Kathy Antoniotti

NORTH CANTON: Mayor David Held is a textbook case for those who argue participation in sports builds character.

As a wrestler at Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University in the 1980s, Held overheard a phone conversation between his best friend and the friend’s father the night before the young men were to square off against each other for the first time.

The friend, Held’s roommate, tried to get under Held’s skin by telling his father there was no doubt he would win.

The strategy worked.

Held lost control of his temper and his game, tearing a knee ligament. The match ended after his second offensive move and Held ended up embarrassed by his behavior and needing a hip-to-ankle cast.

At 46, Held still remembers the lesson, especially when dealing with angry and frustrated citizens.

“My adversaries make me a better mayor. I’ve learned that the hard way,” he said in a recent interview.

He has been known to invite foes to his home to get to know them better.

Held, executive director of the Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne Solid Waste Management District since 2004, has been North Canton’s mayor since 2005.

He grew up in North Olmsted and graduated from St. Edward High School in Lakewood.

After moving to Stark County when he married his wife, Sharon, in 1992, he earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Regent University of Virginia in 2001.

He served part of a term as an appointed part-time trustee for Marlboro Township in 2000, and took over as administrator for North Canton in 2001. He was fired from the position by Mayor Tom Rice in January 2004. Held subsequently ran against Rice and won the seat with 59 percent of the vote. Held argued that the city needed to develop an aggressive economic development strategy in response to the uncertain future of the Hoover Co., the city’s stabilizing employer for decades.

Council President Jon Snyder, who has served on the council for 16 years, remembers when Held was first hired as director of administration for the city.

“He was a very affable guy when we first met him,” Snyder said.

“I work very, very well with Dave. I usually speak with him by 6:30 or 7 every morning. Dave has learned through the last five or six years that the simplest thing to learn about government is to be very transparent and keep the people making decisions in the loop. He keeps me informed and asks my opinion,” he said.

Snyder said Held is an excellent father and a “very honorable” guy, as well as being “the consummate politician.”

“He knows how to smile and he knows how to shake a hand,” he said.

Held and his wife, Sharon, a nurse anesthetist at Canton’s Aultman Hospital, have one son, 17, and five younger daughters. Their youngest child, Carley, 6, has Down syndrome.

Held said he and his wife look forward to talking to other parents with special-needs children and learning their stories.

“Having a special-needs child is a blessing. It changes your perspective and humbles you,” he said.

Elected to his fourth two-year term in November, Held won 83 percent of the vote without using yard signs or mailers. Instead, he knocked on 3,000 doors, shaking hands and listening to residents’ concerns.

“I always say it’s a part-time pay with full-time responsibility,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle. You have to enjoy serving people.”

The effort was more of an opportunity than an obligation, Held said.

“I discovered people are tired of being taxed, they are tired of government waste and tired of political infighting.”

On the local level, balancing the budget is a great unifier, no matter what your political ties, said Held, a Republican. North Canton’s elections are nonpartisan.

“We are close to the people we serve,” he said. “We have to balance our budget and still find a way to serve the people of our city.”

North Canton’s overall budget is just over $45 million. Levies fund street maintenance, the fire department and emergency medical services. The city’s actual year-end expenditures for 2011 were $33.4 million. Income tax revenue decreased from $7 million in 2001 to its lowest point at $5.4 million in 2010. The city saw an uptick to $5.9 million in 2011. Local government funds have dropped from $600,000 to $200,000 and continue to fall, Held said.

Still, residents give the city good marks, especially when it comes to public safety, the mayor said.

In a recent survey, 90 percent of the residents gave North Canton’s safety forces a good to excellent rating. Officials were pleased that 19 percent of North Canton’s residents responded. They had expected a 7 percent return, he said.

Highlights of his previous three terms in office include reducing the number of employees that serve the city’s 17,300 residents from 117 to 91. A leaner work force works because employees have been cross-trained to make the operations more efficient without reducing the number of fire and emergency medical workers, he said. Only one vacated police position has not been filled.

Held also points to the addition of 825 new jobs at the old Hoover facility and expects that to increase to 900 this year.

When Hoover closed in 2000, it started a decline that eventually turned into a loss of 2,400 jobs. Since 2008, 11 businesses have moved into the complex, leasing almost 60 percent of the available space.

Held’s goal in 2012 is to find more ways to make city government more efficient.

City officials hired a private company to replace 40-year-old catch basins to help relieve flooding problems. Workers also are relining many of the city’s aging storm sewer lines this year, he said.

Held said he is thankful to be mayor — thankful for city employees, council members and North Canton residents.

“I’m only as good as the people around me and that includes my wife, ” Held said.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.