By Karen Cornelius
Mayor Eileen Bulan is watching her eight years as Vermilion’s leader quickly disappear on December 30, her last day in office. She began her first four-year term facing some tough problems and is retiring with the city vastly improved and stable. While she will miss parts of her duties, she feels upbeat, good about leaving, not sad. It’s just time.
It couldn’t have been worse, her first year, 2010, in office facing the local government in turmoil and a $1.2 million deficit. She recalls the city’s checking accounts had not been reconciled since June of 2008 with dozens of accounts and payments not posted. It was hard to see the financial picture at first, but then it was clear the city was struggling. She and her administration had to reduce department budgets, reduce spending, cut services, and reduce the police department. The city income tax had to be increased by 1/2 percent for all working residents.
That was then, and going over eight separate years of many more ups than downs would fill a book. The mayor ran again against Jean Anderson and won another four-year term starting in 2014. The accomplishments, however, stand out. “I love the vision, thinking of ideas for Vermilion’s future. That’s the best part of the mayor’sjob.” Creating McGarvey’s Landing was a plus. “People think this has always been there, but it wasn’t until the deal and plans were done. Purchasing the former Inland Seas Maritime Museum for the public was another dream come true as well as developing more beachfront with the Erie MetroParks Wakefield Park. She was also glad to be able to improve the downtown with four revitalization grants and receive two Vermilion-On-The-Lake Neighborhood Revitalization grants as well as CHIP grants to renovate businesses and homes. After all these years to see a bridge replacement over Highbridge Road is something she is glad to see coming to fruition. In the mayor’s opinion, the best gift she gave to the city was a sense of calm, especially after the turmoil of her predecessor. Passing a city streets levy and a recent parks levy acknowledged the voters trust in the government and its support of the city.
“When I leave, I’ll miss the people the most,” said mayor Bulan. “I’ll miss the people I work with and the people I interact with on a daily basis or the ones who stop by.” She will also miss walking to work and seeing all the other people coming to work. “It’s interesting to take in what everyone is doing. There’s just an energy downtown, and especially in the summer with the flowers.” What she will not miss is waking up in the middle of the night if it’s pouring down rain or if there is a blizard or watermain break. “It will be nice not to worry about everything.”
Her hardest duties were perhaps with police department issues acting as safety director, and turning people’s water off when they couldn’t pay their bills. Then, as it is in all walks of life, there are people you can never make happy how hard you try. “I would think I was helping, but, no.” What’s left undone she would like to see pursued, of course, are the streets. “There’s never enough money for streets.” She said for years under previous administrations not much was done, but the streets levy should help. Also, the city has to have new waterlines. “It has to be done.”
The mayor probably won’t miss the ongoing meetings she has to attend. With 33 years with the city as clerk of council, service director, and then mayor, she roughly estimated an average of over 1,650 meetings and that’s just city council and the local boards, not her county and state meetings. She served on Team Lorain County, the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the Erie County Community Foundation, the Community Re-Investment Area as manager, and the Lorain County Conectivity Planning Committee plus many more. Because Vermilion is in two counties it was challenging, but all the relationships were so important. She worked very closely with Erie County which has done a lot for the city.
The mayor’s expertise at grant writing brought a total of $18,405,094 to the city for additional revenue during her eight years. “I can’t take full credit because I always had the help of Erie County, our engineering firm, KS Associates, and consultants. “It was totally a team effort.” From 2010 to 2013 the city received $7,340,651 in grants and from 2013-1017 the city received $5,287,095. Previously from 1998 to 2005, the city received $5,777,348.
Before leaving, the mayor would like to thank everyone. “I need to thank the whole town.” She said all her directors and city employees are such good people. “They are just great to work with and never get enough credit. The people of Vermilion have just been fantastic, and the volunteers we have are the best in the world.” She added she also appreciates her city council members who have been so good working together with her.
As to Bulan’s future plans, she really doesn’t have anything specific. “I will serve on the Main Street Vermilion Board.” This is a passion for the mayor since its inception when she was a founder and president. “I’ll probably just take it easy. I like to exercise and do yoga, maybe visit in Florida.” She and her husband Dick will still have Bulan’s Boatyard to operate, a local business.
As far as any advice for the next mayor, “Be able to let things go. Never hold onto grudges,” said mayor Bulan. These are words those who know her have kept the mayor in good stead throughout her terms. Eileen Bulan led with calmness, common sense, and stability even through the hard times. It was rare, if ever, to see her angry. She was a consumate professional, an easy, friendly person to approach, and a role model for what every city would love to have as its mayor. She has left a legacy to admire, one of pride and purpose.