East Palestine, Ohio, a town with a shade less that 5,000 residents in northeastern Ohio, bills itself as “the place you want to be.” Since February, however, the nation chiefly knows the town as the site of a derailed Norfolk and Southern train whose chemical spill was badly mishandled. Even eight months later, residents continue to contend with the aftermath.
The US Environmental Protection Agency remains on site to test soil and water for contamination. Worries about water safety persist as the local creek still has “an oily sheen.”
Enter Chad Edwards, the current city manager of Shinnston and future holder of that responsibility in East Palestine.
Edwards “is not leaving for any other reason than the challenge of not only putting East Palestine back together again, but doing it in such a way that it will continue to thrive after the reclamation money ends,” according to Katheleen Panek, Shinnston City Clerk.
Starting his career with the Humane Society, Edwards moved to city administration with the town of Sistersville in Tyler County eight years ago. From that point, he made it a hallmark of his position to remain open to citizens and others needing to work with, or help from, city government.
He noted that city administrators who didn’t listen “generated a lot of animosity.” Edwards added that “for democracy to work, people in my position need to know their place. Elected officials run the show. Bureaucratic rule is just China.”
After a brief stint in Nebraska, he returned to Sistersville, then came to Shinnston as city manager.
During Edwards’ tenure, he has received both local praise and statewide accolades. Last summer, he received the Tom Oxley Heart of the Community Award from the West Virginia Municipal League.
His record of service in Shinnston includes going above and beyond to participate in and also serve the community. Recently, in part with advice from Edwards, Lincoln High School students won a grant to improve and plan events for the rail trail.
Wanda Ashcraft, who served as mayor of Shinnston for eight years, encouraged Edwards to get involved. “When Chad came on,” she explained, “I asked him to join all the clubs.” He joined the Garden Club, the Shinnston Rebekah Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows, and even the Women’s Club.
Joining local clubs gives a city administrator a unique perspective on the needs of the community and its people. The Rebekah Lodge even selected him to serve as a Noble Grand, the first male to serve in that role in 129 years.
“He’s been very good for the town,” Ashcraft explained, adding that “He’s a caring person “ who is “never abusive and never sarcastic. He’s touched a lot of lives while he has been here.”
That said, she shared that Edwards could be tough when the situation demanded. “You have to be a little hard at times,” Ashcraft stated.
Panek agreed that Edwards has performed admirably for the town, saying “Chad has done a great job for Shinnston because he CARED about the city. He bought a house here to be part of the city. He ranks as one of the best Shinnston has had – and I worked for many of the City Managers we have had.”
Putting the people and his responsibilities first will remain the focus of Edwards in any position, anywhere. As he once wrote, Every day, I do what I can to keep my ego in check and work for the betterment of our community as a whole.