Moving from the principal's office to Kent's city hall

Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

John Fender never thought he would get into politics. But after working a stint as Kent's interim downtown manager in 1996, which sparked his interest in city government, he was encouraged to run for office and was elected mayor of the city of Kent Nov. 3. Taking office Jan. 1, Fender's primary duties include serving as president of council, presiding at all regular council meetings, and serving as ceremonial head of the city. But Fender said he would like to take an active role, working with City Manager Lewis Steinbrecher and other council members to promote the city to neighborhood groups. He said his goal is to do what he did during his 35-year career in education _ listen to people, build relationships and work to facilitate communication. "I tend to think what happens is that people look at the government, but maybe they don't see that it would do a lot for them," he said. "I'd like to be along with (Steinbrecher) and other council members going out to neighborhood groups and be a listener." Fender was elected to a four-year term, replacing Jerry Fiala, who had been appointed to serve as mayor a year ago. Although he is stepping down as mayor, Fiala will retain his seat on council representing Ward 1. Although this is Fender first foray into politics, he is no stranger to public service, serving 26 years as a principal, 24 of them at Kent's Davey Middle School, before retiring in 1994. Since then, he worked at Bohecker's Business College _ a job he quit to spend more time as mayor _ and as a member of several community organizations. He continues to be involved in the Kent's Best Mentor's Program, which sets students up with a mentor in a profession they are interested in. Fender said the citizens of Kent didn't just elect a mayor when they went to the polls, they elected a spokesman. "One of the things under being a ceremonial mayor is being a very proactive spokesman for the city of Kent," he said. Even though the mayor's post is part-time, he said he plans to devote a lot of time to making himself known around the community and at Kent State University so residents and students can voice their concerns. He said he hopes to work as a "consensus builder," helping residents and other city officials make progress on everything from downtown development to relationships between the city and KSU. For instance, Fender said he plans to regularly attend neighborhood meetings, or just take a seat in the KSU student center or downtown restaurant and field questions and comments from anyone who passes by. "I would like to be able to more aggressively get information," he said. "If you're around, more people would be able to talk to you about their concerns. If people know I'm at a neighborhood meeting or frequently in a particular downtown restaurant, I would run into more of these people." When Fiala was appointed mayor, Fender noted, he said he would like to help the city's ward council members serve residents better. Fender said he also intends to do the same and listen to council members and learn from them. That includes Fiala, Fender's opponent in the November election who is returning to his ward council seat. "Jerry has been a great ward councilman," Fender said. "He has a wealth of information."

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