Lordstown mayor reflects on 30-year career
LORDSTOWN — After 30 years in Lordstown politics, including two 12-year terms as mayor and six as a member of council, Arno Hill is retiring at the end of the year.
Sitting in his office at the village municipal building, Hill said he has often thought of writing a book about his years as mayor and what has happened during his tenure.
In all his years of service as mayor, he said he has never missed a council meeting, crediting good health.
“Any meeting where my attendance was required, I was there,” Hill said.
After living in the village for five years, Hill decided to run for mayor after having attended meetings with his neighbor, John Gaster, in the early 1990s.
“I sat at the meetings and got intrigued. I also had attended planning commission meetings and served on them before I became mayor,” he said.
Hill said Walter Craigo elected not to run for mayor, so Hill decided to give it a try, running as a nonpartisan candidate. He was elected and became the youngest mayor in Lordstown history at the age of 38 in January 1992.
“I was 38 when I became mayor and then the next day, on Jan. 2, turned 39, but I am still the youngest mayor of Lordstown,” he said.
Jackie Woodward will become mayor Jan. 1, which also is her 40th birthday.
After serving 12 years, Hill was beaten by Michael Chaffee for mayor, so he ran for a seat on council, serving for six years.
He retired from Packard Electric in April 2004 before serving on council from 2006 through 2011.
In November 2011, Hill ran again for mayor and won by six votes and then ran again for mayor in 2015 and received 59% of the vote. In 2020, he received 65.3% of the vote.
“I feel the people agreed with my views,” he said. “When I won the mayor’s seat again, I ran on my record. In November 2011, I was the only person in Trumbull County in the general election with an ‘R’ next to my name.”
Hill said he never thought General Motors would leave, but he always focused on protecting the village.
He said he remembers Enola Wilson, who in 1975 helped Lordstown become a village, telling him, “Residents cost you money. Business brings you money. Bring in the business and take good care of your residents.”
“That is what I have always tried to do,” Hill said. “Services cost you money. It costs money to run a police department, take care of your roads. I have always worked to make sure our residents are always taken care of. Businesses do pay the bills. When General Motors left, it took a toll on the entire Valley.”
Hill said it was tough getting the village through the loss of General Motors.
“We had to prepare the village to make sure we could sustain ourselves. When things looked bad, I am proud that I and council were able to bring in businesses. I feel we have been the economic driver for the Valley.”
The village now has the TJX Warehouse, Ultium Cells and two electric-generation plants, bringing in $5 billion in investments. He said an income tax issue passed last May helps raise funds for full-time fire staff who respond to the large companies.
Hill said “naysayers” criticize everything in the age of social media.
“I could walk on water and social media would say Arno can’t swim,” he said. “The comments on social media have gotten so much more negative.”
The longtime Lordstown mayor has said he always tried to work well with other mayors from the area. He remembered once being with several mayors at the Metroplex for a gathering about oil and natural gas.
“I remember Warren Mayor Doug Franklin made remarks and said he wanted ‘to acknowledge my friend Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill who is the Jed Clampett of Trumbull County,'” he said. “Anytime he puts anything in the ground, up comes oil and jobs.”
Hill said Ultium Cells added more than 1,700 jobs, and TJX added more than 1,400 jobs.
“Anything we have done is for Lordstown, and it also has helped the Mahoning Valley,” Hill said.
Hill said while he will stay active as a board member with the Trumbull County Board of Elections, he and his wife, Carol, will spend more time with their five daughters and 10 grandchildren as well as visit friends and travel.
He said he and Carol like to go to Lake Erie and would like to be able to go back to Finland to visit relatives.
“We would like to travel along Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Barbara (California). It is the old original route going out west and has many places to visit,” he said.
While Hill will be riding off into retirement come the new year, he said he took his time before deciding to step away.
“My last day is Dec. 31. Carol and my anniversary is Jan. 1 and I will turn 71 on Jan. 2. I thought, how many more good years do I have left?” Hill said. “I think there are a lot of people who don’t know when to say when. I thought long and hard and said ‘when.'”
Hill said he will miss working and interacting with the public, along with being at community events.
“Over the years, I have met many fabulous people,” he said.
Looking back, Hill admitted that politics have changed in recent years.
“It has gotten nasty. That is one thing I will not miss,” Hill said.
In offering advice for his successor, Hill said “take off your school hat” and put on a new hat representing the village.
“Whenever something comes up, think seriously about it and what your opinion is and make your own decisions,” Hill said.
Friends and family attended a retirement party for Hill on Saturday.
Former village councilman Don Reeder said he has known Hill for more than 25 years.
“He always had the village’s best interest at heart. He always wanted to do what was best for the village. As mayor, you can’t always please everybody,” Reeder said.
Joan Vernon said she has known Hill since he was a baby.
“It was nice having him as mayor,” she said.
Police Chief Brent Milhoan said he has worked as chief for Hill and former mayor Michael Chaffee.
“I had a good working relationship with both mayors. Arno and I worked wlll together. We tried to keep each other informed of what was going on in the village. I wish him well. He has been a mayor and on council for a long time. I am sure he will miss some of the parts of being mayor,” Milhoan said.
Cortland Mayor Deidre Petrosky said she remembers meeting Hill for the first time at a League of Women Voters event where each of them was speaking and she had to follow Hill.
She said she remembers how knowledgeable Hill was on economic development and other issues of the Mahoning Valley.
“He has been a great mentor and a great friend to me. I will miss him,” she said.
Councilman and former police officer Terry Campbell said he has worked in the village since 1978 and for several mayors and always remembers how Hill would focus on doing what is good for the village.
“Arno has the best interest of Lordstown in his heart. He has been a really good mayor. He has done a lot and will be missed. He deserves a break,” Councilman Ron Radtka said.