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Ex-lawmaker from Delta to lead Ohio Turnpike

Board hires Hodges as executive director

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Richard Hodges stands in front of the Fulton County Health Center.

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BEREA, Ohio -- Seven months after its executive director retired, the Ohio Turnpike finally has a new top administrator: a former state legislator from Delta.

Richard Hodges, 48, who now lives in Hilliard, Ohio, serving as the director of legislative development and operational reform at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, was approved by a 4-0 vote to become the Ohio Turnpike's executive director during a special meeting Wednesday. Voting member George Dixon was absent.

"He has a good background in a variety of things that are integral to the operations of the Ohio Turnpike," commission Chairman Jerry Hruby said to recommend Mr. Hodges before the vote.

That experience includes being Fulton County treasurer from 1987 to 1992, followed by a seven-year spell in the Ohio House of Representatives representing Fulton, Williams, and Defiance counties. During part of his House tenure, Mr. Hodges was that chamber's nonvoting representative on the turnpike commission.

After leaving office, Mr. Hodges was executive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Northwest Ohio from 2000 until 2005, and served on the Toledo Public Schools' Oversight Commission that managed construction or renovation of 60 city schools.

He left the area in 2005 to become chief executive of the Tucson Association of Realtors in Arizona, then was executive director of the Metropolitan Builders' Association of Greater Milwaukee before returning to Ohio.

"I think very highly of the Ohio Turnpike. I consider it one of the jewels of northwest Ohio," Mr. Hodges said, noting that for most of his life, he has lived within five miles of the toll road.

He said he is "open to all options" concerning Gov. John Kasich's proposal to lease the turnpike to a private operator, considering the "challenges" Ohio faces in maintaining and improving its transportation assets.

"That decision's going to be made by a whole bunch of people," Mr. Hodges said.

Mr. Hodges succeeds L. George Distel, who retired April 1 after three years running the 241-mile toll road.

The turnpike commission voted May 24 to hire David O. Regula, one of its own members, as the new executive director. However, Mr. Regula resigned two days later and declined the executive's position the next day, after the Ohio Ethics Commission questioned whether the appointment violated state law prohibiting members of such commissions and boards from seeking employment with the agencies they oversee.

Mr. Hruby said there was abundant interest in the turnpike post afterward, and he interviewed five finalists from that field whom he considered qualified in both transportation and organizational management. Mr. Hodges "clearly was the best candidate," the commission chairman said.

Mr. Hodges said working to improve the turnpike's sometimes-contentious relations with communities along its route will be one of his priorities as executive director.

The extent to which turnpike toll increases -- including a 10-percent hike scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 -- drive away traffic from the toll road and onto parallel secondary roads long has been a bone of contention.

"That's always under review," Mr. Hodges said. "We have obligations to bondholders, but we have to be concerned about local communities as well."

The turnpike also will "always need to be conscious of cutting costs and saving money," he said after offering no opinion about the toll road's level of efficiency.

Mr. Hodges will receive a starting salary of $129,500, plus either the use of a state vehicle for turnpike-related travel or a $6,000 stipend to compensate for the use of his own vehicle for such purposes. Mr. Distel had a $132,612.48 salary when he retired.

Mr. Hodges plans to maintain his residence in Hilliard, at least for the next two years, rather than move closer to the turnpike's suburban Cleveland headquarters so his children, ages 16 and 11, can stay in their current schools.

"I plan on getting to know the Red Roof Inn very well," he quipped.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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