By middle age, the professional life story for many may be a tale of twists and turns, jobs that come and go, perhaps a career change or two.
Not so for Defiance County Engineer Warren Schlatter, a Republican. Since graduating from Defiance High School in 1991, his story has been one of stability.
A math whiz in high school, he said he originally thought about a career in architecture, but “that was a lot of art, and I wasn’t very good at that.” His architectural interest was leaning toward buildings, and eventually morphed into a career of building things.
About the same time he was offered a part-time job by the county’s then elected engineer — Gaylon Davis — while he continued in the University of Akron’s engineering program. He worked for Davis during summers and Christmas break, earning his degree from Akron in 1995.
Before graduation day arrived, Schlatter already had accepted an offer from Davis to take a full-time job with the county engineer’s office. He’s been a fixture there since graduation — and won four unopposed elections for the office’s top position in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
“While I had other work during high school, this is the only place I’ve worked since,” recalled Schlatter, 46, whose father, Bill, was an engineer at Defiance’s General Motors plant for many years before retiring.
Davis’ job offer fit well into Schlatter’s early plans because before he could become a professional engineer and surveyor, he would need to serve four years under a licensed engineer and surveyor.
That he did, acquiring his surveyor’s license in 2001 and his engineer’s license in 2002 while an employee of the office he now leads. Things came together pretty quickly from there for Schlatter.
After four terms as Defiance County’s elected engineer, Davis — who also had been the Defiance city engineer from 1978-88 — decided not to seek re-election in 2004, and Schlatter stepped forward.
He said he didn’t necessarily know when he started full-time in the mid 1990s that he’d seek the leadership position, and even when Davis was talking about retiring, Schlatter said he “would have been fine” continuing with his work in the county engineer’s office. But no other qualified candidates — they have to be professional engineers and surveyors — were interested in running, he said, so he decided to give it a try.
“I was just pretty happy to do the engineering work and didn’t necessarily have that in my mind,” explained Schlatter, who plans to run for another four-year term in 2020.
He’s not regretted the public service avenue — as opposed to a career in the private sector — and oversees the county’s highway department and the planning of county infrastructure projects.
“One of the things I enjoy the most about my job is you see and get involved in the total life cycle of what you’re working on,” he said. “It’s pretty unique.”
As an engineer in the private sector, or with the Ohio Department of Transportation, for example, “you’re going to become an expert in a small area of the practice,” explained Schlatter. “Here you get to be involved in the bigger picture.”
One example is a bridge abutment construction method (geosynthethic reinforced soil) that his office has made good use of for more than a decade. The process involves a composite material and compacted gravel, and has been a cost-effective method that attracted federal observers in 2007 and 2008.
He noted that Defiance County has the most such abutments of any political subdivision in the nation.
It’s not the only example of Schlatter moving forward with a cost-effective method.
When long-time county landfill manager Tim Houck retired in 2016, Schlatter took over the operation in addition to his elected position, a move that saved the county money in more than one way.
Schlatter said engineering costs — considerable in an environmental sensitive area as landfill management — have been cut in half (from $300,000), while legal fees were reduced from $80,000 to $2,000.
He continues with that additional duty today, and is happy with the way things have worked out.
Asked why the engineering and landfill duties were combined, he said: “As I look around at government in general, if we want our taxes to be lower and things to be more efficient, we have to find ways to collaborate and share. So, we pulled their (landfill) office in with our office. ... It’s just one tiny example.”Outside the office, Schlatter has plenty of responsibilities as well.
He and his wife, Cindy, who he married in 1997, have seven children. And Schlatter is a lay pastor at Apostolic Christian Church in Junction, south of Defiance.
Modest and soft-spoken, Schlatter said that he tries to “live his faith,” which is how he said he approaches his work as well.
Given his professionalism, career longevity and accomplishments, he seems to be succeeding.
On the cover: Defiance County Warren Schlatter poses for a recent photo in his office on Court Street in Defiance. Schlatter has been the county’s elected engineer since 2005, and has been employed there in some capacity since his college days.
-C-N Photo by Todd Helberg