Mayor Bill Dieruf talks family, community and local government
Writer / Shannon Siders
When Bill Dieruf became Mayor of Jeffersontown in 2011, it came as a pleasant and beneficial surprise for the town in which he was born and raised. The Dieruf family has long been a fixture in Jeffersontown, both in business and community service.
Dieruf first entered local government when he filled an empty seat on city council in 2001. Although his original intent was not to become mayor, he seized the opportunity when it came.
“It was simply to be involved with the city, to give back,” says Dieruf on his decision to run for mayor. “You finally get to a point in life where it’s not a matter of how much money you make, or how big of a business you make, it’s about what you leave behind that matters. The fact that you’ve helped a person or helped a community matters more.”
Much of Dieruf’s outlook on serving the citizens of Jeffersontown comes from his experience with the family business. Dieruf Hardware opened in 1946, and is Jeffersontown’s oldest family-owned business. Shortly after opening the hardware store, W.C. Dieruf Jr., Mayor Dieruf’s father, began serving on the Jeffersontown Area Community Council, and by 1955, he was its president. Dieruf took over operations of the store in 1985 and proudly owned the business until his daughter and son-in-law took over in 2014.
“Whether it’s a five-cent nut or a $30,000 Bobcat, your problem is your problem and it needs to be solved,” Dieruf says. “And the main motto that I walked into [the mayor’s office] was the same thing we do at the store, ‘How can we help you?’ You can ask any employee of the city here, they know my slogan is, ‘How can I help you?’ and ‘How can we give you the wow effect that government should give you?’”
One of Dieruf’s goals has been to make local government more friendly and accessible, part of the ‘wow effect.’ He wants to make sure all of Jeffersontown’s public offices are operating with the best interests of the community in mind.
“The advantage of Jeffersontown is you can call the mayor’s office, you can get ahold of the mayor, and you can talk to him personally no matter who you are,” says Dieruf, who is frequently seen at events around town, including flipping pancakes at the Jeffersontown Farmers’ Market.
Dieruf feels he is especially approachable to Jeffersontown citizens, “because they see me as Bill Dieruf first and the mayor second. They see me as somebody that possibly could help them and who has always been there for them at the hardware store when they needed help in the past.”
Technology and innovation has also been one of Dieruf’s goals throughout both his stints in city council and terms as mayor. In a 2002 Jeffersontown News-Leader interview, Dieruf stated his mission was to, “keep J-Town’s hometown friendly atmosphere, while pushing forward in the 21st century as one of the cutting-edge cities that is today.”
His first order of business as mayor was to create a user-friendly, interactive website for the City of Jeffersontown. The website (jeffersontownky.gov) provides easy access to information about every branch of the city government, as well as access to online forms to make doing business with the city much more convenient.
One of the mayor’s recent projects has been making the Bluegrass Commerce Park fiber-ready, allowing communications and electronic capabilities to progress. The industrial park in Jeffersontown has always been second to none, and Dieruf continues to encourage business growth throughout the city. Working together with the Jeffersontown Economic Development Authority, the mayor helps ensure needs of current and prospective businesses are met.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Jeffersontown is the eighth largest city in the state, and the second largest city in the state in the daytime,” Dieruf says. “We double in size because of the amount of businesses and employees that are here.”
Over 1,800 businesses have a presence in Jeffersontown, accounting for more than 33,000 employees. The Jeffersontown Occupation Business Savings program has incentivized businesses to move to Jeffersontown and led to an average pay scale of $63,500.
Community development is also of utmost importance to Dieruf, and he strives to make sure Jeffersontown is a great community. The city motto “Jeffersontown, the best place to live, work and play” has resonated in every project carried out during Dieruf’s six years as mayor.
“That is a slogan we want to live by as a city, as the people that make the decisions of where we’re going in the future,” Dieruf says. “We want to make it where the community is guided by the community, not just by one person. You buy into a community where you are part of the decision process.”
