Editor’s note: Former Medina Mayor Jane Leaver died late Tuesday after a long battle with lung cancer. In remembrance of her, The Gazette is republishing this story, originally published in June 2008. That 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. Leaver was voted No. 6. This is her story.
Maria Kacik | The Gazette
Sitting at a dark cherry table in her office, Medina Mayor Jane Leaver chuckles when she remembers family dinners throughout her childhood.
It’s those times, she explained, sitting between two ends of the political spectrum helped form her ideals and work ethic.
“My mother is a staunch conservative Republican and my father is a former union foreman liberal Democrat. They could not be any more politically opposite,” said the mayor, a declared Republican. “And listening to them talk around the dinner table my entire life was a pretty good upbringing in what both parties thought in any issue.”
It was this upbringing, she said, that guided her through her seven years as mayor and provided her with lessons in problem-solving.
“I think growing up and listening to my parents being so opposite and finding myself somewhere in between those two has really been beneficial in this job, listening to opposite sides of not only political parties but the special-interest groups,” said Leaver, 42. “From everything I’ve found, the answer is almost always somewhere in the middle.”
Leaver explained she regularly is in situations in which she must mediate between different groups. Most of the time, she said, there’s a way to find some kind of agreement that relatively satisfies both parties.
If it’s holding discussions between soccer and football moms, or those in favor of development in Medina and those supporting historic preservation, she said her job is to find a middle ground.
It’s that kind of ability that has earned her the nickname “Mommy” around city hall.
Leaver, Medina’s first female mayor and currently the only female department head in the city, said when she assumed the office, those around city hall did not know what to expect.
“One of the department heads said that, ‘You know, I think that’s going to be a true benefit because she has two assets that she can bring to the table that only a mother can bring. She has the ability to multitask. And she has the great experience in saying ‘no’ and meaning it,’ ” Leaver explained.
Leaver joked she definitely does have the ability to say “no,” especially when it comes to budget matters.
But, she said, it is truly her professional experience that has given her the ability to work with people and still juggle work and her personal life.
A resident of Medina County since the age of 10, Leaver graduated from Cloverleaf High School in 1983 and the University of Akron in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
She started working as a probation officer with the Medina County Juvenile Court her senior year of college and later worked part time as a dispatcher for the Medina County Sheriff’s Office.
While receiving training with the Medina Police Academy, she met her husband, Jim, who was a sheriff’s deputy at the time. The two married in 1989 and had their first daughter, Jamie, in 1990 and their second, Jordyn in 1992. Leaver then quit her jobs to raise her family.
In 1997, she returned to the work force, serving as a social worker for Medina County Job and Family Services.
“Working at a sheriff’s department and working in a children’s services division, every position I have ever worked, nobody has been happy to see me coming. If I’m answering the phone, if I’m coming to your home, it’s going to be an adversarial relationship,” said Leaver, who explained that gave her the experience in mediating and working in stressful situations.
Leaver spent one year serving as Ward 1 representative on Medina City Council in 1996, until she moved into the city’s Ward 2 late in the year. In 2001, she ran for mayor and won.
Leaver said the city was in an unstable financial situation when she first entered office. She immediately went to residents to explain the dire situation and ask for money. She said she told residents the city would have to forego many of the basic services it provides if the municipality did not receive more money.
An income tax increase on the ballot in November 2002, however, failed.
“I don’t think I made that clear enough how serious our finances were,” Leaver said.
The next year, she said, was the longest year of her life.
“We suffered through an entire year of basically minimal services in every department,” she said.
She explained this was how she received her crash course in budgeting, having never worked in economics previously. The annual budget became one of Leaver’s most intricate, yet most enjoyable tasks.
“You just learn. Sink or swim,” she said. “Ironically, I can’t swim,” she said with a laugh.
But Leaver guided the city’s ship through the rough waters her first year and returned to the ballot in November 2003 with an income tax increase, which passed.
She said every year since then the budget has become more solid. Leaver said this accomplishment is the one of which she is most proud.
In March of this year, Leaver announced she would not seek re-election in 2009.
“I would like to leave office and the one thing that people remember me as is one of the hardest-working people they ever met and that I left the city in sound financial condition.” Leaver said, nodding her head. “That will be a very successful eight years in office by my definition.”
Leaver said she doesn’t know where her professional career will find her in 2009, but she said she knows exactly what her personal life holds for her after she leaves office.
“What will I do on Saturdays and Sundays? I will be at home with my husband and children. That’s something I’m sure of,” she said.
Her children — Jamie, 17, and Jordyn, 16 — will be leaving home for college in the next few years. Both now attend Walsh Jesuit High School. Leaver said she and her husband want to fully enjoy the last years they have with their daughters before they step into adulthood.
“I am incredibly close with my girls,” she said, resting her head on her open palm. “I’m not going to do very well as an empty-nester.”