Interview With Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell, Part Two

Mar 16, 2011

This week, WYSO is airing an interview in three parts with Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell. Emily McCord spoke with him on Friday, March 11 and in today's second installment, she asks him what his plans are for creating jobs in the city.

GARY LEITZELL: Well, the city is focused on aerospace, nanotechnology, RFID technology. We've designated a good part of downtown, tech town out to UDRI, which is University of Dayton's research institute as an aerospace hub zone. Now that we've defined the boundaries, we're kind of defining exactly what benefits people could have living and working in the hub zone and what benefits business would have to establish themselves in the hub zone. These are pretty much high tech jobs. Hopefully if we can increase the number of self starters, opportunists, self employed people basically, if we can encourage people to follow their dreams then they will create jobs for people. I said when I was campaigning, why should we go after one company that will employ 1,000 people? Why don't we go after 1,000 people who want to be self employed? In four or five years, we'll have five or six thousand people employed. Half of those self employed people will succeed, the other half will fail. But the ones that fail will end up working for the successful ones. We as government, I think, have missed that opportunity. We always focus on the big industries and half of all the businesses in the country have less than twenty employees.

EMILY MCCORD: Foreclosures and vacant properties continue to be a problem for Dayton. The vacancy rate is somewhere around 21% in the city. How do you address the housing problem in Dayton?

GL: Well, what you may say as a problem, many people see as an opportunity. We have all these immigrants coming here who see these vacant houses as an opportunity. But there are people who live here who see them as a problem and a blight, so I guess we have to reach a happy medium. We are demolishing a bunch of properties that aren't really salvageable. In some areas we will be expanding on the green space. We are also encouraging urban agriculture and we're changing some of our zoning codes to reflect that, and bee keeping, and stuff. We're going back to a suburban feel in some neighborhoods. But again, while we're doing that, we need to still attract people, create jobs, and with the immigrant population, some of them will just see opportunity where others see failure.

EM: What is the status of the neighborhood stabilization money that was assisting in tearing down some of the nuisance properties?

GL: We're going to get updates at the city commission meetings every month or so, but we're trying, a lot of it has been allocated, and we've been trying to spend it as fast as we can because there are deadlines to it on demolition and deconstruction. We actually have a group of people that are deconstructing houses and selling the salvable materials so they don't go into a landfill. We are actually doing some home remodeling and renovation and resale in some of those areas that, I wouldn't say profitable, but where it is economically viable.

EM: People often look to schools when deciding whether to move to an area or not, and Dayton Public Schools, according to the latest state report card, the school system is improving, but it's still on academic watch. I'm wondering what your take is on the state of the city's schools?

GL: Well, there are certain schools that are doing exceptionally well. Stivers is the diamond and people would actually leave California and relocate here to put their kids in a school like Stivers. I think that what the statistics show, or what most people look at, is the overall performance numbers. But I would tell you if you go to places like Thurgood Marshall, Stivers, Belmont has turned around...If you look at certain individual schools, you'll see that their exceeding and that story doesn't always get told. So, one of my missions as mayor has been to influence the school district to get the good news out. And I know the superintendent of Dayton Public Schools, Lori Ward, is now appearing on television on a regular basis to talk about good things going on at Dayton Public Schools and they're not being reported. The only we can report them is if we're willing to get up at six in the morning and show up at a news station and tell people 'hey, don't believe everything you're hearing, because there's more good news than bad'.

EM: So, beyond getting the stories out about the schools, what relationship does the mayors office and the city have with the school board?

GL: We have to work with them. Basically, Dayton Public Schools is a completely different entity and I have no jurisdiction over what decisions they make. I can't tell them to do something because they'll tell me no and I have no authority over that. Again, we have the power to influence to say, 'hey, here are some ideas, here's some ideas you could do'. I know we're working with them more on youth programs and use of gyms and after school type things because we have recreation centers and we're starting to find for years we've been duplicating efforts. And we just had a discussion regarding waste collection, maybe looking forward [to] what we can do with regards to working together for recycling. I don't expect immediate results because we both have contracts with various companies that extend out to 2012. But we can at least start looking at numbers and see if we can collaborate on various things like that.