Dieruf recognizes the importance of providing events and programming that cater to a wide range of audiences. With that in mind, the Mayor established an Arts Program for the city in 2014, under the supervision of Rhonda Rowland. The program gives residents the opportunity to see performances by Shakespeare in the Park, Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Opera, United States Air Force Band and various other musical groups right in their own town.
On a recent Friday evening, hundreds of people of all ages flocked to the Pavilion on the Square to hear a free show by local band Small Time Napoleon. Attendees enjoyed food trucks and many walked down the block to 3rd Turn Brewing, invigorating an area that would not have experienced as much traffic on a weekend evening just a couple years ago.
“It’s brought the town more alive,” Dieruf says. “People are socializing beyond their phones and computers, and it gives them a reason to want to get out of the air conditioning and come down here to be with other people.”
Corresponding with his cultural outlook, Dieruf has encouraged the growth of the Jeffersontown Historical Museum. One of his first acts as mayor was to digitize the museum’s collection of old Jeffersonian newspapers so the public could have easy online access to the documents.
Veterans Memorial Park is also undergoing a much-needed renovation, including the addition of a new Memorial Plaza and memorial, a Tri-An Vietnam memorial monument, and a new all-inclusive playground accessible to Jeffersontown residents of all ages and abilities.
“We are a firm believer that without our veterans, we wouldn’t have the ability to do what we do today,” Dieruf says. “We want the next generation to remember that.”
Recently, the Mayor oversaw the start of Town Square renovations, with flower boxes, benches and columns installed, as well as decorative walls exhibiting Jeffersontown’s more than 220 years of history. Visitors to Jeffersontown are greeted by archways promoting the Historic Gaslight Square District, and the intersection of Taylorsville Road and Watterson Trail now sports Jeffersontown’s distinctive gaslight logo in the pavement. Several major street corners now have electronic signage to keep residents informed about upcoming city events.
The mayor oversees the city’s Public Works Department, and makes sure the staff deals with problems that arise immediately, while continuing their day-to-day responsibilities. In addition to directing maintenance of the many roads and sidewalks in town (Dieruf noted the budget for re-pavement projects has been upped to around a million dollars from $200,000), the Mayor has worked to expand the Gaslight Recreational Workplace and Pedestrian Trail System.
There is no such thing as a typical day for the Mayor. He can be doing anything from meeting with one of the 18 boards on which he serves, talking about road pavement projects with public works, discussing the pension program, traveling to Frankfort to meet with state officials, meeting with business developers who want to open shop in Jeffersontown, talking to a citizen with a concern about their neighborhood — the list goes on and on.
“The reason I took this job, is whatever your problem is, it is the most important thing to you,” Mayor Dieruf says.
As president of the Jefferson County League of Cities, Dieruf collaborates with other leaders across the county to make widespread improvements.
“Each one of our cities is distinctive,” Dieruf says of the Louisville metro area. “Not many places in the United States have that.”
Inspired by the sense of community in Jeffersontown, Dieruf sparked programming to help tear down the borders between various areas across Jefferson County.
“Within Jefferson County, we live by the compass — west end, east end, south end,” Dieruf says. “The Community Without Borders brings all of our communities together to work together.”
The first step was to eliminate the compass mentality. Dieruf and his collaborators worked with the press to report news based on neighborhoods and not blanket areas of town. Because Jeffersontown residents have worked well together across boundaries, the team wanted to transfer the community mindset.
“We want to expand that into the county and let the county realize we’re all in this together,” Dieruf says. “If something happens in your neighborhood it affects my neighborhood.”
Dieruf has stayed mum on his plans for the future but says he likes to focus on adjusting his situation at any given time to point him toward the future.
“Twenty years from now people won’t know who I am, maybe two years from now people won’t know who I am,” Dieruf says. “But leaving behind a legacy, a family-friendly community that people want to be a part of, that’s what’s important.”