By David Skolnick
Paula Brooks, an East Liverpool native and Youngstown State University graduate, is among 24 officials nationwide selected to serve on a committee advising the president on strategies the federal government can use to help communities dealing with the impact of climate change.
Brooks, a Franklin County (Columbus) commissioner, said she’s had an active interest in environmental issues dating back to her childhood in East Liverpool on her family’s small farm.
As for her appointment to the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Brooks said, “It literally came out of the blue.”
Brooks, elected county commissioner in 2004 and serving her third four-year term, said she didn’t apply to be on the panel.
The White House contacted the National Association of Counties — where she is chairwoman of its energy/renewables subcommittee of the energy, environment and land-use policy steering committee; chairwoman of its international economic- development task force, and vice chairwoman of its green government advisory board.
The climate-change committee — which includes governors from seven states, and mayors from such cities as Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia — will meet four times in the next year.The first meeting is Dec. 10.
Brooks is the only representative from Ohio, and one of three on the committee who represent counties.
Like most on the committee, she is a Democrat.
The panel will provide recommendations to President Barack Obama, also a Democrat, on “removing barriers to resilient investments, modernizing federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts, and developing the information and tools they need to prepare” for climate change, according to the White House.
In June, the president created a climate-action plan to cut carbon pollution, prepare communities for the impact of climate change and lead international efforts to address the issue.
“They are looking for practical advice,” Brooks said. “They truly tried to select a group of folks committed to finding ways to be prepared for extreme weather.”
Brooks said the federal government needs to come up with a program to improve the nation’s water infrastructure even though it will be expensive and challenging.
Also, the federal government needs to “have the ability to expedite loans and grants to small businesses and allow them to cut through the red tape,” she said.
Brooks, 60, was born and reared in East Liverpool, graduating from that city’s high school in 1971, and then earning a bachelor’s degree in pre-law in 1975 from Youngstown State University. Brooks worked her way through college as a hairdresser at the then-Strouss department store in downtown Youngstown.
“I have very fond memories of going shopping in downtown Youngstown as a child,” she said.
She also said she spent a lot of time at the Carnegie Public Library in East Liverpool as a child.
“I love to read, and I learned about the world through books,” Brooks said.
Brooks said her interest in politics started in high school. She volunteered to get Nancy Miller elected as the first woman on East Liverpool’s city council.
“I had no idea about politics,” she said. “Nancy was nice, and I wanted women to be elected. She had a financial background and was smart, and she won.”
About YSU, Brooks said: “I had a fantastic education. I met so many different people. Part of my heart will always be in eastern Ohio.”
Brooks said she returns to the Mahoning Valley when she can, primarily for family events. “I have a lot of cousins and relatives back there,” she said.
Brooks gave the commencement address in June at East Liverpool High School, her alma mater.
After graduating from YSU, she went to Columbus to work in the attorney general’s office and earned a law degree in 1983 from Capital University Law School.
She ran in 1984 for Franklin County treasurer.
“It didn’t work out very well,” she said. “I lost in a landslide.”
She spent the next 10 years raising her children and working as a lawyer part-time.
In the mid-1990s, she won a seat on the city council of Upper Arlington, where she still lives, serving two four-year terms. Unable to run a third time because of the city’s term-limits law, she ran for Franklin County commissioner in 2004 and won. She was re-elected twice, but lost a 2010 congressional race to U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, the Republican incumbent, for the 12th District seat.