Troy residents and is likely to lead to wireless broadband expansion farther east to underserved communities, Jemison said.
Since the slippery slope of a recession appears to have been surmounted, he anticipates the county will get back on track for expansion in various fields.
“Now the economy is turning around, the next challenge will be managing growth,” Jemison said.
Once the economy is on a firm footing, the commissioners and departments will have to cope with new demands.
For instance, the building depart-ment, where staff was cut when con-struction dried up, is looking to expand to meet the inspection work required by the advent of new housing, he said.
Looking back 18 years, Jemison said the bump from IT director to county auditor was his best career move and he credited the previous county auditor, Dick Makowski, with making it possible.
Before he died, Makowski left a letter for the Geauga County Republican Party Central Committee recommending Jemison to succeed him. The committee followed Makowski’s posthumous advice.
“It certainly changed my family’s and my life,” Jemison said.
Makowski had mentored him and become his friend over the years they worked together and his parting gift was the letter, which said “very nice things,” Jemison remembers.
“I never got the letter,” Jemison said, adding it may have been kept in the committee’s records.
Although he regrets that, he still values Makowski’s friendship.
“I miss him, even today,” he said.
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