July 1, 2016


No. 5: Zienkowski

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, The Gazette conducted an informal survey of community and government leaders and asked them who they thought were the most influential people in Medina County. We narrowed the list down to 10 based on the number of votes each received, with No. 1 garnering the most. In the following days, we will feature each influential person as we count down to No. 1.

Staff Writer

Each morning, Brunswick City Manager Bob Zienkowski works on a puzzle in his office at the city’s municipal center.

The puzzle board is the city of Brunswick. The pieces are his ideas for the city.

A 6-foot-long dry erase board in the 47-year-old Brunswick resident’s office lists all the ideas and goals he has for the city this year. The board is broken into categories such as development, medical facilities, safety and infrastructure projects. And each idea in each category has a symbol that tells Zienkowski what the city has accomplished on the particular item. A check mark signifies the project has been accomplished, a horizontal arrow means it’s being worked on and a blank space means it has yet to be addressed.

“It’s not one person who makes a difference. … Everyone’s focused on what’s needed here in the community,” says Brunswick City Manager Bob Zienkowski. “In my five years of being here, it really is a breath of fresh air. The level of cooperation … it really is remarkable.”
(Andrew Dolph | Staff Photographer)

“This allows us to keep focused on what we want accomplished this year,” Zienkowski said. “It’s like pieces of the puzzle. You have to have all these things in place to help build your community. And it has to be worked at every day.”

At less than halfway through the year, more than half of the items on Zienkowski’s list have horizontal arrows or check marks.

A graduate of John Carroll University’s bachelor’s and master’s programs, Zienkowski spent 11 years working as director of administrative services and chief administrative officer to the mayor of Maple Heights. From 1989 to 1992, he served as a councilman in Maple Heights, the city in which he grew up.

In 2003, he was selected to replace City Manager Robert Trimble, who retired in 2002. Zienkowski subsequently moved to Brunswick with his wife, Susan, and daughters, Jessica and Erica.

Zienkowski said as city manager he acts as CEO for Brunswick.

“I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of the entire city,” he said. He explained daily activities could include working on economic development initiatives, acquisition of equipment and monitoring the budget.

In 2007, he added safety director to his repertoire of duties, overseeing the operations of the fire and police departments.

Zienkowski said managing his many duties involves a lot of juggling. But he said city officials and employees, as well as local residents and businesspeople help make things go smoothly. One of the city’s vision statements, “Working together to create community excellence,” helps to put the collaboration into perspective, he said.

“It’s not one person who makes a difference. … Everyone’s focused on what’s needed here in the community,” Zienkowski said. “In my five years of being here, it really is a breath of fresh air. The level of cooperation … it really is remarkable.”

Zienkowski said one of the biggest and most helpful forms of cooperation is discussion about the city. And he said he welcomes any opinions.

“You need that ability to agree that you’re going to disagree on all those issues. By that disagreement, that’s how you get better,” Zienkowski said. “If you ever get to the point where you’re satisfied, you say things are going good. I think that’s where you start to fall behind. You can’t be complacent.”

Since becoming city manager, Zienkowski said he hasn’t been complacent about the state of the city. While Brunswick was a wonderful city when he arrived, he said he saw that as a base on which to work.

Some of his biggest accomplishments, he said, include working on the town’s storm water issues and creating an agreement with Cleveland to provide water to Brunswick.

Plus, he’s worked to bring $73 million in investment to the community. Since Zienkowski took office, he has helped Columbia Chemical build new facilities on Western Drive and guided Giant Eagle, Buehler’s and the Winking Lizard in their new locations on state Route 303.

Such investment, he said, has worked to destroy the notion Brunswick is another world away from larger cities like Cleveland and Akron and their suburbs.

“There’s always been this misconception that we’re far, far away,” Zienkowski said. “We’re close to it all. And we’ve got a great workforce out here, which is a great selling point to businesses out here.”

Zienkowski said as the city’s CEO, he is often the one extending an open hand to businesses and potential developers. By making that connection, he said, he shows the city’s highest officials want that business here and will help it to get the project done.

“You have to go out for it. You have to go out and chase it. You have to stay with it. And you can’t get discouraged,” he said.

Zienkowski said he has not become discouraged with the biggest retail project he has sought as city manager. For 1½ years, Zienkowski has held discussions with outdoors outfitter Cabela’s.

While the retailer has not yet announced any projects in Brunswick, Zienkowski has high hopes.

“With the economic downturn, I know they pulled back on some of their expansion plans. But we still continue to talk with them. We still continue to have conversations with them every week.”

But, to Zienkowski, development isn’t just retail. It means more services for the city.

Just this year, construction has begun on two medical structures — the Cleveland Clinic facility and the Southwest General building. Ground soon will be broken on a third — the new Digestive Disease Consultants building on Industrial Parkway North.

And city council is working with Cuyahoga Community College to build an education center in the city that could offer a two-year degree program.

Each of these projects is a bullet point on Zienkowski’s dry-erase board. He said projects like these help build the community that has accepted him as one of their own.

“I can’t say enough about this community. It’s made me feel like I’ve been here all my life,” he said.

Kacik may be reached at 330-721-4049 or mkacik@ohio.net.