The playground is magnificent and huge—13,000 square feet—with a stage for puppet shows, tunnels and slides, and sections for both the peek-a-boo and king-of-the-castle age brackets.

The Liberty Township facility was designed by the Cadillac of playground design firms, Leathers & Associates, and built in 1999 by the hands of 400 volunteers over six days.

You will not find Christine Matacic at Ft. Liberty Playland among the hundreds of laughing and running kids on any given day. Her two daughters are grown.

And yet she is everywhere.

Matacic and two other volunteers worked for two years on this playground. They talked a developer into donating the land, raised $60,000 for its design and materials, convinced township officials it was important and, finally, drew the volunteers together for one frenzied week, sun-up until well after dark.

“No matter how many tough decisions had to be made, she made them,” says Rick Titus, another key volunteer on Ft. Liberty Playland, of Matacic. “She was always there to say, ‘We’re going to do this. It’s going to work out fine.’ You hear a positive statement like that and you believe her.”

If you want to know how the Tristate region can manage growth and get its big projects done—the Brent Spence Bridge replacement, improving the water quality of the Mill Creek watershed, preserving green space—keep an eye on Christine Matacic.

The success of the Ft. Liberty project inspired Matacic to run in 2001 for trustee of Liberty Township, one of the Tri-State’s fastest growing communities.

She has been trustee president since 2003—working through thorny issues like establishing an economic development tax district, securing funding and support for a new Interstate 75 interchange, and, in June, gaining approval for Limited Home Rule.

Yet guiding Liberty Township’s growth is but one of more than a dozen regional government, community and non-profit leadership roles this woman has played over the past two decades.

Virtually all were without pay.

In 2007, Matacic took on her biggest job: President of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). This council of 103 government, civic and social group representatives works behind the scenes of big politics and big money to solve vast regional planning, transportation and quality-of-life problems.

As the final authority for federal transportation spending in the region, OKI approved more than $30 million in projects last year. Its 2008 operating budget is $6.11 million, funded largely by eight counties, the three states and federal dollars.

Think of OKI as a utility knife that can cut quietly through stale and crusty bread to find the rich, edible center.

Matacic, now 55, says she intends to use a light but purposeful grip as she wields this knife over her two-year term. Her basic philosophy, shared over a salad in June:

“If you’re not pro-active… and all the players aren’t at the table, you’re not going to get anything done.”

On June 8, more than 400 Greater Cincinnati politicians, local and federal government officials, business people and GOP loyalists gathered for lunch at The Phoenix downtown.

As the skies darkened with storms, and chandeliers struggled to light the vast ballroom, Rob Portman entered the room led by a tall woman in a cream business suit.

Heads turned and conversation lagged as the director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget – former U.S. Trade Representative and congressman from Ohio’s 2nd District, pal of President Bush and resident of Terrace Park – crossed to the dais.

Portman was slated to be key speaker for OKI’s annual meeting, and the event had sold out quickly.

As president of OKI, Matacic – the woman in cream – introduced Portman to the group as someone who is “admired by both political parties,” and who is a “great guy.” Her voice was unruffled, articulate and warm.

She gave Portman a kiss on the cheek before turning the microphone over to him for a speech in which he referred to the functionally obsolete Brent Spence Bridge as a “national priority” to fix.

He urged the group to expedite engineering and environmental studies on the bridge, which carries 155,000 vehicles a day across the Ohio River, so that that next round of federal transportation funding in two years would go smoothly.

Matacic had never met Portman before, though she is an executive committee member of the Butler County Republican Party. So what did they talk about privately that day, high on the OKI dais?

“Oh, logistics about where he needed to go next – to an event in Cleveland, I think,” recalls the ever-practical Matacic.

She pauses a moment, then continues: “He also knew we (Liberty Township) were a fast-growing community and faced a lot of transportation issues. Rob’s been very pro-transportation.”

She smiles.


When Christine Matacic and her husband bought their three-bedroom ranch in Liberty Township 26 years ago, it was a quiet farming area of 6,500 people and their home backed up to a cornfield.

Soon after, Matacic says she discovered that one of the plans for a cross-county highway came perilously close to her new house. Though the Michael Fox Highway (Ohio 129) eventually took a different path, she calls that moment pivotal for her concern about transportation and growth issues.

Her volunteer work began in the late 1980s and centered on the activities of her daughters, Catherine and Janice. As a stay-at-home mom, Matacic took on Lakota Schools roles like PTA president and treasurer, then leader of Girl Scout Troop 1253.

“My mother always told me that if you’ve got the opportunity and the time, give back to your community,” says Matacic in a matter-of-fact voice.

