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Butler turning over leadership of Fairlawn’s Ward 1

1/2/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

James Butler
Photo: Ariel Hakim
FAIRLAWN — James Butler, after having served on Fairlawn City Council representing Ward 1 for 18 years, has a bit of advice for Rick Herbert, who took the seat Jan. 1.

“The advice I’ve given him — besides ‘Call me if you’re in trouble’ — is to stay alert,” said Butler, who did not run for re-election this past November. “Listen to the arguments the administration makes about passing a certain bill. Is it helpful for the city? What will it do for the city? How much will it cost?”

Butler, who faced only two opponents during his entire time on Council, said he credits his overwhelmingly successful runs for office to his ward newsletter, a resource that has been picked up by several of his fellow Council members.

Ward 1 is composed of the southwest corner of the city, an area east of South Cleveland-Massillon Road and north of Ridgewood Road.

Butler said for most of his tenure, while his health allowed, he hand-delivered the newsletter he wrote to around 400 ward residents three or four times a year. He had a specific route, he said, covering the area around his home on a Saturday and moving on to “the high-rent district,” which includes the Villages at Fairlawn and Ridgewood Lakes subdivisions, on Sundays, he said.

He said he thinks residents of Ward 1 showed their appreciation at being kept informed by repeatedly re-electing him. While he faced only two opponents during his entire run, he easily won both times, with 80 percent of the vote the first time and 81 percent in the more recent 2009 election, he said.

At 81, Butler said he saw multiple reasons to retire, among them age. Health concerns also topped that list, he said, as he has been experiencing neuropathy in the bottom of his feet, making it difficult to walk.

Butler also has battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the past dozen or so years. Add to his list of ailments atrial fibrillation, and he also has had congestive heart failure as of about two years ago, he added.

In retirement, he plans to take care of his health, and when that’s under control, travel with his wife. His other selfish reason for stepping down, he said, is to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Born and raised in Sandusky, Butler has lived in Fairlawn since 1976, he said. He and his wife have been married for 54 years, and they have a son and daughter and five grandchildren.

Outside of politics, much of his career was spent working for the Research Institute of America, which he joined in 1972. He started selling business services to chief executive officers of small- to medium-sized companies, then went on to become a manager, traveling extensively and recruiting and training others, he said. In 1987, the company changed hands, and Butler was laid off. Soon after, he was called back, and he stayed with the company, which changed its name to National Institute of Business Management, as member service manager, until April 2012, when he retired.

For 30 years, Butler said he also was very active in Akron Sales and Marketing Executives, serving as president three times. He also participated in and served as a past president of the Fairlawn Area Chamber of Commerce, and he was an active member of the public speaking organization Toastmasters International, joining in 1965 and founding the A.M. Akron Toastmasters Club in 1991.

Butler also narrated Akron Symphony Orchestra’s children’s concerts during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Butler said after he’d been living in Fairlawn for nine years, he ran for City Council at the encouragement of Larry “Buzz” Pelland, a former city finance director. He had not been involved in politics previously and was tapped along with neighbor Jerry Apple.

“I guess based on my personality [Pelland] thought I would be a good Council representative,” he said.

Butler took his seat on Council at the same time Apple took his as an at-large Council member. Apple later became the city’s finance director, serving in that position until his death in July. Mayor William Roth joined the pair of newcomers.

In January 1996, of Council’s seven seats, five of the seven Council people were newcomers, along with the mayor.

“Some of the older people would say, ‘My God, these people don’t have any experience, this isn’t going to work,’” Butler said. “Well, it worked out fine.”

During his time at the helm, together with his counterparts, accomplishments include the addition of the city’s Police Department building, the hiring of Chief Kenneth Walsh and the addition of the Service Department, whose building drew the attention of surrounding communities as a model when it first went up.

“Our Service Department is a jewel in the city of Fairlawn,” he said.

Butler said he is proud he and his counterparts have decided to waive residents’ fees to use the city’s compactor for more than a dozen years, he added.

Over the years, Butler also has seen changes in the city, including in the type of companies officials want to see locate in the city. City officials have been “very fussy” about that, he said. Companies like global plastics supplier A. Schulman are positive for the community, he added.

Butler noted he has been disappointed that Fairlawn residents aren’t more interested in what’s going on in the city. Often at Council meetings, the only audience members are reporters, unless there’s a hot topic or special occasion, he said.

What Butler will miss most, he said, are the people he worked with as a Council member.

“I’ll miss the meetings,” he said. “They were always not only informative, but fun — they’re also fodder for my newsletter.

“I think the city is still in good hands,” he added.

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