The podcast that wanted to be an interview
I sat down to talk with Randolph Township Trustee Susan White about taxes, fire departments and schools
Susan White is a Realtor and member of the Randolph Township Board of Trustees. I spoke with her on Sunday for last week’s podcast, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. Unfortunately the recording is unusable, but luckily we were able to pull the transcript and share it with you.
This interview has been edited for length.
Some people say you’re the mayor of Randolph, but obviously townships don’t really have a mayor. Why do you think people refer to you that way?
Oh, just to be funny, and maybe because I’m bossy, I don’t know.
I don’t think there’s any secret that you sort of run the show. I’ve driven by downtown Randolph where there’s that lovely little park that you have on the corner. And I’ve seen you mowing the lawn, just sort of waving to every car that drives by. You know everyone, everyone knows you, they’re happy to see you. And you’ve got quite a nice operation there.
It is nice. I like it. As a little girl, I rode the bus by there and it was a mess. And I always thought, boy, it’d be nice if that corner was decorated nice for Christmas. It’s just kind of funny because that’s what happened. People want to buy it, and I tell them no. And they’re like, “Why?” And I say, “Because I plant flowers and I decorate it for Christmas.” And they hang up on me. They’re like, she’s crazy.
Right, it’s right on the corner. It could be a great commercial property. It could be a Pizza Hut. I don’t know. It could be anything. But you know, I guess you like it like that.
I’ve got to look at it every day and I want it to be pretty.
Yeah, exactly. When you were growing up in Randolph, what was that like? I can’t even imagine because now it’s huge car dealerships and there’s a nice little shopping plaza there. It must be completely different from when you were a kid.
Well, I actually grew up in Atwater, and I married Rick and moved to Randolph, for many, many, many years. Of course, I went to Waterloo, and went to middle school there in Randolph so that’s how I rode by it on the school bus. But Randolph is, you know, it’s changed. Some people really appreciate the change; other people don’t. We always had two car dealerships there. They are bigger now than what they were, for sure. But there’s been a lot of cleanup. You know, there was an older restaurant there, abandoned. But I believe that we’re utilizing it to the best of its ability right now. Kind of excited to have a Subway there. And Bob’s Pizza. And our little library still remains. It’s nice that we have two corners that can be decorated really nice for Christmas. I’m super sad the bank left. [Note: There was a Chase branch on the corner of 44 and Waterloo Road.] We tried everything to keep that from happening, but there was nothing we could do with new banking systems online and everything. We just we had no power. I tried. But yeah, I think Randolph looks pretty nice. I mean, I would like to see some small businesses move in, but they have to be able to make money. And you know, it’s hard for small businesses to make money in little towns. It just is.
And it’s not just Bob’s and Subway. There’s the County Line, there’s Hillside, which is amazing now and the food there is amazing.
It is amazing. Have you had their lobster bisque?
Yes! And the Reuben. The food is incredible.
Oh, it’s amazing. I agree. Totally amazing. They have a chef that used to work at Congress Lake Country Club.
Yeah, it shows in the transformation from what the Hillside was. I mean, when I was growing up, my dad would come home from the Hillside and our house would smell like smoke. I mean, there’d be peanut casings stuck to his shoes. So it’s like a completely different vibe in there now, it’s almost like it’s almost like Congress Lake Country Club. I mean, it’s that quality.
Well, the Smiths bought it and everything the Smiths touch, they make it nice. Everything. They recently bought a house by your mom and dad’s. The son of this man bought a house on Randolph Road and, and he hasn’t even had it three months and it’s already turning into something spectacular. It’s just everything they touch, they do a nice job.
What kinds of businesses do you think could come in and do well in Randolph?
I would love to see a small grocery store come in. Something that sold meat and some nice baked goods and things like that. Something of a nice quality organic type business. Maybe have a dry cleaner pickup there. I would like to see that. That would be really, really nice. We have a great furniture store. We have Randolph Home Furnishings, they do a really nice job. … But I would like to see a little grocery store for sure. And I would like a place to pick up and drop off dry cleaning. That would be great.
It would certainly be convenient.
Yeah, maybe like a little laundromat. I’d like to see a car wash. You know, some things like that would be really nice. You know, we jokingly say, a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. But that’s kind of the look I’d like to see in Randolph. But you know, the people have to make money. That’s the bottom line.
Yeah, I wonder how much you could probably quantify the traffic heading up to Rootstown, and just subtract it from that and see if it’s feasible, somehow. I mean, there must be a lot of wealth leaving Randolph and going into Rootstown. I don’t know how much though, and whether it’s enough to sustain a business.
