Nancy Hansford, the Portage County civic leader who died unexpectedly Saturday at the age of 83, accomplished much on behalf of her community and she did it honestly.
As Kent's mayor from 1982 through 1986, she brought with her a thorough knowledge of her hometown, a strong work ethic, and an expertise in Robert's Rules of Order. She made the then City Manager Jim Bacon more effective by running interference for him and advising him what would work and what might not. She helped rally council support for his programs. She explained issues confronting her hometown in a down-to-earth way that the public could understand and accept.
Streetscape, Kent's first major program that began its downtown renewal, might not have happened without her. Rarely an advocate for more taxes, she nevertheless concluded Kent's tax base was unable to provide an adequate level of funding for city operations and helped persuade the electorate to support a half percent income tax hike in 1984, the last time Kent raised taxes. She tirelessly reached out to businesses and industries letting them know the jobs they provided and the taxes they paid were appreciated and kept some businesses from leaving town or reducing their presence. The Davey Tree Expert Co. opened its world headquarters on North Mantua Street during her tenure. She took steps to strengthen teamwork with Kent State University, the community's biggest single entity.
Her biggest challenges as a Portage County commissioner, from 1987 to 1990, were insufficient tax revenues (remember our nickname bestowed by outsiders -- "Shortage County") and an order by U.S. District Court Judge Sam Bell to build a new jail. Hansford joined forces with those on both sides of the aisle to pass a piggyback sales tax, a portion of which would help fund county operations, the remainder for the construction of the Portage County Criminal Justice Center in Shalersville on Infirmary Road.
Following elective office, she chaired the Portage County Republican Party and served on the Portage County Board of Elections. She infused the Republican Party with energy and commitment. As a Board of Elections member, she upheld the exemplary tradition of parking partisan politics at the door to focus on honest, well-run elections.
As an elder statesman in the community, she continued to advocate for issues she felt strongly about, most recently giving her support for a temporary quarter percent Kent income tax hike to fund a new jail and police station. Other aspects of her public life included exemplary service to her church and to the Rockton Lodge Masonic Temple in Kent, the former Kent family homestead at the corner of North Mantua and West Main Street.
Nancy Hansford's forthright style was unlike that of most publicly elected figures of her time in Kent or Portage County. Taking the trouble to be well-informed, candor was a big part of her persona, its origins stemming from love of community and the call of public service. She spoke the truth as she saw it and people respected her for it.
For some in public life, it's all about them or it's the job and what it can do for the elected officeholder. That was not Nancy Hansford's way. Working selflessly for the community's good was what was important. It was an outlook that contributed to her belief in the need for ethical standards in public life and led her to hold very strong convictions about the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
Nancy Hansford worked hard in devoted service to Kent and Portage County. She set a high standards that others in public life would do well to emulate.