Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch did not have to look far to find the city's next law director Assistant Law Director Stuart O'Hara.
O'Hara beat out Douglas Clifford, of the Huron County Public Defender's office, and two unnamed candidates to succeed Jim Conway, who will leave the position May 11 to take over as Huron County Common Pleas Court Judge.
"I have spent some time with Stu, talked to people who worked with Stu and looked at his very lengthy rsum ... He's going to do a great job," Lesch said.
Along with O'Hara's experience both in criminal and civil law, Lesch said he has impeccable integrity.
"I was looking for someone to tell me the truth even if it hurts. I need objective advice, even if he tells me things I don't want to hear. It's very important, we need to communicate well ... it's the idea of speaking truth to power," she said.
O'Hara currently handles much of the city's criminal prosecution and advises Conway on civil issues. He said he will change the structure of the position slightly so he still will do some criminal prosecution, because he enjoys it. That will also allow the new assistant law director to be more prepared to step in on the civil side when O'Hara is on vacation.
"I think it's a natural extension of what I've been doing. It's a combination of the skills and training I've had for the last 25 years," he said, before joking, "And now I'll be in a position where people actually listen to me."
O'Hara, who has been a practicing lawyer for 29 years, was appointed assistant law director by former Norwalk Law Director Steve Palmer under Republican Mayor Brooks Hartmann's administration. Prior to that he served as the assistant Erie County prosecutor for 11 years after spending more than 10 years in private practice.
O'Hara's 2007 salary was $55,000. The law director salary for 2007 is $75,000 and $77,600 in 2008.
Lesch said O'Hara will have complete discretion in selecting a new assistant director, which he hopes to have in place by May to make the transition "seamless." On that front, Lesch said she was "relieved."
"I was anxious when Jim got elected. I was anxious when Jim decided to run, he's been an important adviser for me," she said. The mayor added she thought becoming the city's law director was a difficult decision for anyone because it has historically been a political appointment that changes with the mayor. However, O'Hara is a Democrat and, so far, no one has filed petitions to challenge Lesch in the November election.
Still, Lesch and O'Hara said they would both like to see the position become more stable and less tied to political affiliations as is the case in many other cities.
Lesch also thanked Conway for his dedicated service, calling him an important part of her team. For his part, Conway gave O'Hara the thumbs up.
"I give my wholehearted endorsement of Stu," she told Norwalk City Council Tuesday. "I think you'll find that he'll do a wonderful job for you. I've taken many of his ideas and brought them to you, he'll continue that."
Council unanimously approved O'Hara.