I don’t know, either. You know, Randolph is a special place. We have a great Lions Club and a lot of volunteering, all over the township. Many years ago, I was at a funeral. And I heard the people at the funeral home talking. And it just touched my heart. They said you can always tell when somebody from Randolph dies, because people are just the most genuine and the most special. And that was not said for people to hear. You know, they were talking and I overheard it. And I have to tell you, not that other places aren’t special, because there’s a lot of communities close by that I really think a lot of, but our little township has a great group of people. And we might not all have the same ideals. But we pretty much have all the same values. We might apply them differently, you know, in different ways. But we all want to use our power for good. And I think it shows. I think it shows in the food shelf. I think it shows in Lions Club. I think it shows in our senior lunches. I think it shows in our fire department, in our fair. And you know, in so many different ways. I don’t think people realize that. The Portage County Fair, which will always be the Randolph Fair to me. I don’t think that they realize that the people there work for next to nothing. People have no idea, it’s basically volunteers. And the amount of work and things they do, and how many people in Randolph and other communities, as well, benefit from all of the animals sales and the life lessons that they learn. And I think that Randolph, basically, is good folks.
Yeah, I endorse all those sentiments. You mentioned all of these things, and it’s coming back to me just how much cultural density there is in a place that, you know, it’s not the biggest township in the county. But it’s got the fair, it’s got a big beautiful Catholic church with a parochial school, which is rare. It’s got all these things you mentioned. It’s got the library branch, which I guess, really you could call it the South Portage County Branch Library because it really serves from Suffield right over to Palmyra.
It broke my heart that the levy didn’t pass. I mean, the school didn’t pass. But the library I was so sad. I mean, the people that use that library, use it for Wi-Fi, and for doing their school. I mean, their school lessons or even getting degrees. All the seniors use it. I just couldn’t believe the renewal didn’t pass. Really, it’s so sad.
Yeah, what’s gonna happen? Do you know what they’ll do?
I have no idea. But I know that’s precious to us. And it’s precious to me. I use it all the time. I get books on tape and I listen to them all over the place. I love that library. Like I said, it’s unique and it’s been a part of our township. So many seniors use it. So many people use it. My grandson, you know, he lives up near Chagrin Falls and he was going to these fancy libraries and his favorite one was Randolph. And his favorite place to eat was Bob’s.
Yeah, I mean, I could absolutely see why. When we’re visiting my parents, the kids go over to the library. It’s one of a kind. I mean, in Ravenna and Kent you have these huge libraries that feel really like big city libraries. So a small town library is kind of a special place. And like you said, it’s a resource for people who maybe don’t have internet connection at home, or don’t have access to books. In a way it’s a safety net for a large part of the population.
Yes, it is. And more special than people realize. I think there’s a lot of people that don’t think much of it or even give it a thought. But to me it, it means a lot. I see a lot of children that don’t have a lot that utilize it. … The library is part of our community, and I want to keep it.
Another levy that is dear to you did pass: the fire/EMS levy. How much did that pass by?
About 257 votes, I think. I don’t have the final count yet. But you know, as a trustee, when I started years ago, I did not know how some things worked. You learn as you go. Like I was saying: you don’t know what you don’t know. These fire men and women have done so much. Diane Bunker, the Langs the Hamiltons the Rodenbuchers. I mean, the list goes on and on. And a lot of these firemen have other jobs.
Our fire department’s ISO rating, insurance rating, has lowered the insurance costs of our township unbelievably. And I don’t know if a lot of people realize, because why would they? If you take a look at surrounding fire departments, what ours offers versus what theirs offer — because of volunteerism, and a tremendous amount of family pride, and things that were done for many families in Randolph that make our fire department what it is. I mean, we now have three full time members, 24/7. And this is so important, especially when we have something catastrophic like Covid, because we could be losing them. We might lose our volunteers who have full time jobs elsewhere. I mean, this is an absolutely negative thing that could happen to all townships, small townships’ volunteer fire departments. So we have to really understand how blessed we are.
Our fire department did not ask [for money] for fun. They they didn’t want to. And there was some talk about trying to combine with Atwater or Suffield. And we met with Atwater. I personally wasn’t for it. Neither were Atwater trustees, for that matter. But our fire chief who gets all the statistics, he’s also an assistant chief at Stow and he knows what he’s talking about. He brings a lot of expertise and a lot of knowledge from his other department to us. We’re very, very blessed. And he said, our calls are going to go up because of the need in the community, and our dollars are going to go down. And you know, you’re trying to do more with less. And so instead of asking for a mill here and a mill there, we hadn’t asked for anything. We have tremendous, tremendous volunteerism, but we’re aging out. And what that means is they all have families now. And they all can’t run like they used to run. So we have to hire people to do this.
And, if anything, it’s up to the people what they want, as far as services in their community. And you lay it out for people and then the decision is theirs.
