Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said he wanted the best and brightest people from the public and private sector in his new administration. Some of the diverse leaders on Walsh’s team have deep roots in the community.
At his swearing-in ceremony, Fire Chief Michael Monds, a 17-year veteran, said as a young man growing up on Syracuse’s south side, one of the poorest areas of the city, Monds never thought about becoming a firefighter.
“I lived by fire stations all the time," Monds said. "I didn’t realize until I was 20, 21 that the fire station was even there, that I could even maybe become a firefighter. Once I became a firefighter, I realized that there was a little disconnect and I just want to do the best I could to reach out to the crevices and cracks in the community.”
That prompted Monds to start a Junior Fire Cadet Mentoring Program at Dr. King Elementary School in Syracuse last year.
“We’ve been taking our bunker gear, letting the kids put the gear on," Monds said. "We’ve been going over self-respect, self-esteem, showing them the different tools and equipment that we have. Some of these kids, they don’t have a clue that they have a chance to be a firefighter if they stay out of trouble, do good in school.”
Monds is Syracuse's first African-American fire chief.
Walsh’s deputy mayor and chief of staff Sharon Owens is also familiar with Syracuse’s south side. Besides working at city hall in neighborhood and business development, she ran the Southwest Community Center for more than four years. She said she is looking forward to affecting policies and departments that improve the lives of residents from all walks of life.
“People need to believe that its government is adhering to their basic needs," Owens said. "How are the streets? How are the potholes that we hear about all the time? Those are basic needs of people. For people to feel cared for and invested in, they got to touch it. They got to feel it. They got to see it.”
Greg Loh, the director of city initiatives, worked at Eric Mower and Associates in Syracuse for nearly 30 years.
“I’ve got a lot of experience helping organizations share their story," Loh said. "I hope I can help the city do that, so more in our region, state, world know what a great community we have."
Loh said that includes providing as many channels and public forums for residents to make their voices heard.