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Analysis: Police Department still needs basic equipment

By Charles Prince

BUCKEYE LAKE – Monday night’s Village Council meeting was a particularly unproductive 75 minutes.

Last Thursday evening, Council President Kitty Zwissler emailed council members about a “desperate need” for a joint Finance/Safety Committee meeting “focused on the Police Department’s LACK of funds.” Earlier Thursday, council clerk Valerie Hans had distributed the council packet for the August 13 meeting. The packet included the agenda which listed an ordinance (2018-31) “Amending Ordinance 2018-16 Permanent Appropriations Ordinance and declaration of emergency.” Hans explained the ordinance was in title only on the agenda because the fiscal officer “is still working on the actual account numbers and amounts for the ordinance.”

For years, the village’s three-mill police levy hasn’t provided enough funds to support the police department so its operation has been supported by appropriations from the General Revenue Fund. As Mayor Peggy A. Wells explained during the joint committee meeting before the council meeting, “We have a lot of money in the budget. We need to shift the money to the (police) budget.”

At 5 p.m. on Monday, Hans sent out a revised agenda, explaining, “I have attached a revised agenda per Council President Zwissler’s instructions.” The ordinance amending the permanent appropriations ordinance to move more money to the police department accounts and another authorizing the mayor to enter into an agreement with AEP Energy, for a contracted energy price had been removed from the agenda.

Zwissler wanted Fiscal Officer Rochelle Menningen at the joint committee meeting. For most of the meeting, Zwissler drilled Menningen about expenditures including many that occurred before Menningen started with the village in April.   Menningen was finally excused a few minutes before the regular council meeting was to start. Police Chief Vicki Wardlow was asked to speak for a few minutes about the impact on the department. She said she was surprised to find that there were no flares, flashlights, raincoats or radio clips available to officers. Wardlow said the department needs basic equipment but she can’t purchase it now because funds aren’t available in department’s line items. Zwissler quickly said “we need to protect those who protect us,” but then ignored the connection between her refusal to put the appropriations amendment ordinance on Monday’s night agenda and the police department’s lack of basic equipment. As an example of the effect on the department, Wardlow was observed after dark Saturday evening directing the chaotic ‘Supercruise’ traffic in front of the Corner House with her personal tiny LED flashlight. Zwissler closed the joint committee meeting by directing the Finance Committee to continue the review. Finance Committee chair Tom Wolfe had told Zwissler last week that he would be very late at best to the committee meeting due to a business meeting. He was unable to make it to either meeting.

The regular council meeting began on a positive note as council members approved revised minutes for their July 9 meeting and the minutes for the July 23 meeting. The affability quickly ended as Zwissler and council member Arletta Ruton refused, without comment, to approve the treasurer’s report. There were no Commission reports.

Under unfinished/other business, Ruton asked whether the administration had contacted anyone about turning council meeting recordings into transcripts. She looked disappointed when Wells said, “It’s in your packet.” Wells said about 10 companies had been called and a couple had submitted proposals. Ruton dropped the issue. Later during public comments, former Mayor Clay Carroll accurately noted that it would be difficult to get a transcript of a council meeting based on a recording since the transcriptionist wouldn’t know who was talking. He suggested having a stenographer attend council meetings.

During the Public Service Committee report, Ruton asked Water Supervisor Toby Miller to recount his storm water utility and public works project updates for the full council. Miller said only one business had applied for the available 40 percent credit. He agreed with Ruton’s assessment that most push-back had come from residential property owners. Miller explained that the credit drops to 20 percent next year and must be based on current documentation.

Miller also said the $1.7 million federally funded Municipal Bridge project – that will replace the two bridges connecting Ohio 79 with the Duke Station, McDonald and the motel with one two-way bridge – will jam 18 months of work into six months. “They (ordinances) are coming, it could be at the last minute and all will be emergencies,” he explained. “We can’t drag our feet on this,” Ruton added. Miller and Ruton both said the village got a FY2019 allocation from LCATS that would provide about $135,000 for design services, right-of-way services and possible right-of-way acquisitions. The village had been responsible for those costs in addition to its 5 percent share of the construction cost.

Rules Committee chair John Geiger scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. on Monday, August 20, to move toward a draft version of the amended council rules. He hopes the committee can have a final draft for council’s consideration by the end of September.

Community Development Committee chair Doug Poorman DVM said he would like to get the police levy to the same level as the fire department levy to reduce the department’s reliance on the General Revenue Fund. The police levy is currently three mills compared to the fire department’s five mills.

Personnel Committee chair Bill French said the committee is looking at updating the village’s employee handbook.

During the first public comment opportunity, former Council President Charlene Hayden said transcripts should also be produced for Planning Commission meetings. She also claimed that all council members should have seen the Julians (leasees of the village-owned drive thru property) financial statements. She continued Ruton’s narrative that the Julians received preferential treatment because they are friends of Wells and that they haven’t demonstrated the necessary financial capability to take on the lease. A majority of council members have twice affirmed awarding the lease to the Julians – once on the initial approval and again by rejecting Ruton’s effort to rescind the lease.

