ONE ON ONE | Mary Louise Dicken Community involvement is finance director's focus

Q: You've been a fixture in Columbiana government and the community for several years now. How did that all start?
A: I was in the first class of EMTs [emergency medical technicians] for the village. I felt strongly that we needed our own EMT service. Al Wardingley, the village manager then, asked if I wanted a job.
Q: Doing what?
A: The village bookkeeper then was going to retire soon, and Al was thinking of adding a person. That was in 1985.
Q: What did you do then?
A: I started working with Al and the council, helping with the budgets and the annual reports. Then I became finance director in 1989.
Q: How did that happen?
A: Al had been the village manager and the finance director and, as the village grew, the manager's position took more and more of his time. So council agreed to split the position.
Q: What are your duties?
A: The charter is very specific about that. The finance director is the fiscal officer and the tax administrator for the municipality and serves at the pleasure of the manager. I'm responsible for paying the bills, managing investments -- overseeing all the finances. I assist the manager in preparing the budget and prepare the annual financial report.
Q: Columbiana is now a city, and I'm sure your responsibilities have increased quite a bit over the years.
A: Yes, there has been a significant increase in the budget and expenses. I have the figures right here. Our budget for 2001 is $19,682,580. In 1985, it was $4,864,067.
Q: You have lived in Columbiana for many years now. How do you feel about the rapid growth of the community the past few years?
A: I've been here since 1959, so it's home. The city is like a business. A lucrative business grows, you need controlled growth so the citizens don't suffer in the process. Sometimes that is difficult to do.
Q: Everyone wants the benefits of growth, but no one wants the growth in their back yard?
A: Yes. My husband, a few years before he died, talked to a lady who had moved from out of town into a new area of the village and was complaining about the growth. He told her, "When did you want the drawbridge to go up? Before you came, or after?" Everyone likes a small community where they are taken care of. So where do you draw the line?
Q: It sounds like you enjoy your job.
A: Yes. I like the variety of responsibilities, and I work with some very good people. We have a good staff here now.
Q: You have been involved for several years now in planning for the Firestone Park Festival. How did that start?
A: I made miniatures as a hobby for several years and Becky Nery, Pat Stacey and Jay Groner were the first coordinators. They asked me to be a dealer at one of the first festivals, and after a few years Becky told me I need to get more involved. I worked with Becky and Pat for a few years and now Jay and I are the coordinators.
Q: Is this the biggest fund-raiser for the Firestone Park?
A: Yes. This is the 19th festival. It's always the first Saturday in August. This year that's Aug. 4.
Q: How do you choose who can be a dealer at the festival?
A: We're a juried show. People apply for a contract and we have a panel of judges who look over the applications. We accept antiques dealers and artisans who do fine arts and crafts.
Q: What are some examples of dealers you've had in the past?
A: We try to make sure everything is of good quality, and we don't saturate the festival with too much of one thing. We have to turn down some quality people for that reason. Some of our dealers are woodworkers, weavers, potters, photographers, and stained-glass artists. This year we also have a glassblower coming. I don't think she plans to blow any glass at the festival, though.
Q: Do some people, say, a weaver, for instance, demonstrate their craft during the show?
A: A few. Many say they intend to do that, and they come prepared to do that, but they find they are so busy with customers, they don't really have much time.
Q: So the festival is much more than an outdoor antique show?
A: Yes. In fact, we need more antique dealers for this year. Right now we have about 290 dealers coming and only 64 of those are antique dealers. I think what happens is the antique dealers are a bit leery of an outdoor show. That's understandable because you never know about the weather.
Q: You've said this festival is the park's biggest fund-raiser. How is the revenue generated?
A: Most of it comes from the dealers renting the spaces. A little also comes from parking fees and a percentage of the concessions.
Q: How has the money been used?
A: All the festival proceeds go toward capital improvement projects. We cleared $16,475 last year, and we're working on rebuilding the restrooms at the football stadium. Usually, we save the proceeds for several years and do one big project. We've refurbished the tennis courts, bought a new sliding board for the swimming pool, and rebuilt Pavilion 1 with festival money and grants.
Q: That's an all-season pavilion, isn't it?
A: Yes. It is heated and has restrooms. It's popular for graduation parties, family reunions, and wedding receptions.
Q: The festival takes a lot of people and planning, doesn't it?
A: We're working on something for it all the time. In July we start working on advertising for the next year, and by September, we're working in earnest. Contracts go out in January, and then when the dealers begin returning the contracts, that's when the big push begins. Jay takes care of the operations at the park itself.
Q: You and Jay aren't the only ones who have been involved for many years, are you?
A: We have a number of volunteers, especially our coordinators, who have been on board from the beginning. We have at least 60 volunteers, and many of them come back year after year. It's a community effort.
Q: I know the park festival planning takes up a lot of your time, but do you have any hobbies? You said you make miniatures. Miniatures of what?
A: I make miniatures for doll houses, and I used to build doll houses, but I don't sell anymore. I just do it for a hobby for myself. Genealogy is my passion.
Q: Have you found out anything interesting about your family?
A: One of my grandfathers was beheaded in Scotland in 1661 for his religious beliefs. Genealogy makes you a history buff. Tracing my family, I look at migration patterns. Then I want to know what was happening then that made them move from place to place.
XTHE WRITER: Nancy Tullis, Vindicator Salem Bureau, conducted the interview.

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