I had already been in combat, so going into politics felt about the same.”
Jackson County Commissioner Paul Haller is (probably) kidding, but the Eagle Scout-turned veteran-turned-county leader has a storied Naval career, and he was able to transfer the management and leadership skills he acquired during his service to his work as a county commissioner.
In November 1978, Haller, after finishing high school, enlisted in the Navy, where he served in active duty for three years. While he was in the Navy Reserve, he attended the University of Rio Grande, graduated and went back on active duty for 10 more years. After that decade, he returned to Ohio and completed a master’s degree in athletic administration from Ohio University. He worked as a teacher and an assistant baseball coach for three years at the University of Rio Grande before working for 10 years as a teacher at Jackson High School.
After 9/11, he was recalled to active duty two additional times, including two one-year stints as a master chief at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was also assigned a six-month combat tour in Iraq, where he was charged with managing 67 medical personnel that were taking care of 1,200 Marines during combat operations.
Haller became the 4th Marine Division command master chief in January 2004 to November 2006. From November 2006 to November 2008, he served as the command master chief of the Operational Health Support Unit, Great Lakes with over 700 personnel that covered 22 reserve centers supplying medical care to the fleet. He currently serves as the reserve command master chief of the Navy Operational Support Center in Columbus and will retire this year after 40 years of service to the country.
Haller’s political career began in late 2010 when he was approached to run for county commissioner. After much prayer, consideration and family discussion, he decided to run and, after winning a five-way primary, took office in 2012. He now serves as president of the board of county commissioners and oversees the day-to-day operations. He also serves on the executive board for economic development as well as on the board of the newly formed land bank, which hopes to clean up around 20 properties in the county.
“It was the management and leadership of personnel and a multimillion-dollar budget that enticed me, not the politics,” he said. “My military and educational experience certainly have enhanced my abilities.”
Speaking of that multimillion dollar budget, Haller said he and his fellow commissioners have managed for the past five years to balance the budget with a contingency carryover.
“Communication with all elected officials, especially with the auditor, is key,” he said. “It’s a team effort. The judges, sheriff, auditor and Jobs and Family Services all communicate well with us on forecasting issues and pending problems.”
That budget, however, is very tight and limits the commissioners’ ability to provide additional funding to needed projects, such as capital improvements on aging buildings and additional funds to the sheriff’s office to battle the opiate epidemic.
“Not having the extra revenue to help our sheriff and jails combat the drug and opioid epidemic is putting a tremendous strain on us,” he said. “Because of the rise in drug-related court cases, our Job and Family Services struggles with rising costs and qualified foster care, which is projected to be way over budget next year. It’s a domino effect on every office in the county.”
Despite those difficulties, Haller thoroughly enjoys his work as a commissioner. Haller acquired grants to replace the 60-year-old county airport terminal with a $500,000 upgrade, he assisted in planning events to celebrate the county’s bicentennial, and he is involved in his community through the Rotary and Elks. He also serves as chairman for the non-profit Buckeye Hero Hunt, a no-cost archery deer hunt for disabled veterans in Southern Ohio.
“We are the leaders and face of the county. Our involvement goes a long way when your county doesn’t have much money,” he said. “It lets the people know we care.”
Another of Haller’s successes was convincing his fellow commissioners to become members of CORSA and CEBCO, as both of those organizations have provided significant savings and assistance to his county. Haller serves on the CORSA board of directors.
“CORSA’s HR help line has been instrumental through its services that we often use, and our employees are very satisfied with our health benefits from CEBCO,” he said.
Haller, who is also a CCAO representative to the Ohio Department Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee, mentioned CCAO as a whole has improved his work as a county commissioner.
“CCAO has a great staff that helps us better understand our jobs and decisions and is a great advocate for the counties at the legislature. For a small county we need a strong advocate,” he said. “Without CCAO, CORSA and CEBCO, our county would be in trouble.”
Haller knows his county, like many others across Ohio, is facing several challenges, and, looking forward, intends to be there to solve them.
“Right now, I’m focused on moving our county forward working on jail space and a treatment facility for the courts as well some additional storage space for all the elected officials,” he said. “My plan is to run for a third term in 2020 to finish these projects. I am blessed to be a Jackson County commissioner. I enjoy what I do every day, and that’s serving the people of Jackson County.”
His future will not be about only politics. He plans to spend time with his wife of 33 years as well as his three sons and grandson.
“My Navy career took me away for months, weeks and for many weekends. I missed too many family moments,” he said. “I can never get back these moments, so I don’t take them for granted, I cherish them.”