Yeah, it’s a big effort of communication. It’s really not that easy to reach everyone with good, accurate information. So just whatever you accomplished by explaining all of this stuff to Randolph, and whatever the fire department and the trustees did, it seems to have worked. You were able to communicate this benefit in a clear way that people could understand and get behind. How do you communicate with with voters?
Well, I like to talk to them face to face. That’s what I’d like to do. But we sent out a newsletter that was quite long, that explained everything, so that everyone that lived in Randolph could have one in their hand. And if they had any questions, call us. Quite a few people did call. The Record-Courier, God bless them, put an article in the newspaper that was wrong. They said for every $100,000 of property value you’d pay $500. I think I about had a heart attack.
Yeah, that’s scary.
Because nobody wants to pay more taxes. I mean, I don’t want to pay any more taxes. But what I’ve tried to explain to people is, you know, if you live in Randolph, and you drive to McDonald’s, your Big Mac is going to cost as much as somebody in Aurora, Kent, Rootstown, Deerfield, Palmyra. They don’t say, “Hey, you’re from Randolph. Your Big Mac’s half price.” When you go to buy a Chevy, when you go to buy a Ford, when you go to buy a Mercedes, you pay what everybody else pays. [Note: The implication being that public services are expensive everywhere.]
And I take it very seriously when you raise somebody’s taxes. I don’t like to. But that’s why you lay everything out and you let them decide. But you know, if you want good service, you have to pay for it. They’ve got so much for so long, for pretty much free. They’ve got a tremendous amount for very few dollars. And I think if they want to come investigate it, and see, they would be in awe, as I am in awe. People have given up their Christmases, their Easters, their family time, they work a full time job, or they work part-time jobs. And not only do they do it, but they do it with excellence. And, you know, they’re just getting burnt out.
Especially with Covid. Several of them have had Covid. One of them almost died. And I won’t get into who and what, but this is serious. And the people in Randolph came through. I’m proud of them.
So the fire levy passed, but the school levy did not. What do you chalk that up to?
Well, the very first levy — that was the one that they put the income tax on — I think I made a lot of people mad because I wasn’t for that one. Because it was forever. That first tax, I wouldn’t have had to pay for that, because I’m a small business owner. So here I am, I’m gonna vote on something and tell you to vote for it, but I don’t have to pay it for it? And the people in Randolph have to pay income tax and I don’t have to? Well, I didn’t like that. And I didn’t like it being forever. You know, I had a lot to say about it, and I’m pretty honest and that ticked a lot of people off. But you can’t take a township and throw an income tax on it forever and expect it to pass. In my opinion.
The next two that they had, one was a 10-year. I voted for that one because I would have been taxed on it. I felt that I had the ability to vote for something that I was going to pay for. And the second, the third one, which was this last one, I also voted for.
People think that the schools need to merge, like our fire chief thought that we should have merged with one of the fire departments around us and try to keep costs and tax down. People don’t want to pay these exorbitant taxes. But what’s happened with our school is the population has decreased, and we’re leaking or losing over a million dollars. And that’s because the money follows the students and they have gone to colleges around us, they have gone to homeschooling, they have gone to another community, and there just aren’t that many children around anymore. There’s fewer children. And so the numbers just aren’t filling the schools. And so a lot of people say, “Well, they need to combine schools.” And that isn’t going to happen. Schools around us don’t want us.
That would be Rootstown School District, that would be Southeast.
Right. And they don’t want us. And years ago, Atwater combined with Randolph for the same reason: We needed each other. And the declining student population is not just happening in Randolph. It’s happening in Rootstown. It’s happening everywhere. If we have school choice, people are going to make a choice. And when the money follows, the public schools are losing. And it’s unfortunate. [Biomed] has taken a tremendous amount of students from the surrounding areas. Nothing against them. They’re a great school. We’ve always had St. Joe.
I went to Waterloo. The other two trustees went to Waterloo. I had some great teachers. To make a great community, you also need a great school. And I don’t know what the answer is. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to meet with a board member this week for lunch. We’ve been talking about what we can do to try and get something to pass. Now, I don’t think they can do an income tax again. I think they have to go to millage. If they go to millage, in order to do any good, it’s going to have to be really, really high. And the people in Randolph and Atwater are going to have to want to put their heart and their pocketbooks around it.
Alot of people are saying, “Fix the problems. We’re not going to put a band aid on it, fix the problem.” Well, how do you fix the problem when you don’t have any control over the problem? The problem is less students. It’s not the school’s fault. It’s not the teachers’ fault. It’s the situation of free choice, where the kids can go to school and less students. So the only answer is to bring more students to Waterloo. And I say, “How do we do that?” We have to brainstorm about it. Do you have any suggestions?
