By Katie Sobiech
As the globe turned on County Executive Russ Pry’s desk and he spoke of the changes that have been made in the county since taking office, it’s clear that he has no lack of vision for this community.
His office, overlooking the city and all of its people, roads and tall buildings, mirrors his job in a way, which is overseeing the operation of the county government.
Pry oversees 10 different departments within Summit County, including:
The Department of Environmental Services, The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office, The Department of Job and Family Services, The Department of Communications, Department of Law, Department of Insurance, Department of Budget and Finance, Department of Community and Economic Development, Department of Human Resources and Department of Administrative Services.
They currently have approximately 3,400 employees and at one point were the 17th largest employer in Northeast Ohio.
Accomplishments Since Taking Office
Since being in office, Pry has made some major, positive changes in the county.
“We have been able to successfully manage our budget in such a way that we’ve been able to maintain high levels of service to the public,” Pry shared.
“We had an early buyout system that helped us re-organize the workforce. We strategically used financial reserves to cover shortfalls and have been able to maintain what most people call a rainy day fund of 25.3 million dollars which has helped us,” he continued.
A program that he is particularly proud of is their early childhood program.
“Early childhood education is near and dear to my heart,” he said, explaining that he and some others took a trip to Columbus a couple of years ago for the “Summit on Children”.
“We came back with the idea of first things first,” he said, of the impact it had on them.
Since then, they’ve gathered 40 competing agencies in the county to come together to work on a comprehensive strategy for the development of an early childhood strategy.
Pry is also proud of the collaborations that he has been able to bring together to bridge some other divides in the community.
“I’m very happy in a bigger sense that we’ve been able to really develop a sense where we know how to collaborate with public and private partners. And really see some results,” he said.
“When I got here the relationship between the County Council, which is our legislative branch, and the executive was not very good. There was a lot of tension and fighting. We fixed that and now move forward in a positive fashion. We’re not engaged in a lot of public fighting or petty, personal attacks,” he continued
Working as One
One major change that took place was merging the city of Akron’s and the county’s building departments into one building, which Pry says has been very successful.
“It’s recognized as a best practice by the state in terms of how we’ve been able to deliver services,” Pry said of the merge.
Health departments including the Barberton Health Department, the County of Summit Health Department and Akron Health Department have all merged into one health department.
“We have the public side now lined up in one strategy and then the private and non-profit lined up in one strategy,” Pry said.
He explained that his overall goal is to create an infrastructure from the government side to the public side, making it easier for people to want to come here and do business.
“It’s better for us as a collective whole than us trying to compete internally,” he said.
Along with uniting the community, Pry is excited about the latest and greatest things coming to Akron.
The Austen-Bio Innovation Institute is one of those things.
“A group of us went to Miami about 4 ½ years ago and did this conceptual pitch to the Knight Foundation that we wanted to start this academic health center. Out of it came this idea of the Austen-Bio Innovation Institute as it bloomed,” he said of the collaboration.
“We now have this institute that is up and running. It promises a lot for the future of our community in terms of job development and growth. It’s really an innovative partnership. It’s been recognized by the White House and is beginning to get more and more recognition,” he continued.
About a month ago they even announced their first spin-off company.
“APTCO Orthopedics held a truly moving press conference. They talked about scoliosis for young children and the problems that go on with that,” Pry said.
“In terms of treating the disease you go into the spine, put brackets in each part of the spine and then have to go back every 6 months to do a surgical procedure to re-adjust the screws,” Pry explained.
This means that children with the disease are going back to the doctor every 6 months for surgery.
Now, they won’t have to. Great minds have developed a device that will allow them to use a magnet to adjust the screw without having any surgical intrusion after the initial operation.
“The fact that we would be in Akron, Ohio, figuring out how to give a child back their childhood…. When I left that day, I felt pretty good about our community and what we had done,” Pry shared.