Voice of County Leadership – Julie Ehemann, Shelby County Commissioner

I could do better than that.Photo of Julie Ehemann – Shelby County Commissioner

Most people have said a variation of that phrase when they are dissatisfied with a politician’s performance. Most people don’t do anything about it. Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann is not most people, and that thought led to a career in local government that shows no signs of stopping.

Her political career began 23 years ago in the Village of Anna when she disagreed with how council members were operating and decided to do something about it.

“It was one of those funny things. I was reading in the newspaper about what they [village council members] were doing, and I thought, ‘I could do that,’” she said.

She successfully ran for a spot as a village council member and was first appointed as chair of the Parks Committee. In her first year, she secured a $50,000 grant from NatureWorks and was able to make improvements to the park. She also started the Anna Garden Club to raise money to beautify the community.

In her fifth year on the council, the mayor resigned. Ehemann, as council president, slid seamlessly into the role, becoming the Village of Anna’s first female mayor. She held that office uncontested for 12 years.

Among her highlights as mayor, she assisted the fire department with passing a safety levy to build a new fire station, helped the community transition to a full-time police department and made infrastructure improvements.

After more than a decade of service, Ehemann needed a change and was looking for new challenges. She won her seat as the first female Shelby County commissioner in 2011.

“Julie has a lot of experience from being a mayor, council member and her community involvement. She brings all that expertise to our discussions each day, which benefits the county,” Shelby County Commissioner Tony Bornhorst said.

That experience was especially beneficial when Ehemann took office in the midst of the recession, with Shelby County’s unemployment rate reaching 14 percent during her campaign. The cuts made to the local government fund in 2011 only exacerbated an already difficult situation.

For example, the county was hit hard by the state’s policy change to expedite the elimination of the tangible personal property tax reimbursement, creating a loss of $584,000 to a $12 million general fund budget in 2015 and equivalent losses in succeeding years.

To alleviate those economic strains, the commissioners worked with economic development and established a new workforce program.

“We had to make cuts in numerous areas to deal with the loss of funds. We’ve tried to focus on growing our sales tax revenue, making sure our industry has a good workforce and lowering unemployment as much as possible,” she said.

Additionally, Ehemann and her fellow commissioners worked to stanch the bleeding from the county budgets cuts through a redistribution of sales tax dollars. Originally, a portion of the county’s sales tax went solely to the engineer’s office for roads and bridges. After many discussions and work, however, the commissioners were able to get that portion of the sales tax split in half. Now, 50 percent of those funds are used to maintain roads and bridges, and the other half goes to commissioners for capital improvement. With that, they were able to renovate the courthouse.

Like many counties in Ohio, Shelby County has to shift their focus to managing a deadly issue: heroin.

“We have so many people addicted to [heroin]. It’s a tragedy,” she said.

Ehemann said the county jail, which rents space for federal prisoners as well as other county prisoners, has had to have counties remove prisoners from the Shelby County jail because the county has too many of its own.

The commissioners, in an effort to combat the issue, have worked with numerous county agencies, including county counseling, the jail, probation and metropolitan housing, to help identify holes in the prevention and rehabilitation processes. One of those gaps was that the county lacked medication-assisted treatment. The county has since established a pilot Vivitrol program.

“Our jail will screen people to see if they are candidates for Vivitrol. Before they are released, they [the jail] will set them up with counseling and decide if they are a good candidate for Vivitrol. It can get frustrating because some people relapse, but you have people moving forward with their drug assistance,” Ehemann said, adding that the county has had community forums to address the issue and promote awareness.

Ehemann’s tenacity for working on projects to benefit her community is respected by her peers.

“It has been a pleasure working with Julie, as she always comes prepared to discuss any issue that may come before the commissioners… Julie also believes in being involved and, when the need arises, to roll up your sleeves and go to work,” Shelby County Commissioner Robert Guillozet said.

Ehemann personifies community involvement, serving as the vice president of the Shelby County Animal Rescue Foundation as well as on the Sidney Shelby Economic Partnership, the Emergency Management Agency and the Local Emergency Planning Commission. She is also the chair of the Republican Party in Shelby County.

That passion for involvement carries over to her work with CCAO, where she was appointed to the Executive Committee and serves on JEDI and Taxation and Finance committees as well as on the Water Quality Task Force and Board of Trustees.

“As a commissioner, you are involved in every little thing in your county. This is how you stay on top of the issues,” she said. “There are too many things going on in local government to be on auto-pilot. I think you always need to be looking at the current issues and being in the mix of things.”