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Published: Saturday, 10/27/2001

Defiance has faith in city's newest manager

BY MIKE TRESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Nine months into his first secular job in two decades, the Rev. Roger Reece's professional concerns now center around Defiance's budget, police staffing, and handling citizens' concerns. Nine months into his first secular job in two decades, the Rev. Roger Reece's professional concerns now center around Defiance's budget, police staffing, and handling citizens' concerns.
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DEFIANCE - Earlier this year, Defiance found a new man to keep the place running, when Roger Reece was hired as city administrator.

Mr. Reece's experience in administering a city and holding its infrastructure together was none.

He is a clergyman, employed as a United Methodist minister, or was until his venture into city government.

“This job is a lot like running a church,” Mr. Reece says.

Nobody in Defiance is laughing at that. Old hands, including the mayor, council members, and officials, agree with the church-city comparison.

So far, they are unanimous in their approval of Mr. Reece's job performance.

“Amen,” says the Rev. Reece.

Mr. Reece, 39, was hired in February, after Administrator John Brownlee resigned to enter a family business.

At the time, Mr. Reece was pastor of Paulding United Methodist Church in Paulding.

But he was no stranger to Defiance or to Mayor Fred Schultz. The mayor attends St. Paul's Methodist church in Defiance, where Mr. Reece had previously been associate pastor.

Before that, Mr. Reece was pastor at Sharon United Methodist Church in Napoleon and before that, he was a chaplain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Nine months into his first secular job in two decades, the Rev. Reece's professional concerns no longer are preparing sermons or fretting over Sunday's choir. He now has such worries as a city budget, police staffing, and CSO.

“Oh, yeah, Combined Sewer Overflow,” Mr. Reece said one day last week in his second-floor office of city hall. “I've had to learn about CSO, when storm drainage and sanitary sewage combines. It's an EPA no-no. We have too many incidences of that and we're working, struggling, to rectify it.”

Mr. Reece may have changed jobs, titles, and focus, but he has not shed his character or background. Each morning, he and Mayor Schultz begin the work day together with prayer.

Scripture and a book of daily devotions are never far from his desk. “Prayer is absolutely part of my work,” Mr. Reece says.

“I hope all my decisions are faith-based. But I know that sometimes my faith-based decisions are wrong.”

He says he understands that some citizens might look askance at that but “grass roots people in Defiance would not.”

Mr. Reece says if there is adverse feeling about a man of the cloth managing the city he did not notice it.

“I'm sure it raised some eyebrows around town. How could it not?” he says. “But I didn't see or hear it. Quite the contrary. My concern is I don't want to be thought of as better than anyone else because of my background as a pastor.”

Mayor Schultz says he did not want to go through a long search for an administrator and, besides, he knew the right man for the job was preaching from a pulpit in Paulding.

He offered the city job to the preacher.

“The administrator reports directly to the mayor, and we trusted Fred's judgment,” City Councilman Darrell Handy says.

Mr. Reece says he always has been interested in government and public service as well as Christian ministry. “I gave it a lot of prayerful consideration and decided I wanted to try it. I figured it would still be serving people, just not by baptism or communion.”

He explains that, yes, ministering to a city is like ministering to a congregation. “But it is a little bigger flock,” he says with a smile that seems always to be there.

“The problems I dealt with in a parish and problems in the city are still people problems. When a backhoe breaks, you can say, `Fix it,' but it's more difficult when you have to implement policy that should be good for everybody.”

They might pray together, but Mr. Reece says he and the mayor do not always agree on city business.

On one personnel matter, in which Mr. Reece fired a police officer for a disciplinary matter, Mayor Schultz reversed the decision.

“He [the officer] is still here working after a suspension. It turned out to be the right thing,” Mr. Reece says.

But the mayor says he couldn't be happier with how Mr. Reece has tackled the job. “He puts customer service first, just what I wanted in an administrator,” Mr. Schultz says.

“Roger is adapting to the job,” is how city council President Charlie Beard puts it.

“I think Rogers wants to do the best for the city,” says councilman Handy. “Every day is a learning experience in that job and he's learning.”

Mr. Reece, who grew up on a Paulding County farm near Antwerp, says he appreciates working with council and the patience members show. “They've afforded me a learning curve,” he says.

Citizens find his office door is open.

“He's easy to talk to and he's a good listener and that's what people want,” Mr. Handy says.

That touch of character served the administrator well when a city worker, Jerry Brickner, suffered severe burns in a June 13 water plant accident.

Mr. Brickner is still being treated at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center Hospital and has undergone many surgeries.

“It affected the whole city. We were heartbroken. He's still suffering and struggling,'' Mr. Reece says, with a catch in his voice.

Mayor Schultz says Administrator Reece “had to deal with a lot of people and was a great comfort to the man's family.

“And he still is,'' he says.

Mr. Reece says his biggest challenge is that his government inexperience means he has to learn the job while on the job. “I'm always asking myself, how best can I serve the city?” he says.

Defiance faces the problems other cities face, revenue shortage among them, says the minister-administrator.

He is glad the city has a good industrial and commercial base and that some new housing has begun. He wishes it was growing more residentially. Defiance's population of 16,465 is slightly lower that its 16,768 in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mr. Reece's wife, Julie is an obstetrics nurse who visits new mothers in Paulding County homes. “She considers her work a ministry, too,” he says.

Their children are Robbie, 13, Abby, 11, and Wesley, 9.

Mr. Reece seems comfortable and says he'll serve Defiance as long as people want him to serve.

“When a transition is in order in this office, I'm sure my orders will come from above,” he says. “God brought me to this point. God will take me on to another place.”



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