Sunday, January 27, 2002

What will Lemmie deliver for $193,000?

        Is Valerie Lemmie worth the money?

        Cincinnati City Council voted Thursday to hire her as city manager at $193,000 a year. Mayor Charlie Luken praised Ms. Lemmie, who has been Dayton's city manager since 1996, for improving police-community relations. It's safe to say we could use some of that around here. And former Dayton Mayor Michael Turner credits her with bringing in Dayton's new ballpark on schedule — and on budget. This would be strange and wonderful music to local taxpayers' ears.

"Glass half full'

        She told a Dayton Daily News columnist that during the job search she was confident that “God will decide what is best for me.” Furthermore, Ms. Lemmie said she is a person who “always sees the glass half full.”

        So, she is officially capable, optimistic and reverent.

        The unofficial verdict might be found in a formerly shabby warehouse district in downtown Dayton. RiverScape, a lovely public plaza and park, opened last May along the banks of the Great Miami River. The city pumped $21.1 million into this project, a companion to a new $23.1 million ballpark. The Dayton Dragons drew 600,000 fans downtown the first season.

        “This city's gonna miss her,” said Fred Latimer, leaning on the railing at RiverScape's ice rink. A dishwasher at the University of Dayton, Mr. Latimer was watching the skaters. It was noon Tuesday and already a couple dozen skaters circled the ice. Well, some were actually hanging onto the railing, waiting for lessons.

        Salsa music was pleasantly noisy, as were the kids.

Too busy to pose

        Several youngsters were there with their parents, “part of a home-school group,” one explained. Fred Zehring drove in from his home in Spring Vally, about 25 miles away, and Lance Rebenaugh came from Cedarville. Most everybody else was local.

        A group of women on their lunch hour from a nearby law firm laced up their skates. “Valerie Lemmie?” Sherry Alessandro said. “I don't know her personally, but I like what has happened here since she came. She had a plan and executed it.”

        An airman from Wright Patterson. A university professor. A nurse. A secretary. By 12:30, it was crowded. I counted about 50 skaters and twice that many gapers. Bobby Blevins, who runs the rental booth, says this is not unusual. “And we're really busy on weekends.”

        Chris Stamper, wearing a MetroParks uniform, stops at the booth. “Valerie Lemmie helped us push to get this park done.”

        Diners at a downtown Dayton pizza restaurant around the corner — about a 20-minute wait — said their outgoing city manager is “on the ball.” One man said, “I never heard her name until she was leaving. That should tell you something. She spent her time working, not posing for cameras.”

        And, in case you are wondering, Fountain Square's ice rink is not open at noon on weekdays. “We tried it, but nobody came,” said John Edgar of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. There was no line at nearby restaurants at lunchtime on Friday. The Queen City's heart was barely beating. Downtown was quiet, bleak and uninviting, despite our billion-dollar riverfront. Our problems here may be similar to those she faced in Dayton, but they are twice as big. The mayor recruited Valerie Lemmie for a 14 percent bump in her pay.

        The people at RiverScape said we got a good deal.

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