The Julians were the only prospective operator to agree to council’s demand for a short-term lease. The prospective buyer of the former operator’s business insisted on a four-year lease with an exclusive right to renew it for two additional years. All council members agreed earlier this year that up to six years was too long to lock up part of the village’s property given the anticipated development opportunities in the next several years. Wells told The Beacon after the meeting that the Julians’ finances are very strong and that there was never any question whether they could make the lease payments. She also noted that the village will be getting $1,200 a month effective August 15.

Zoning Inspector Doug Steward asked council to put together an independent committee consisting of a council member, a Planning Commission member and several residents to recommend changes to the village’s zoning resolution. “We lack clarity,” Stewart explained. “Our’s looks like a pamphlet compared to others.” He added, for example, that food trucks aren’t even mentioned. Several council members quickly warmed to the idea of charging for food truck permits.

Resident Charlotte Bassnet said, “I don’t think we need it (drive-thru).” She felt it should have been sold to a business that will bring people in from the outside like the brewery. Another resident complained about the Julians’ lease and claimed the first prospective operator wasn’t treated fairly.

A Cranberry Bay resident complained about speeding on Cranberry Lane and suggested adding speed bumps on the narrow street. Another resident suggested that a recycling option be included in the next waste collection contract. Zwissler said she favored including that option in the next contract.

Resident Anthony Ferrell, who is remodeling contractor, offered to assist the village with code enforcement.

Zwissler initially skipped over the mayor’s report. Wells provides an extensive written report at each council meeting, but also asked to speak. After stating there were no major problems during the “Supercruise,” she brought up the issue of the Harbor Community Center’s utility bills. “I certainly support The Harbor,” she began. “I have concerns about (the village) paying utility bills for one non-profit and not others.” The village has paid about $3,000 in utility bills for The Harbor. Zwissler and Poorman said The Harbor has a lease prospect that would help them pay the utility bills. Poorman added that they would like the village to be a partner in the community center, but acknowledged that The Harbor agreed to pay the village back.

“It is your decision, not mine,” Wells told council members. Zwissler said she would ask the Finance Committee to look at the issue.

Wells added that she wanted to address some questions being raised about her being added as a signer on village checks. She said the interim fiscal officer was surprised to discover that the village only required one signature on checks. He suggested requiring two signatures on every check as a financial safeguard. That suggestion has been implemented with the mayor, fiscal officer and water department clerk/assistant fiscal officer as signers. Council member Bob Masone MD told Wells, “You need to be consistently accountable.”

Zwissler and Ruton announced that the firefighters association’s August 4 spaghetti dinner to benefit The Harbor raised approximately $1,850.

Zwissler’s removal of two ordinances from the agenda left only one resolution. The resolution authorized the mayor to prepare and submit an application for a grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission to implement the Highland Avenue Drainage Improvement Study. Masone objected to giving authority to the mayor to sign contracts before the grant is awarded. Council members agreed to suspend the three-reading rule by a 5 -1 vote and adopted it by the same vote. Masone opposed both motions.

During the second public comment period, Hayden said she agreed with Masone. Bassnet said something has to be done about Cranberry Lane. “You have to go on private property to pass something,” she said. “It shouldn’t even be two lanes.” There was a very brief discussion about extending Union Avenue further into Cranberry Bay area.

Masone was loaded for bear for council member comments. He worked from a typed report that he asked to be included in the minutes. His tirade included a written list of unsubstantiated claims and charges;

  • Increased breakins due to police firings;
  • No enforcement of speed limit;
  • No drug interdiction as promised in January meeting by Mayor;
  • Snow plowing streets not belonging to the Village with Village money;
  • Drive thru favoritism with the special finance review promised to Peggy’s friends;
  • Accusation of blackmail to sell the coolers to Peggy’s friends;
  • Sunshine law violation with four council members leaving Mayor’s chambers at same time;
  • Reserved seats in council chambers;
  • Rex Adkins paid for being on the selection committee for police chief (Masone wondered out loud whether other members were also paid);
  • Police chief background not revealed to public of (sic) council (Masone commented that there were issues with the chief’s background); and
  • Checking account signature change and the spending of money without any notification to or approval by council

Masone wrapped up his tirade by asking, “Where is citizen outrage over lack of transparency?”

When Masone made the ‘blackmail’ accusation, Wells objected, calling it “slanderous” and asked Zwissler to enforce council rules. Zwissler ignored Wells and let Masone continue. Last month, Zwissler stopped resident Deb Julian when she started to make some critical comments about Ruton.

Mercifully, Masone didn’t set the tone for the rest of council comments. Poorman said the Buckeye Lake Area Civic Association had a successful Tour of Homes on Sunday with about 500 visitors. He added that more than one hundred volunteers were involved in the Tour. Ruton thanked Harbor Community Center supporters again and reminded everyone about the $10,000 challenge gift from Alex and Lori Fischer. The Fischers will match every dollar donated to The Harbor dollar for dollar up to $10,000.

Geiger commented that he was glad to see a “calmer cruise.” He also noted that not all businesses benefited from the cruise, passing on a comment from a regular Dragon Village customer that the restaurant did a small fraction of their normal Saturday night business during the event.

Council’s next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, August 27, at the village office complex.

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