By Linda Dillman
What is life like serving as the mayor of a small town in Ohio?
Just step into the shoes of village of Lockbourne Mayor Christie Ward, whose heart never strayed far from home and who now guides the town where she grew up.
“I have lived in Lockbourne most of my life,” said Ward, who learned how to swim when the YMCA brought a container to the village on a flatbed truck used as a mobile swimming pool. “During Halloween on Beggars Night, some of the ladies in town would make special treats such as chocolate cupcakes, homemade donuts, and popcorn balls. We would hang out with friends all day, but always had to be home before dark.”
Ward graduated from Hamilton Township High School and then attended college in Circleville. She lived in central Ohio for several years before deciding to move to New York City.
In 2015, her father died and Ward knew it was time to come back home to be with her family. She has come full circle and lives in the house where she grew up. That circle now incorporates the title of mayor of Lockbourne after serving on the village council from 2006-15. She served as council president pro temp from 2010-15.
“My mom was the first councilwoman in the village, so public office is in my genes,” said Ward.
At first she dismissed the idea of running for mayor, but Ward felt it was something she wanted to do for the town.
“I felt the village was going in the wrong direction and was decreasing in population,” said Ward. “The mindset of leadership throughout several administrations was to keep the town small and not grow. That created a downward spiral for Lockbourne as we were the only community that did not benefit from the Rickenbacker-area growth. I believed that Lockbourne was at risk of not existing. I decided to run for mayor to help move the town forward.”
Lockbourne is a tight-knit community and normally candidates running for office do not campaign. However, because Ward was running against an incumbent, she launched a campaign to get her message and vision for Lockbourne out to residents.
Despite a “temporary” move to New York City, to Ward, Lockbourne was and always will be home.
“No matter when I lived or traveled, I always knew I could come home,” said Ward. “Several residents are childhood friends; others are new friends and those I haven’t gotten to know yet hopefully will become friends. Because we are a small community, we know our neighbors, watch out for each other and are willing to help out when needed. There is a true sense of community here. We really care about each other.”
Challenges for Lockbourne
As mayor, Ward faces challenges impacting larger communities as well, such as increasing revenue and improving public services. Village leaders want to keep Lockbourne a small quaint community, but grow in a smart way. Bringing in more revenue is crucial to remaining viable.
Ward said water and sewer bills have been a point of pain for residents for years and her administration is looking for the right solution that will help lower bills. She is also concerned with decreasing negative impact from growth in the neighboring Rickenbacker area.
“With more warehouses popping up all around us, we continue to work with our Rickenbacker partners on monitoring the traffic and stormwater impacts,” said Ward.
Spring Alley Channel is another issue of local concern. The stream flows along the south perimeter of a park just below the houses along Commerce Street. The stream is filled with debris and stagnant water, which causes a mosquito problem, not only in the park, but throughout the town in the summer.
“We are currently applying for grants to clean up the stream and regrade it so the water will have a continuous flow to the Big Walnut,” she said.
Ward points with pride to building strong local, regional and state partnerships; improving communications with residents leading to more resident engagement; and establishing an organized government structure to improve public services.
However, there are always challenges, such as juggling projects and issues that need attention, including organizing the village office and ensuring that everything is in place, fixing problems that have affected the village for years and moving the village forward.
Small town America
“Lockbourne is true small-town America, with no traffic lights in town. People still sit out on their porch, know their neighbors. It is very generational—some folks have lived here their entire life, others have moved away but find themselves coming back home,” said Ward, who said she has responded to calls for help in the middle of the night while still dressed in pajamas. “There are some residents who have many members in their family living here too. One of the former postmasters reminded me that it may be difficult being mayor in a small town, because if you upset one resident, then you could have the whole family upset with you, too.”