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Oxford's Mayor Kate era nearing its end

Rousmaniere reflects on her time in office

As I leave my stats class on a humid May afternoon, I feel the buzz of my phone from inside my back pocket. I unlock it to see an email from Oxford Mayor Kate Rousmaniere.

"Hi Tim -- I might have forgotten to mention my greatest pride and joy -- the city and university just won the Larry Abernathy Award from the International Town Gown Association for our proposal/plan/work for a healthy community," Rousmaniere wrote. "Here's the cool video and text we used for the proposal."

I had just interviewed Mayor Kate, as she's called by many citizens, the day before.

After talking for nearly 40 minutes, I thought I had all the information I needed for my story. But her email was icing on the cake - she always has a follow-up.

As mayor, she values going above and beyond to make others' jobs easier.

In Oxford, you don't run for mayor. You run for a seat on City Council and, once elected, council members decide who will be mayor.

Rousmaniere said she was clear with council members nine years ago that she wanted to be mayor while she campaigned for her city council seat.

Rousmaniere has been the mayor of Oxford since 2011. She has served two terms, and in November she will reach her term limit.

Rousmaniere moved to Oxford in August 1992 after earning her doctorate in the history of education from the Teachers College of Columbia University's Graduate School for Education, Health & Psychology in May of that year.

It was a teaching job at Miami University that brought Rousmaniere to Oxford.

"Yeah, that was it. I got a job," Rousmaniere said, laughing. "There weren't that many places that were offering jobs then."

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Oxford quickly became home for Rousmaniere.

"Fourteen years ago, I married a local guy, and my grandkids go to school here, and my step-daughters live here; my whole family is here," Rousmaniere said. "I figured I was gonna be here for a long time, but when I met him and then we got married I said, 'Whoops, I guess I'm here for a really long time!'"

Before running for public office, Rousmaniere served as the chair of Miami University's Department of Educational Leadership for nine years. She still teaches in the department.

Rousmaniere said she wanted to take a break after her time as department chair, but Prue Dana, the mayor of Oxford from 2007 to 2009, convinced her to run.

"The day after it was decided that I would no longer be department chair ... the next day Prue Dana took me out to lunch and told me to run for city council," Rousmaniere said.

Dana knew Rousmaniere could be the link between Miami and Oxford that would help the relationship flourish.

"She, by being part of the faculty is a perfect pathway between the two entities ... and that's very important," Dana said.

Rousmaniere was also inspired to run for office by her late father. She described him as "a politician who almost never won an election." Rousmaniere's father, a Democrat, would always run in predominantly-Republican districts.

Although he rarely won, Rousmaniere said her father "always had the good fight."

"He never gave up," she said.

Rousmaniere said her time in City Council has taught her that life as a public official isn't always about having a solution.

"It's important to listen to people," Rousmaniere said. "When people have concerns or complaints, I used to think what they wanted was an answer ... but I think one role of local government is to listen and recognize people's concerns."

Rousmaniere also highlighted how much public office can teach people about their community.

"We all live in communities, and we don't really understand how they function until we get involved in local government," she said.

Throughout her time as mayor, Rousmaniere said her attempts to prioritize health, such as initiatives like the Oxford Trails, are her proudest achievements.

"My general theme of new initiatives has been ... encouraging healthy behaviors," Rousmaniere said. "So, I think just sort of putting that theme at the front of city activities, I think that's been my greatest success."

Rousmaniere said that her greatest success may have also been her greatest failure.

By focusing on healthy initiatives, she said she may have alienated some constituents who care more about the regular city council responsibilities, such as fixing roads and approving construction plans.

When asked to summarize her experience on City Council in three words, Rousmaniere couldn't distill it quite that easily.

"It's been the best," Rousmaniere said. "I've been president of two of my professional associations. I've been department chair. I was chair of university senate, and I've been mayor of the City of Oxford, and mayor has been the most rewarding, informative, fun, instructing [and] exciting of all of them."

Correction: A former version of this article stated that Prue Dana is a current city councilor. Dana is a member of the board of zoning appeals and the Student/Community Relations Commission but is not a current city councilor.