Diane Miller-Dawson’s first full time job with the city of Akron was opening envelopes.
As an account clerk, she sorted checks into piles at the water billing department. It was a menial task for a woman who would go on to oversee the city’s every expense as finance director.
After 40 years at City Hall, Miller-Dawson is retiring at the end of August. But she’s keeping her title. In September, she'll replace Brian Nelsen as finance director of Summit County.
Nelsen will become chief of staff to County Executive Ilene Shapiro, replacing Jason Dodson, who is taking an executive post at Roetzel & Andress to work on economic deals between private businesses and local municipalities.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan is expected to name a new city finance director in the coming weeks.
Miller-Dawson's salary will be $128,107 in the county post, the same as Nelsen's in that position. Nelsen's salary moves to $137,092 in his new role.
“Few people I have encountered in my career have earned as much professional respect and personal admiration as Diane Miller-Dawson,” Horrigan said in a prepared statement. “She has played a central role in ensuring financial stability and operational efficiency in this City through both good and challenging times.”
Miller-Dawson, who eventually followed former Deputy Mayor for Intergovernmental Relations Dorothy Jackson as the second African-American woman to serve in an Akron mayor’s cabinet, started at the city in 1978 a year after graduating from Buchtel High School. Her first gig as a part-time recreation employee was to provide arts and crafts programming for children at Sudith Park in North Hill.
She passed a test for that job and another to open envelopes. Then she worked for former Public Service Director Ray Kapper before heading to Buffalo, N.Y., in 1996 with her husband, who transferred as a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company employee.
Former Mayor Don Plusquellic called that year to offer her the deputy finance director position. She took the job in 1997 and her husband followed her back to Akron.
“The rest is history,” she said.
Miller-Dawson remembers the 2009 city layoffs amid 123 employee buyouts and three consecutive years of shrinking income tax revenue as “the worst part of my job.”
In 2003, she was on Plusquellic’s team to pass a .25 percent income tax for new schools. “Those were my best days, knowing that the city of Akron was going to partner with Akron Public Schools … to rebuild or renovate all these schools in Akron,” Miller-Dawson said.
In her 22 years in the finance department, the city has lost population, but its budget has climbed with inflation from $120 million to $168 million while full-time staffing levels have fallen from 2,637 to 1,793. And the city continues to take on unprecedented, albeit low-interest, levels of debt to finance a $1.2 billion sewer project.
“We have the resources to repay that,” Miller-Dawson said. “It is difficult on the citizens that we had to increase sewer fees, but we were mandated to perform the sewer work. So we had no choice.”
Property values in Akron have stabilized and income tax collections are on the upswing, with the exception of a disappointing 2017.
“Revenues are better than they’ve been. We’re in control of a lot of things," Miller-Dawson said.
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.