In 1987, her friend Katy Kern convinced her to get involved in the new Liberty Township Fourth of July Parade.

“My wife started the first Fourth of July event,” explains David Kern, also a Liberty Township trustee. He says when his wife met Matacic, “She thought, ‘Here is a woman who is organized and who gets things done.’ A lot of people talk about things but don’t get things done. Chris does.”

By 1993, Matacic was chair of Fourth of July festivities in the township, a role she held for six years. But she also had joined the Liberty Township Parks Committee, where she helped establish the parks and trail systems that now tie together many of the township’s subdivisions.
“I just started asking a lot of questions, and before I knew it, they asked me to be president” of the parks committee, Matacic says.

That role bloomed into volunteer roles with the Mill Creek Watershed Council, the Miami-2-Miami Coalition trail system planners, the West Chester Chamber Alliance, and her trustee job.

Butler County selects one township trustee to serve on OKI, and Matacic snapped up that opportunity in 2002 because many of her other volunteer efforts had touched OKI’s various funding or planning roles.

Her leadership potential was noticed immediately.

“Chris is not shy and will voice her opinion,” says Gary Moore, Boone County Fiscal Court judge executive, who joined OKI at the same time as Matacic. “She is always searching to learn more, to seek ideas and progressive movements going on in other places.

“But she’s not the type of person that will go with the crowd,” Moore adds.

As OKI wrestles with major regional issues like air and water quality, ozone reduction and commuter services, it has a woman at its helm who will listen carefully but expects results, according to many people who know her.

“Christine wants to get things done. That is her hallmark,” says Mark Policinski, executive director of OKI. “When you sit down and talk to Chris about an issue, you had better have a timetable. She is geared to accomplishing things.”


Today, 32,000 people call Liberty Township home – a fact you cannot miss driving past one after another subdivision construction site on Hamilton-Mason or Princeton roads.

But only half of Liberty Township’s 30 square miles are developed, and so, if master planners are correct, by the time the community is completely built out, its population could top 75,000.

One out of every three Ohioans – there are 11.35 million of us – live in townships, according to a May 2007 Ohio State University report. Liberty Township adds about 1,000 residents each year, half of them kids, Census Bureau estimates show.

But townships have limited authority to govern and manage growth. Unlike cities and villages – which have a variety of powers – Ohio’s 1,300 townships are considered unincorporated.

And so the governmental and growth issues facing a township trustee like Matacic are staggering.

In June, Liberty Township trustees finally adopted “Limited Home Rule,” which allows them to enact legislation in a broad range of areas. Now, it can expand its debt options to build roads and sewers, improve its bond ratings, hire engineers and establish its own police district. It does not, however, guarantee residents its own Postal Service zip code, which remains a thorn in Matacic’s side.

The Home Rule thing, like so many other issues here, took years to put in place.

“I was the one dragging my feet” on Home Rule, admits David Kern, the Liberty trustee and a retired tree and plant nursery owner.

Over time, Matacic and the third trustee, a newcomer named Pat Hiltman, talked Kern into it, believing that Liberty had to take government firmly into its own hands.

It helped that Matacic and Kern had already worked together on two other controversial and labor-intensive efforts.

One was to establish a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) in the township that taxes both individual and business revenue. That was critical because Liberty has so little commercial or industrial base. But it required trustees and others to convince both Mason and Middletown that it was a good idea.

The other big project, of course, was the new interchange that will connect Liberty Township directly to I-75. Matacic, Kern believes, was key to securing surrounding communities’ approval for that project.

“Securing Mason’s consent was a struggle,” Kern says. “I think it was Mason’s understanding that when (Matacic and I) made a promise, we lived up to our word. I think that was reassuring to Mason.”

The Liberty Township Transportation Improvement District completed financing of the Liberty Interchange with Interstate 75 in February, when it closed on highway improvement bonds.

These projects require complicated legal and financial understanding – not unlike complex OKI projects involving pass-through federal dollars for large road projects or water quality issues.

“Chris is really good with money issues,” Kern says. “Checking and double-checking. She is keen to insure finances are in place for the project.”

When Rob Portman spoke to 400 movers and shakers from across Cincinnati in early June – days before he announced he would step down as OMB director – one of his lines that drew warm laughter was: “It’s an honor to serve – aren’t we lucky?”

Matacic joined in to that laughter, despite her 50-hour work week wearing many different hats that only brings in a small township paycheck.
She plans to run for a state or congressional office eventually. But for now, her OKI roles and trustee responsibilities are the priority – behind her family, of course.

Seeing the changes in Liberty Township itself is enormously gratifying, Matacic says:

“Even though the land isn’t as open as it once was, the people are much more open: to new residents, to new businesses, to new ideas.”