MOUNT VERNON — Comments from city residents Franklin Walker and Andrea White at Monday's council meeting sparked a response from council members and the administration.
Speaking during the public participation portion of the meeting, Walker said that “for months now,” residents have provided ideas for legislation that ensures all people receive equitable treatment from law enforcement, but there has been no response from council. Referencing previous council members' comments about being proud of the Mount Vernon Police Department, he said that the MVPD is not one of the three police departments countywide certified or in the process of being certified.
He also said that he has heard council members comment on how hard it is to deal with communication and emails from constituents.
“Isn't that who they should be reaching out to if they have problems,” he asked. “And if they do reach out, how long should they wait?”
White said that she believes citizens' recommendations on police reform are an even greater necessity after Councilmember Tammy Woods' comments supporting law enforcement at the Aug. 24 council meeting. Saying Woods' comments are “unacceptable,” White said that “you cannot continue to blame the victim.”
Noting that the police are to arrest and detain only, White said that although she could ask Black people to come forward and relate their experiences of being profiled, she is reluctant to do so when there is already empirical evidence available. She referenced Woods' acknowledgment that there are some bad cops but added that a mechanism is needed to hold police accountable.
Councilmembers Mike Hillier, John Francis, Tanner Salyers, and Janice Seavolt all said they respond to personal emails, but they do not like the cut-and-paste emails.
“I think we all do like getting emails and do try to answer personal emails,” said Seavolt.
“I like people to have their own thoughts,” said Hillier.
“I am not going to engage back-and-forth at council,” Salyers told White. “That time is for citizens to speak; it's not a time for back-and-forth with citizens. We need a way for more direct communication, not at council. I don't respond to copy and paste emails, but I don't believe I have ever not responded to a [personal] email or phone call.”
Councilmember Samantha Scoles agreed and said that she is reviving Coffee with Council via Zoom starting this Saturday.
“It's an important way to engage with everyone about every topic, not just police reform,” she said.
Responding to Walker, Francis said that he started pursuing dope dealers and pushers three years ago.
“I am proud of the Mount Vernon Police Department. When I stood up to dope dealers, they were right behind me,” he said, adding that he has not had one phone call about unequal or inappropriate treatment. “Here's my phone number: 740-507-1777. If you or somebody you know has run into police brutality or racial injustice, you call me. I will be the first to pursue it.”
Hillier told White that he was sorry she felt so unsafe. He said that as a long-time resident of Sugar Street, the only time he feels unsafe is when he sees drug dealers outside of his house.
“I thank God that the police profile people who take bicycle handles off,” he said, referring to a frequently used way of transporting drugs. “I have been reading our polices, and I do have questions. But I don't think cutting and pasting from a California police ordinance is where we need to go in the city of Mount Vernon. But don't think you're falling on deaf ears.”
During round table remarks after the legislative session, Safety-service Director Richard Dzik said that becoming certified this year through Ohio Collaborative is a priority for the MVPD. A date for certification has been set. Part of the delay is due to the need to update the department's policies and procedures.
In a public hearing at 6:50 pm, two residents spoke in opposition to the rezoning of five parcels at 1350 Yauger Road. Holland Development requested the parcels be rezoned from R-3 residential to O/I (office institutional).
Country Club Retirement Center sits on four of the parcels. Holland Development is requesting rezoning of part of the fifth parcel to allow for future CCRC expansion. The rest of the fifth parcel will remain R-3. The city's Municipal Planning Commission recommended the rezoning request.
The R-3 zoning was incorrectly applied when the acreage was annexed into the city from Clinton Township. R-3 zoning does not allow for a nursing center.
Speaking as an adjacent property owner, Auditor Terry Scott said that the four parcels are what need correction at this time.
“The Holland group has elected to try and shove through another piece for something in the future,” he said in objecting to rezoning the fifth parcel.
Todd Burson, also an adjacent property owner, agreed, saying that rezoning “the triangular piece of land [in the fifth parcel] should be something in the future.”
Hillier and Francis agreed with rezoning the four parcels to O/I to correct the original zoning mistake. Both also agreed that when Holland Development was ready to build on the fifth parcel, the company should return to municipal planning and ask for rezoning at that time.
In its legislative session, council members gave a second reading to the legislation rezoning the parcels. Council handled other pieces of legislation as well:
- Adopted the Tax Incentive Review Commission's recommendation to continue the Community Reinvestment Area abatement for the Woodward Development Corp. and the Enterprise Zone exemptions for Ariel Corp., Owens Corning, Replex Plastics (Pisces Properties LLC), and Sanoh America (Chesterland Productions PLL)
- Reclassified McArthur Street as one way southbound between East Chestnut Street and East High Street
- Authorized payment of bills, transfer of funds, and supplemental appropriations, including $129,792.09 in additional CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) funding and $30,000 from the Mental Health & Recovery for Licking & Knox Counties for MERIT Court
- Accepted the amounts and rates for inside millage for property taxes
- Gave a second reading to adoption of the Knox County Hazard Mitigation Plan. In a Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, EMA Director Mark Maxwell said that unlike previous plans which focused only on natural hazards, this plan covers all hazards and vulnerabilities and includes issues such as infrastructure failure. For the city, the top three concerns are four-season power outages, flooding, and severe storms. The plan also includes strategies to mitigate hazards and identified specific projects. During the meeting, council members received a link so that they can review the plan.
- Gave a second reading to legislation creating the position of director of human resources
Council adjourned into executive session at 8:40 pm to discuss collective bargaining, personnel discipline, and the purchase/sale of property. No action was taken.
In a 6:35 pm Utilities Committee meeting, council members learned that the city's two solid waste digesters, installed in 1950, have reached a critical state. Both need cleaning — it has been more than 10 years since the last cleaning — rehab, and repair, and the screens need replaced. More significant, the screen in digester #2 is broken.
“We really can't wait to do the rehab,” said City Engineer Brian Ball. “We'll probably have to do an emergency repair and do the rehab later.”
The goal is a holistic repair, taking one digester apart at a time and fixing it. The plan is to take digester #2 out of service first, clean it, make the repair, and get all of the measurements and other information needed while it is down.
Ball does not have an estimated cost for the screen as the company that manufactured it is no longer in business. Measurements, size, the number of brackets, and other information is needed before an estimate can be determined.
Mathias Orndorf, utilities director, estimates a total project cost of $1.5 million. The cleaning cost is between $45,000 and $100,000; Orndorf said that he has enough money for the cleaning but not the whole project.
Ball said that if the digesters were split into two projects, the cost would increase as there is a $25,000 “show-up” fee each time the contractor comes out. Of the risk of waiting, he said, “If we go to catastrophic failure, we will be hauling this stuff to a landfill which costs about $2,500 a ton.”
As to where the $1.5 million will come from, Mayor Matt Starr said it would probably be a loan in addition to raising rates, which Scott said council should already be considering.