American City & County’s 2017 Leadership Awards
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Municipal Leader of the Year: Kevin Hardman | Mayor, Sharonville, Ohio
Public service is in Kevin Hardman’s blood. A lifelong volunteer in numerous capacities, Hardman, who currently serves as mayor of Sharonville, Ohio, says he followed his mother’s example in this regard. “She instilled in me this idea of giving back,” Hardman says. “[Since I was young,] there was only one thing I really wanted to do – to be a public servant.”
And by all objective measures, Hardman’s service has greatly benefited the Sharonville community. By fostering a business-friendly environment, over the past two years, the city has attracted approximately 1,400 new jobs and retained an estimated 1,500 more. This has led to a 25 percent increase in income tax collections – from $21.5 million in 2013 to $25.9 million in 2016.
By focusing on the economic health of the city, Hardman has launched numerous infrastructure improvement projects, from drastically increasing residential road resurfacing to improvements along the city’s main thoroughfares.
One particular project involved expanding the city’s convention center and constructing a nearby hotel. By improving these facilities, it’s estimated that utilization of the center will grow significantly, bringing in hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
However, perhaps Hardman’s most significant achievement and his greatest challenge was combining the city and county’s health departments, saving Sharonville approximately a quarter of a million dollars per year. “We were one of the few communities in Ohio that operated its own, single-entity health department,” says Hardman. “And we were certainly one of the smallest.”
Although it was a tough decision involving many different stakeholders, hard questions had to be addressed. “Is this the direction that we need to continue to be going in as a city? Are we spending money wisely? Are we really serving our residents and our businesses in the best way by continuing to hold on to this 60-year-old institution?” Hardman asks. Through thorough research, clear communication and engaging with the public every step of the way, when it came time to vote on the contentious issue, 76 percent of voters agreed combining health services with the county was the best decision.
“This was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do, leadership-wise,” Hardman says. “But I place value on communication, I don’t like to do things behind people’s backs. I want them to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
As an objective benchmark of Hardman’s sound fiscal responsibility and aggressive deficit-slashing, the city’s general fund is debt-free as of 2017, a feat few municipalities are able to boast.
But true leadership isn’t necessarily measured in dollar signs. In a powerful testament to Hardman’s abilities and dedication to his community, Jim Lukas, Sharonville’s public safety director, says of his boss, “In my 20 plus years in local government, I can say without hesitation that I have never worked for and with a more committed elected official.”