LIMA — Sharetta Smith has never held elected office – a trait she shares with the other three candidates seeking to succeed David Berger as Lima’s next mayor – but she’s certainly no stranger to the world of politics and the behind-the-scenes view of how the sausage, as they say, is made.
When Berger, Ohio’s longest-serving city mayor, announced last year he planned to retire after 32 years, Smith stepped up — leaning heavily on experience she gained during the previous four-plus years as Berger’s chief of staff.
The May 4 primary election will give Lima voters the opportunity to choose between Smith, Autumn Swanson, Joshua Hayes and Elizabeth Hardesty as their next mayor. The top two vote-getters will square off in the November general election.
“During the past several years I have been deeply entrenched in the day-to-day operations of city government. There is not one issue of concern to our citizens that I have not tried to make better,” Smith said earlier this week.
From examining budgets to overseeing seven city departments and 400 city workers, the mayoral hopeful said she alone among the four candidates has had the opportunity to participate in the day-to-day operation of the city of more than 36,000 residents.
“I have worked to attract investments to the city, to establish after-school programs and to leverage technology to improve how we do business. I worked with city council to hire the city’s first-ever chief technology officer,” Smith said.
A graduate of Perry High School, Smith earned her law degree from Ohio Northern University and her Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix. Prior to returning to her hometown in January of 2017 to take her current position on Berger’s staff, she worked as a public defender and magistrate in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
It was during her time in Chattanooga that Smith had the opportunity to rub shoulders with people who were deeply committed to improving their community and the lives of the people who live there.
“I wanted some of that same energy for Lima,” said Smith. “We live in a time where citizens want government to be responsive to their needs. It’s all about being efficient and fiscally responsible. We can’t win if all of us are not winning. We need to come to the assistance of the marginalized in our community through the equitable distribution of resources.
“We can champion minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses and we can improve the diversity of the city’s workforce, boards and commissions,” Smith said.
Housing issues a priority
Throughout her candidacy Smith has focused on the city’s depreciating housing stock as one of her top concerns. She helped develop the city’s new housing task force as well as other initiatives to upgrade the city’s technology infrastructure and establish opportunity zones in blighted neighborhoods.
Smith realizes that finding the right balance between providing greater housing opportunities for low-income city residents and cleaning up some of the blight that plagues the city is a delicate balance.
“I am very sensitive to the need for adequate housing in Lima, be it through incentives to builders or providing assistance to homeowners to do necessary maintenance on their properties. We need measures to ensure our neighborhoods are affordable to live in, with the understanding that ‘affordability’ varies depending on peoples’ income. We must take a balanced approach to addressing the housing in our city by saving the structures we can and building in a way that ensures we are providing safe, quality and affordable housing to all in our community.
“We need a broad spectrum of housing solutions to meet the needs of everyone that lives in Lima,” Smith said.
Outside of her direct work with the city, Smith has also advocated for a more equal Lima when it comes to racial and gender inequalities.
She helped form the Women’s Leadership Collective to help highlight problems adversely affecting women. Most recently, she played a large role in the city’s efforts to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.
While some voices in Lima paint the city as an undesirable destination for young progressives, Smith feels quite differently.
“What I’m hearing in conversations I’m having with citizens is that people are excited about the future of Lima. They see a better day; a better future,” Smith said. “I have built a consensus with people of different ages, races and backgrounds and we’ve done some amazing things by working together.
“Lima needs a mayor who recognizes and understands the importance of community collaboration,” Smith said.