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Deputy mayor moving on to new projects

11/22/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Dave Lieberth will retire Nov. 30 after 10 years as deputy mayor of Akron.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — When Dave Lieberth headed to college at The University of Akron, he majored in music and had plans to become a band director.

That didn’t happen, but Lieberth, 65, who retires Nov. 30 after a decade as Akron’s deputy mayor, still has had his moments on stage.

“There’s nothing more satisfying for me than to look out over a crowd of 6,000 people at Lock 3 Park,” he said.

West Akron resident Lieberth was instrumental in getting the downtown park established and has made it his job to be at the site overseeing entertainment events, which usually meant greeting the audience from the stage.

While he said he enjoyed that and many of the other projects he oversaw since joining the city in 2002, Lieberth doesn’t think he’ll miss the job.

“I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and I have projects ahead of me,” he said. “Working in the mayor’s office is like working in a batting cage. The balls keep coming at you.”

He added that he typically works 13 hour days on weekdays, a half day Saturdays and puts in a couple of hours on Sundays.

“I’m not going to miss that,” he said.

Lieberth, a Barberton native, graduated from St. Vincent High School in 1965. While at UA, he was recruited to work in radio because his music background meant he knew how to pronounce the names of composers, he said. That experience prompted him to change his major to speech to pursue a career in broadcasting. He earned a master’s degree in TV and radio from Syracuse University in 1970.

While working in news at local station WHLO, Lieberth considered a career covering the U.S. Supreme Court, so he decided to go to law school to give him the credentials for such a job. He recalls starting his day at the station at 4 a.m., going home and getting a little sleep and studying and then heading to the UA School of Law for evening classes, a schedule he kept for four years. He earned his law degree in 1977 and continued in broadcasting for another year.

But he and his wife, Lynne, didn’t want to leave the Akron area because of family, so Lieberth decided to pursue law as a career. He joined an Akron firm, where he handled domestic relations cases, mostly divorces, he said. It was a good fit for him.

“I did a lot of work with families and juveniles,” he said. “I found I could do that difficult work and not add to the hostilities.”

He was honored with a listing among the Best Lawyers in America for 10 years, and he also earned a grade of “A” in the Martindale Hubbell ratings of attorneys, he said.

After 20 years of that kind of work, Lieberth decided to switch gears and become a mediator. Still working with domestic relations cases, he enjoyed the work because his role was to help two sides find solutions to their issues.

Meanwhile, Lieberth became active in civic affairs. Mayor Don Plusquellic appointed him to direct “Imagine.Akron: 2025,” in which he led 38 groups of 400 volunteers in 1999. He also headed up efforts to celebrate the city’s 175th anniversary in 2000, for which he coordinated more than 40 historic events.

When Plusquellic asked him in 2001 to work for the city, Lieberth said he was intrigued for a couple of reasons. The mayor told him he intended to work toward becoming president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a three-year process, and Lieberth thought it would be exciting to work on national policy issues with Plusquellic.

Also, Lieberth asked if he could be the one to oversee downtown, as no one else had sole responsibility for the area, and the mayor agreed.

“We’ve done great things,” Lieberth said.

The biggest change to the downtown area, Lieberth said, is the increase in pedestrian traffic. Ten years ago, many in the community had concerns about downtown housing for residents with mental health issues, especially since there were schools in the area.

“Nobody wanted to walk downtown,” Lieberth said.

What followed then were “complex negotiations” among the entities involved in one facility, Canal Place Tower.

“We were able to relocate the residents with great dignity and then demolish the building,” Lieberth said.

The next challenge was to move the METRO RTA bus transfer area from South Main Street to a new location on Broadway.

“That was the biggest change in Akron in 20 years,” he said. “We now have hundreds of people walking downtown, for lunch or for exercise.”

Lock 3 further helped change the image of downtown, he added.

“There was no reason to come downtown at night,” Lieberth said. “The Civic and Canal Park helped but … Lock 3 gave us something for the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. We had 210,000 people there this summer, and we will have about 50,000 this winter. It’s made the restaurant business and the hospitality business viable. It encourages people to come downtown. They feel safe.”

Lieberth said Plusquellic has no plans to hire a new deputy mayor to take on his duties. Instead, they have been assigned to current staff members. He added the mayor was expected to announce this week who will handle what projects.

Lieberth said he didn’t want anyone to make a big deal out of his retirement, but when Leadership Akron asked him to attend a 7:30 a.m. event in his honor Nov. 5 at the John S. Knight Center, he decided to go along, thinking that it would be low-key.

Instead, more than 500 people turned out for the event, which also featured a marching band, singers and confetti.

“It totally blew me away,” he said. “I’m still processing it.”

Even though he’s retiring, Lieberth has no plans to sit still. He’s on the boards of Summa Health System, the Akron Zoo, the Akron Symphony and GroundWorks DanceTheater, and already has a schedule of meetings for those commitments through the next six months, he said.

He also plans to combine his love for writing and history with his firsthand knowledge of Akron’s metamorphosis to write a book on the topic in the next year.

“I have a great advantage in leaving now, when things are going relatively well,” he said. “I’ve been able to accomplish most everything I wanted to do. And the projects I’ve cared about most are in good hands.”

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