Changing faces are by far the biggest stories we covered in 2017.
Our annual tradition is to look back through the pages of the News-Times and assess the year. This time, we were struck by the many people of influence leaving the halls of power, hired into key positions, or passing away.
The surprises started in February, when candidates filed to seek election to government positions.
Longtime auditor David Kukucka’s name was not present among those running for political office, leaving the way paved for Derek Pittak to step into the finance officer role unopposed. Pittak is a graduate of Amherst Steele High School and a former member of the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a senior airman in the financial management office at Offutt Air Force, Nebraska.
Steve Bukovac also decided he would not seek reelection to city council, where he represented the first ward.
At first mum about the move, he resigned 10 months before the expiration of his term. He stepped down to pursue the newly-created job of Amherst information technology director. Bukovac said he was gunning to upgrade the city’s “1980s technology” but had also been frustrated with lack of legislation up for debate by council.
Democrats chose Brian Dembinski to serve the remainder of Bukovac’s term and he won election to the first ward seat in November, defeating Republican challenger Bradley Lacko.
In mid-March, Andrew Gibson was hired to replace Ryan Coleman as principal at Amherst Junior High School. He was wooed away from Columbia, where he served one year as middle school principal.
Coleman stepped down at the end of the academic year, taking a part-time position as special education preschool director for Amherst. The decision, he said, was made to help his father, longtime Admiral King High School principal David Coleman, run family-owned gas stations on Cooper Foster Park Road and Cleveland Avenue.
Former Amherst mayor John Jaworski Jr. died March 25 at age 91.
“He loved people. He gave that to all of us,” said Jaworski’s daughter, Cindy Manning. “He taught us how to serve others.”
A veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Jaworski worked 30 years in the grocery business. He retired from Pick-n-Pay as meat manager in 1987.
In 1962, he won an at-large seat on Amherst city council. He went on to serve four terms as president of council, then was mayor from 1984 to 1995. Later he was chairman of the Amherst Democrat Precinct Committee and of the Amherst City Democrat Central Committee.
By late winter, Amherst fire chief Greg Knoll had conspicuously gone missing. We learned he was on administrative leave, and shortly after he resigned suddenly and quietly.
It soon became clear Knoll left while under investigation.
City officials were at first reluctant to provide a reason. Then one emerged: “The fire chief put city-owned fuel into his own personal vehicle. This did depart from city policy, of course, and it sparked an internal investigation,” said safety-service director John Jeffreys, “and the chief resigned before the investigation was concluded.”
Questions arose regarding Knoll’s use of gas tanks at Amherst’s street garage where fire, utility, and other city vehicles are fueled for on-the-job use. Employees who use their personal vehicles for work aren’t allowed to fill up there. Instead, they are reimbursed for mileage.
Longtime assistant fire chief Jim Wilhelm stepped into the top spot, prompting a string of promotions within the department.
At the end of the school year, Debbie Waller retired after 25 years in education, saying goodbye as principal of Powers Elementary.
Waller was 40 when she graduated from Bowling Green State University with a teaching degree. In the fall of 1992, she was hired by the Amherst Schools; she became principal at Shupe Elementary in 2004 and moved to Powers when the early grades were consolidated to save money.
“You don’t think of the end coming, really. I’ve never had a day when I didn’t want to get up and come to work,” she said. “I can’t come to a screeching halt on June 9. I think I need to ease into the retirement piece of it.”
Beth Schwartz, who was principal at Harris, took the reins at Powers as her old building was demolished to make way for a new PK-3 school.
In June, Jill Jiovanazzo was hired as principal at Nord Middle School, taking over for the departing Bill Miller. An Amherst Steele graduate, Jiovanazzo has taught elementary students for 18 years in Avon amid glowing performance reviews.
Miller had served as an administrator for more than a decade in Amherst. He accepted a position as director of human resources at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools.
In the summer, longtime Amherst police officer John Balog retired. A former General Motors worker, he was hired into the Amherst force in 1983.
He built the “Balog book,” a pre-Internet, pre-GPS address guide for city rescue crews. After a 1988 medical emergency during which neither police nor paramedics could find the patient’s Westlake Drive address, Balog walked the entire city with clipboard in hand, cataloging every single residence and business.
He was assigned to patrol the Amherst Schools in the early 2000s and had a passion for guiding young people. He also obsessed over tracking down burglars, taking a special interest in such cases when he was promoted to detective in 2005.
In an Aug. 1 letter, David Goodell suddenly resigned from city council, where he represented the second ward. “This is due to an illness in my family that requires my undivided attention,” he wrote in a letter to council clerk Olga Sivinski.
Ed Cowger, a former councilman who has served as a Democrat and a Republican, was tapped to serve the remaining five months of Goodell’s term. He also won election to the seat for the next two years, defeating Democratic challenger Angie Schubert.
The November election shook up city council as longtime fourth ward rep Jennifer Wasilk won the president’s seat, displacing 18-year president John Dietrich. Few people in local political circles expected the margin to be so wide — Wasilk won by a 20 percent decision.
Matthew Nahorn was elected to the vacated fourth ward seat by the narrowest of margins — five votes — over Democrat Martin Heberling III.
On the Amherst board of education, Bob Kamnikar dropped out of the race in the fall, citing an increased workload. On Nov. 7, voters chose to return school board veteran Valerie Neidert to the empty seat.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.