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New fire chief named in Richfield

1/24/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Jeff Gorman

Jason Mihalek was sworn in as the chief of the Richfield Village Fire Department at the Village Council meeting Jan. 15.
Photo courtesy of Bobbie Beshara
Jason Mihalek fulfilled a childhood dream when he was named chief of the Richfield Village Fire Department at the Village Council meeting Jan. 15.

Council approved Mayor Bobbie Beshara’s recommendation to promote Mihalek, a 30-year resident of Richfield. His children were in attendance, and his wife pinned on his new badge as his colleagues in attendance, along with Council, gave him a standing ovation.

“This is one of the finest organizations on the planet, and I’m proud to be your leader,” said Mihalek, who was hired by former Richfield Fire Chief Russ English at the age of 19.

He also thanked his family for their patience when he had to be away from home for week-long training sessions.

“It’s been my childhood dream to be the fire chief of the Village of Richfield,” Mihalek said. “This has been my home for the last 30 years, and it will be for many more.”

Phil McLean had been the acting chief for the past eight months since the retirement of Chief Joe Stopak. McLean was appointed to the position of assistant fire chief at the meeting. His wife pinned his new badge on, and he also got a standing ovation.

McLean has been a member of the Richfield Fire Department since 1976, and Council’s resolution to promote him expressed thanks for his “exemplary service.”

“It’s been a pleasure to serve the mayor and my firefighters,” he said.

One more appointment took place, as Council agreed to promote firemedic Robert Benza to a full-time position. He had been serving on a part-time basis.

Also at the meeting, Council decided on its committee assignments for the new year. Council President Rick Hudak will lead the Finance Committee, while Vice President Andy Ellis will chair the Safety Committee and serve on the Fire Dependency Board.

Councilman Ralph Waszak will lead the Public Works Committee and serve as Council’s representative on the Public Tree and Landscape Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission.

Councilman John Ciolkevich will lead the Building and Grounds Committee. Councilwoman Barb Lanford will run the Cable Committee and the Streets and Highways Committee. She also will be Council’s liaison to the Human Services Commission.

Councilman Mike Wheeler will lead the Insurance Committee and serve as Council’s liaison to Richfield Township and the Parks and Recreation Board.

Councilman Hank Novak will represent Council on the Fire Dependency Board and the Cemetery Board.

Before the meeting, Council held a public hearing on an ordinance to rezone property on the north side of West Streetsboro Road between Robin Hill Lane and Humphrey Road. The ordinance would change the zoning from R-2 (Single-Family Residential) to R-3 (Cluster Residential).

“There is a need for higher-density housing, specifically senior housing,” said Planning and Zoning Director Brian Frantz. “Fifty percent of Richfield residents are age 55 and older, and we need a variety of housing types.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission had approved the ordinance unanimously, Frantz said, adding that it would affect 10 parcels of land totaling 20.3 acres.

“I’m happy living where we’re living and the zoning the way it is,” said Russ Schutt, of West Streetsboro Road.

Beshara said she didn’t see a need for the rezoning.

“Nobody is saying, ‘I want a tiny house on a tiny piece of land,’” Ellis said.

Waszak said passing the ordinance would be a “proactive, rather than reactive” approach to Richfield’s housing needs.

Law Director Bill Hanna said Council will have to vote on the rezoning within 90 days.

In other business:

• Richfield Village Police Chief Keith Morgan said he is interviewing candidates for part-time officer positions.

• McLean reported the Fire Department assisted its Bath counterparts in fighting a fire at the Our Lady of the Elms’ sports facility on Ira Road. [For more on that, see the News & Notes item titled “Fire destroys structure at Elms Athletic Complex” in the Jan. 10, 2013, edition, or visit our archives at www.akron.com.]

Also, McLean reported someone accidentally drove their car into the entranceway of the KinderCare building.

“It was a close call,” he said. “Fortunately, there were no kids in the atrium when the car hit the building.”

• Recreation Director Ruth Jocek said a Valentine Fair Trade event will take place Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Masonic Hall, 3750 Grant St., featuring gifts from craftsmen in underprivileged countries. The event also will include a preview night Fair Trade Wine Tasting Feb. 8 from 5 to 8 p.m.

• Council approved resolutions for the purchase of three police cars from Montrose Auto Group, a new pick-up truck for the Service Department from Serpentini Chevrolet and department equipment from Baker Vehicle Systems. The total of these purchases is $157,000.

The next Richfield Village Council meeting is set for Feb. 5 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall, 4410 W. Streetsboro Road.

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