Wednesday, December 08, 1999

Lebanon mayor likes new team

First term included infighting

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — James Mills thought his days as a fullback were over when he graduated in 1950 from Lebanon High School.

        The last two years as Lebanon's first African-American mayor proved him wrong.

        Mr. Mills spent much of his first term as a political fullback, blocking an attempt to remove him from office and occasionally breaking off for a long run all by himself.

        This time around, Mr. Mills, 67, expects to have company on the field.

        “The make-up of council has changed,” said Mr. Mills, who was re-elected Monday by the new council. “As far as I'm concerned, it's wonderful. It's a long-needed change.

        “We have people now who have the city at heart, who have the people at heart,” he said. “It's not a one-person show.”

        November's election changed the timbre of council, with two members who frequently opposed Mr. Mills — John McComb and Jack Hedges — out of office. Their replacements, Ron Pandorf and Ben Cole, align more closely with the mayor.

        In fact, Mr. Pandorf is a childhood friend who used to shoot pool as a teen-ager with Mr. Mills.

        “I think my stress is going to be cut down,” Mr. Mills said of his new term. “The last two years were terrible for me. There was fighting from the inside and fighting from the outside.”

        During Mr. Mills' first term, politics in Lebanon was like the Fourth of July every day: fireworks all the time.

        The city underwent the first recall in its 196-year history, with council members attacking each other in newspaper ads and public meetings. Within two months of the recall, the mayor and Councilman Mark Flick sued the city and their colleagues to pre-empt a reorganization they expected would remove Mr. Mills from office.

        Mr. Mills also held a press conference, saying he intended to file a racial discrimination complaint against the city, although he eventually dropped his claim.

        In addition, council launched an ambitious, multimillion-dollar telecommunications system and forced 11-year veteran City Manager Richard Hayward to resign.

        “I couldn't have done it by myself,” Mr. Mills said. “I had the Lord on my side, and you don't mess with God's children.”

        To call the two years tumultuous is an understatement, Mr. Flick said.

        “I really feel Jim did serve through a very, very trying term,” he said. “Hopefully his new term will be a lot easier for him.”

        Mr. Mills expects council's agenda in the coming months to include moving forward with the $11 million Main Street renovation and expansion project; settling with developers to move a 96-unit apartment complex from a near-downtown location; and continuing to oversee the telecommunications system.

        Residents “can expect me to hold my ground,” Mr. Mills said. “They can expect me to do what they chose me to do, which is to serve the people and to be honest with the people and to show my allegiance to the city.”

        There also will likely be more reminders of Mr. Mills' football playing days.

        “There are times when you have to run the short run, and there are times when you have to run the long run,” he said. “My goal is to make it.”


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