I wish I did. I can tell you, I graduated from Waterloo in 2007. I had a phenomenal experience at Waterloo. John Roebke was the music teacher there and he also taught some humanities courses. And he’s just a brilliant person. I had a great experience on the student newspaper. Jessica Cervenak was running the Voice of the Vikings as the adviser and I was a co-editor with Katy Shircliff, and it was just wonderful. Everyone involved in the paper took it really seriously, and we made really great issues. I participated in all these sports. I had a marvelous high school experience. But with the levies failing over the last decade or so, John Roebke went to Roosevelt High School, I think some of the programs have been cut, there’s certainly less investment in elective-type courses, such as the ones that gave me such a rich experience. And really, I can’t blame a student who would want to go to a neighboring school district or private school. So I think you really have to put the money ahead of the change. To solve the problem, you really do have to make a big investment. But as you said, it’s hard to ask people for money, especially during a pandemic. I really don’t know. What kinds of solutions do you see? If you meet with this member of the board this week, what will you even put on the table as a possible path?
Well, I want to look at grants, but I think we need to look at possibly some type of volunteer program — some retired teachers from the past to come and give their time. Then start some type of a special course that maybe other schools don’t offer. I think we need to think outside the box. Randolph is made up of good people. And you know, there’s good people in Atwater. I grew up in Atwater, and they have the same morals and the same ethics, the same small-town good heart that Randolph has. And I think if we put our minds and our hearts together, hopefully we can do something.
The problem with the schools, kind of like the fire department, is they just didn’t ask. They should have gotten money sooner, should have gotten money all along. You know, raising it a mill here, raising it a mill there, raising another mill here. And it should have been explained to the people that if you don’t do this, then we’re going to go into a big hole. You know, there’s still people that think that school is going to survive without money. I’ve explained to them, you don’t understand. Kids that go there right now, we are hurting them by not supporting them. And there are people that just cannot do it.
I went to Hartville Hardware the other day, and a Randolph resident ran into me, and I had put something on Facebook and they read it. And they said, “Sue, we are really sorry to let you down.” I said, “Let me down? What did you do?” And they said, “Well, we just didn’t vote for that school levy. We can’t afford that. We just can’t do it.” So there’s people who genuinely care about that school who just can’t do it. And I don’t know what we’re gonna do. I don’t know what the answer is.
But I know that we’ve got excellent teachers, and we’ve got children that have no choice but to go to that school that are getting the raw end of the stick. Because of school choice.
I have a friend who was tied to Cleveland, and they had a 4.8-mill levy. And they have always voted for the levy. They told me they didn’t this time, I said, “Why not?” He said, “Well, because of school choice.” The money follows the students, and they lost a tremendous amount of students. And so they had to raise the millage to cover the student loss. And she said, “I did not feel like paying for these kids to go to private schools.” But the bottom line is it passed by 59 votes, and it almost failed. And that’s University Heights. That’s a high-end place, you know, nothing ever fails there. Well? It almost did. And because of school choice, they lost a lot of students to other schools, and the people that still go there have to make up the back end.
So you kind of have to look at it like you’re in a bus and you’ve gotten this bus that you’re going to take down to Florida. The price to rent the bus is $5,000, and you’ve got so many people on the bus to split it. Well, if there’s only five people on the bus instead of 50, those five have got to pay to get to Florida the same as if there were 50 on it. And that’s what’s happening with our schools.
Yeah, when you put it that way it just is patently unfair for taxpayers. It seems like if the public policy is “we need school choice,” it seems to me that there should be some accompanying policy that guarantees a kind of a maximum, or an income-graded backstop so that a lower-income community is only ever going to pay so much. And then some kind of state or federal funding might step in and fill whatever gaps are needed to provide the remaining students with a quality education. I guess that doesn’t really exist.
Well, I did some digging into this. A couple years ago, I talked to somebody who was a superintendent in Portage County. And she said that 20 years ago, they kind of knew that something like this was going to happen. And she said that they were talking and they said that soon there will be a Portage County North, South, East and West. There will not be all these schools. They knew that many years ago.
People don’t want to lose their identity, and they don’t want to lose their schools. And there are people in Randolph and Atwater who do not want to lose that school, but they do not want to pay any money. Or, they don’t want to pay any more money, I should say. They’re paying, but they don’t want to pay anymore. And it kind of goes with the analogy of the Big Mac: This is what it costs. You buy a car, this is what it costs. You want an education, this is what it costs.
UPDATE: Sue later texted me and said I should mention that “Howard Booher does a lot for our community and East manufacturing is the largest manufacturing factory in Portage County,” and to extend a thank you to Randolph Home Furnishings “for being so good to us during [the] time of construction.” That’s Sue — couldn’t bear the thought of leaving somebody out.