PIQUA — The Piqua City Commission made history on Tuesday evening after appointing commissioner Kris Lee as the new mayor during its regular meeting, making Lee the city’s first African-American mayor.
“It is a big honor,” Lee said. “I plan on doing my best, working as hard as I can, volunteering, and helping as much as I can for the city. We live in a great city.”
Lee also took his oath of office with local historian and former history teacher Larry Hamilton by his side.
“He is a very big historian on the Randolph slaves, and I want him to witness this moment with me,” Lee said.
Lee is a descendent of the Randolph freed people, who were a group of 383 emancipated people and survivors of slavery on the Roanoke Plantation in Virginia in the early- to mid-1800s. They left Virginia in the 1840s for approximately 2,000 acres of purchased land in Mercer County, but they were forced to leave that area and resettle north of Piqua at Rossville, a location also referred to as the Randolph Slave Settlement.
Lee remarked on growing up in Rossville until his family moved to Boone Street when he was six years old.
“I knew I was part of a community. I knew I was home,” Lee said.
Lee, who is also the city’s third ward commissioner, is in the middle of his four-year term, which will expire on Dec. 31, 2021. Lee has worked in law enforcement for over 20 years, including 23 years at the Piqua Police Department. Lee has also worked as a patrol sergeant for the Anna Police Department, a safety officer at the Miami Valley Career Technology Center, and as an adjunct instructor.
Lee’s educational background includes an MBA from Bluffton University, an MA in Organizational Management from Bluffton University, a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, an AA in Paralegal Studies from Edison, and an AA Computer Forensics/Criminal Justice from Edison.
One of Lee’s goals as mayor is to continue with the redevelopment of the riverfront. Lee, who made the comment that he was surprised by his nomination as mayor on Tuesday, is also considering different mayor events.
“We will see what the future brings,” Lee said.
Also during the meeting, Lee thanked commissioner Kazy Hinds for her service previously as mayor, saying later in the meeting, “Kazy did an incredible job as mayor. I’m going to try to lead as you did.”
Hinds was re-elected as the fifth ward commissioner in November after running unopposed. Due to a city charter amendment approved by over 60 percent of voters in 2016, the commission now elects one of the sitting commissioners as mayor during its first meeting in January every two years. Residents do not vote on who the mayor of the city of Piqua will be. This charter amendment was first implemented in 2018, at which time Hinds was appointed the mayor.
Hinds was eligible to be appointed as mayor again on Tuesday, receiving a nomination from incoming commissioner Cindy Pearson before Lee was nominated. Commissioner Chris Grissom nominated Lee to be mayor, a motion which was seconded by incoming commissioner Thomas Fogt. Grissom was also appointed as the vice mayor of the commission after being nominated by Hinds. Fogt, Hinds, and Pearson all took oaths of office during Tuesday’s meeting.
To the community, Lee encouraged communication between the city’s residents and the commission, saying, “We’re your mouthpiece.” Lee encouraged residents to discuss any issues they may have with the commissioners.
“We don’t have to agree on everything,” Lee said, echoing comments made by local resident Jey Roman, who also encouraged conversation between the city residents and city leadership during public comment.
William H. Pitsenbarger hits the big screen
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Hinds issued a proclamation naming the week of Jan. 20-24 as William H. Pitsenbarger Week in honor of the premiere of “The Last Full Measure,” a movie inspired by the story of Piqua native Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger. Pitsenbarger was an Air Force pararescue specialist who saved the lives of members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War and lost his own life while doing so. Offered the chance to escape on the last helicopter out of the combat zone, Pitsenbarger stayed behind to save and defend the lives of others.
“He refused to leave them,” Hinds said.
The film portrays the events that happened during the battle near Cam My in Vietnam on April 11, 1966, where Pitsenbarger risked his life coordinating rescue efforts and was later killed after he stayed on the ground to continue performing medical duties, helping the infantrymen get ammunition, and even return fire when he could.
Pitsenbarger first received the Air Force Cross before it was upgraded to a Congressional Medal of Honor 34 years after his death on that battlefield. He was also posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
A premiere will be held on Jan. 23 at Cinemark in Piqua, with a reception for the local community being held at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the Miami Valley Centre Mall.
“This is a wonderful way to honor a very, very important hero,” Hinds said.
Hinds presented the proclamation to the committee helping to organize the local premiere, including Friends of the Piqua Parks President Ruth Koon, who also spearheaded the fundraising campaign for the statue memorializing Pitsenbarger at Pitsenbarger Park and Sports Complex, along with Piqua City Schools Superintendent Dwayne Thompson, Executive Director Kathy Sherman of the Piqua Area Chamber of Commerce, and photojournalist Mike Ullery of the Miami Valley Today.
Koon remarked that one of the people whose life Pitsenbarger saved is also expected to attend the reception being held on Jan. 23.
The commission also approved items of legislation during its meeting.
The commission authorized the city to enter into a Jobs and Commerce Economic Development Agreement between the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the city for the grant funding for the extension of Scarbrough Drive.
The commission then authorized the city purchasing analyst to advertise for bids to make certain purchases during 2020.
The commission then approved the final legislation to enter into an agreement with ODOT for the resurfacing of Covington Avenue/U.S. Route 36 between R.M.Davis Parkway and Sunset Drive. This will allow ODOT to go for bids for the project.
The commission also authorized a contract with Frank J. Patrizio as law director and McCulloch, Felger, Fite and Gutmann Co., L.P.A. as legal counsel for the city.