Incoming president envisions an active, engaged Cincinnatus

Our incoming president, Bob Schrage, is retired from the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, where he was part of the agency’s executive team.  He is the current director of administration for Transitions, Inc., a Northern Kentucky agency that provides life-saving treatment to people with substance use disorders.

Bob, who lives in Dayton, Ky., also is the executive director of the Rabbit Hash Historic District, an adjunct professor in Northern Kentucky University’s Master of Public Administration program, and the author of several books on local history and his most recent reflection on historic events, “Witness to History.”

So that our members and our community can get to know Bob a little better, we asked him to respond to a few questions.

Q: What is the attraction of Cincinnatus for you?

I can remember when my friend Bill Scheyer mentioned to me that he had joined Cincinnatus.  I said that is the organization for me.  I was intrigued by the history, having known about it through my studies in public administration.   I have long had an interest in public policy and in local government.  The Government Panel seemed to work on so many of the current issues I felt important.  Bill nominated me for membership and I dove right in.   

Q: Where to you hope to lead Cincinnatus during your presidency?

Cincinnatus has a great history but it can only take us so far.  We need to become more relevant in the community.  There are so many issues facing the region, and we need to focus on a select few that are high impact and consistent with our mission and strategic plan. 

However, I am convinced we cannot achieve a new level of impact and involvement without first getting our internal house in order.  This includes first breaking the 80 plus member barrier.  We have a limit of 100 members but are consistently approximately 20 members below that threshold.  The problem is turnover and members who do not stay very long.  We need to address this problem.  Secondly, we are not in a strong financial position.  As an association we continually run an annual operating deficit of several thousand dollars. 

Part of this problem can be fixed just by having the 100 members allowed.  However, that will not get us to a higher level of impact in the community.  I would like to see Cincinnatus have money in the bank to use in support of the projects that we feel are important.  This will involve new sources of revenue. As president I want to start the dialogue with members and address these important issues. 

Q: What does Cincinnatus do well, and conversely, what does Cincinnatus need to improve?

Cincinnatus does programs well.  I learn at every meeting something important to our region.  We also have a great structure of panels to do the nuts-and-bolts work of Cincinnatus.   Our impact on inclusion, education and local government is significant, but it can always be more.  We need to continuously improve how we market our positions and achievements and figure out ways to have an even bigger impact.  As I said, we also need to improve our financial situation. 

Q: What about our city: What does Cincinnati do well and what does Cincinnati need to improve?

It is easy to find fault in your own community and to see areas for improvement.  We do a lot of things well.  However, cooperation between the city and county is always an area needing improvement.  I would add that we do not communicate well regionally ‒ city and the suburbs of Hamilton County, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and far-away cities such as Dayton, Ohio.  We are all going to be in the same MSA and need to look north for cooperation and economic development.  

Currently, Cincinnatus in doing an update to the strategic plan and hopefully this will help lead us through.  This plan should also be a guide and roadmap for improvement. 

Q: You have worked at the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, which aligns community resources, and you have worked at Transitions, which provides support for people dealing with addiction. The two careers would seem to equip you for thinking through one of our region’s more pressing problems right now, the heroin epidemic. Who could or should we marshal our resources against this plague?

A great question!  I have several times mentioned our need to understand the epidemic and to put a program together for educational purposes.  Each time it was met with, “It doesn’t fit in our focus,” and garnered little support for playing a role. This epidemic impacts areas that we care about: economic development, education, local government and every other segment of our community. 

The problem is still there and we could have been at the forefront of the issue a year ago.  We have employers who can’t hire a lot of workers because it is hard to find them drug free.  I know one manufacturer that quit drug testing.  We are ground zero for this epidemic, particularly in Northern Kentucky.  We should be at the table and figure out a way to support and expand substance abuse treatment in the organizations that provide the care.  We can’t incarcerate our way out of this problem.  Talbert House, Transitions, and other organizations need our support.  One great way would be to get job skills to people with addictions.  We need to make them employable. 

Q: You are retired. Why not relax? Why take on this community leadership role?

I love Cincinnatus and want to see it build upon its history and have a future as good as its past.  Everything I cared about and worked on in my career can be found in Cincinnatus. 

Q: When you do relax, how do you do it? Hobbies? Distractions? Secrets to relaxation?

I love history and write about it.  My eighth book will come out in November.  To me, one of the great joys is travel, particularly to historic events as they happen.   I love to travel and see other cultures and communities.  The most relaxing thing I do is hike.  I love both urban hiking and wilderness.  Last year, I hiked out west for 35 days and will do so again this summer.  Next year is a planned six-week hike across Spain.  I also collect historic manuscripts and autographs particularly related to the presidency and American history.  I have done that since being a teenager.