The region has seen a changing of the guard recently, with younger people stepping in to replace long-time leaders of area organizations.
Smith, 43, may be Lima’s first Black and female mayor. But she’s also the first to represent Generation X, heralding a technology initiative to make city services more accessible for citizens.
“I call (millennials) the microwave generation: You want the answer right now,” Smith said. “You grew up with technology, so if you want to know what something means, you no longer have to go to the library and pull out an encyclopedia. It’s right on your phone.”
Smith wants government to be just as responsive.
She worked on Lima’s Smart Cities initiative as chief of staff for former Mayor David Berger, updating government software programs so they were compatible with geographic information systems or mapping technology.
The initiative led to the creation of the Connect Lima app, which allows residents to submit photos of potholes, broken traffic lights, housing code violations and other non-emergency issues directly to city representatives and track the response. The next phase of the project will include the courts, police and prosecutor’s office.
Smith returned to her hometown of Lima in 2017 after working as a magistrate and public defender in Chattanooga, Tenn., which had been experiencing a “renaissance.”
“I wanted that for my hometown,” she said, “and I wanted to be part of it.”
She accepted a job as chief of staff for Berger, preparing Smith to succeed the mayor of 32 years when he announced his retirement in 2021. Those years taught Smith that people here “really do love Lima,” but that people want to see thriving neighborhoods, safe and affordable housing, stronger families, opportunities to start businesses and safer streets.
“We still have people that are just not making enough,” Smith said. “So how do we get the job training for individuals to be able to move into those jobs that pay a living wage?”
She sees potential for Lima. Her office window overlooks the new Rhodes State College campus. Down Market Street is the new Graduate Medical Education Center, which is training resident physicians. And the Speaker of the House and Senate leader both reside in Lima.
“All eyes are on our city, our region,” Smith said. “Our people are resilient and full of grit.”
The 34-year-old Delphos native spent years writing and testing emergency plans for Allen County Public Health to prepare the agency for outbreaks of infectious diseases or foodborne illnesses. He was promoted to health commissioner in October.
Fischer started as a pre-med student but was later drawn to public health, landing an internship with Indiana’s environmental agency, where he focused on electronic waste recycling. He joined ACPH in 2013 as a sanitarian, inspecting restaurants, tattoo parlors and septic systems for health hazards and educating those businesses on how to operate safely.
Fischer became an emergency preparedness manager two years later, eventually playing a central role in Allen County Public Health’s response to the pandemic by coordinating pop-up testing clinics, vaccination clinics and other efforts.
“My role was writing plans for all that,” Fischer said.
In September, he replaced Kathy Luhn, who retired after 33 years with the agency, including nine as the health commissioner.
Now Fischer is juggling a pandemic response and continuing the agency’s other roles, including restaurant inspections, childhood immunizations and issuing birth or death certificates.
“I found, especially in the past two years, that everything is unpredictable,” he said. “So we have to be ready for those surprising changes.”
The 30-year-old Lima native took over as director of the Johnny Appleseed Park District when long-time director Kevin Haver retired in July 2020.
“It’s pretty tough trying to step into that role,” Black said. “People have in their minds what Kevin did, but I’m a different person than Kevin.”
Still, Black had worked for the park district since he was in high school, starting as a part-time seasonal worker. His ascent to director was swift.
Black studied wildlife sciences at Hocking College and the University of Rio Grande, which took him out west for several years to conduct research for the U.S. Forest Service. He came back to Ohio and eventually to Lima when the Johnny Appleseed Park District was hiring maintenance workers.
“It seemed logical to come back and start a family,” Black said. “The rest is history.”
Black was promoted to deputy director after one year on maintenance, priming him for the director role when Haver retired. The park district has since unveiled an online registration tool for people to book shelter houses or sign up for programs.
Justin Halker, 32, spent nine years in law enforcement. He’s now executive director of the Senior Citizens Services fitness center.
The transition is less stark than it first appears: Halker was regularly called out to check on seniors while he was working for the Lima and Fremont police departments, a task he describes as “extremely rewarding.”
Halker, who grew up watching his mother and his sister work in nursing homes, knew he’d connect with his clients immediately when he saw a position was open with the Senior Citizens Center.
He’s now rebranding the agency as SCS, de-emphasizing the word senior so that all adults 50 and older, many of whom do not consider themselves seniors, feel welcome at the fitness center.
“Everyone’s like: It’s the best-kept secret in town. … (but) a lot of people think of the word senior and they get deterred,” Halker said. “They’re like, ‘I’m not old enough to be a senior,’ when in reality seniors is just a word. You have to be 50 and older to come here.”
And it’s those very age restrictions that make SCS an ideal place to work out, Halker said.
“It’s an age-accepting atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone here is going to be your peer. You don’t have to worry about young kids throwing weights and trying to yell while pushing 500 pounds.”