Government

First Ward voters to decide between 3 Democrats on May ballot

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green’s residents voting on May 7 will see three First Ward Democrats vying for the chance to appear on the general election ballot to serve as their representative on City Council. One is a teacher, one is a college student, and one is a college prof pursuing his doctorate. The three candidates are Connor Goodpaster, Mark Hollenbaugh and Madison Stump. All three offered themselves to fill the First Ward seat last fall when council member Daniel Gordon resigned. Hollenbaugh was selected and has served on council since then. The Democrat who wins in the primary will not face a Republican contender in November. According to Wood County Board of Elections’ Terry Burton, the Republican who filed for the First Ward seat, Micah Swanson, had his petition rejected because his registration address did not match his petition. An independent candidate may still file to fill the First Ward seat on the November ballot. Following are stories on where all three First Ward Democratic council candidates stand on issues facing Bowling Green. Connor Goodpaster Connor Goodpaster believes his public administration master’s degree, along with his experience serving with United Way on the Wood County Continuum of Care, put him in a good position to serve on City Council. “I was taught how to look at government programs and look at what is working and what is not,” he said. Goodpaster came to Bowling Green in 2013, and graduated with a social studies education degree, then a master’s in public administration. He teaches American government at Wayne State University in Detroit. He and his wife recently had a baby, and have no intention of moving from Bowling Green, he assured. “We’re going to be around,” he said. “This town has been nothing but wonderful to us.” While serving on the Continuum of Care project, Goodpaster saw a perspective of the community that not all view. “I became more aware of some of the issues in this town,” he said. Those issues include the lack of accessible housing for people with disabilities, and the invisible homeless population. “We haven’t taken steps to solve that,” he said. Goodpaster decided to run for City Council because he believes government needs to be more nimble when responding to citizens’ needs. “I felt City Council wasn’t moving fast enough,” he said. “We need quick, but well thought out action. City Council, at this point, moves rather slowly.” Some issues facing the city are urgent, he said. Goodpaster referred to the East Wooster corridor study that cited several changes needed to bring healthy development and private investors to the community. “That should be a major wake up call,” he said. The issue of safe rental housing is also critical, he said. Goodpaster supports safety inspections of rental units, since renters are often afraid to “blow the whistle on landlords.” Making the inspections mandatory and requiring rental registries are the best ways to guarantee housing is safe, he said. The city’s zoning rules need to be updated, he said, allowing mixed uses of properties, as recommended by the latest development study of the city. Goodpaster believes by offering student renters more options, that may allow some housing on the East Side to return to single-family homes. His family saw the effect of student housing gobbling up single-family homes in the First Ward. “We can’t find a place in buy in the First Ward. It’s almost impossible,” he said. If elected, Goodpaster’s goals would include focusing on economic development – making better use of the educational infrastructure at BGSU. “We’ve got some huge…

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Klein doing his best to help county plan for the worst

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Jeff Klein is accustomed to handling emergencies. Now he’s helping people plan to prevent them. Klein has been named director of the Wood County Emergency Management Agency. He served as deputy director under recently retired Brad Gilbert. Prior to that, Klein spent more than 30 years in the fire service – most recently as fire chief in Perrysburg. So shifting gears to methodical planning rather than rushing to respond is a little different for Klein. “One of the hardest things for me was I had to pick my clothes out,” said Klein, who wore a firefighter uniform for years. Anyone who knows Klein, knows he has a wicked rapid-fire sense of humor. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take his job very seriously. He knows much of his job is educating people about how to prepare themselves for the next disaster. “The sad reality is people think ‘it’s never going to happen to me.’ But somebody in this county is going to be the next house fire and the next flooding,” he said. So Klein wants to help people plan for those terrible moments in their lives. “Everybody knows the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning – but nobody knows what to do,” he said. Preparation can make a big difference. Before big snow storms people should make sure they are stocked up on items like their medications and pet foods. “It’s not just going to Kroger and buying up all the bread,” he said. “When the blizzard comes, you need to be prepared.” If people plan ahead, they can avoid making problems even worse by having to rush around in inclement weather. “How do I prepare my family, so we don’t get stuck on the highway,” when it’s best to just stay home, he said. Some prevention efforts take more time – and money. For example, if a bigger retention pond might save a home from being flooded, that might be a good investment. “Nobody likes to spend money,” Klein said. But if disaster strikes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance coverage will likely pay just a fraction of the costs to reimburse a family’s losses. “You play a big role in this,” by planning ahead, he said. As EMA director, Klein will continue working on the Code Red system that Gilbert began. The Code Red alerts will notify local residents of such events as bad weather headed this way or a hazardous material incident in their area. All landlines in the county will automatically be hooked up for the Code Red alerts. Cell phone users will have to register for the notifications. People will also be able to choose different options of which alerts they wish to receive. Klein plans to keep building on Gilbert’s work. “I think Brad really got a great foundation,” he said. So that means that in addition to planning, Klein will also get to respond to disasters – and still get to work side by side with the first responders he has known for decades. “I’m having fun,” Klein said with a smile.


BG asked to stand up to stop hate attacks like assault at Waffle House

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News One week after two teenagers were beat up at the Bowling Green Waffle House, reportedly for being brown, more than 50 community members gathered at a church to prevent that type of attack from happening again. Some were sad about the hatred and injustice. Some were mad that the community keeps waging the same battles. “We are all appalled and disgusted by the totally unprovoked attack on these two men,” said Bowling Green City Council member Bruce Jeffers. “We abhor this kind of hateful attack.” Two area men have been arrested for using racist slurs and beating up the two customers at the Waffle House. One of the victims reported the attackers said President Donald Trump would deal with immigrants like them. Bowling Green Police Division has arrested Jacob Dick, 22, North Baltimore, and Zachary Keller, 21, of Custar, for felonious assault and ethnic intimidation. Waffle House employees told police that two men walked into the restaurant, and another table of men began to harass them, calling them racial slurs for Hispanic and black people. Three employees said the two victims – Justin Hartford, 18, of Mount Cory, and Zarrick Ramirez, 18, of Findlay – did nothing to provoke the others. After paying their bills, Dick and Keller went over to Hartford and Ramirez’s table and began assaulting them. “They do not embody anything about Bowling Green,” Jeffers said about the men arrested for the attack For two years, Bowling Green officials have been working to show that this community is a welcome place for immigrants. “It feels like a setback to our efforts to be a welcoming city,” Jeffers said. “We gather here tonight to find a way we can simply do better.” Beatriz Maya, of La Conexion, voices frustration. But while city leaders and residents may say “this is not who we are,” Susana Pena has heard that too often over the years. “That is part of what Bowling Green and Northwest Ohio is,” Pena said. The community may be in denial, and blind to the “daily injustices, slights and acts of racism that never reach the newspaper,” she said. “This is our community. That’s not saying that this is who we want to be.” When Not In Our Town was founded a few years ago, Pena thought this battle was put to rest. “I feel like we’re reinventing the wheel. Didn’t we have that conversation four years ago,” she said. That frustration was also voiced by Beatriz Maya, director of La Conexion, which organized Sunday’s meeting. She pleaded for city leaders to take a strong stand to prevent further hate crimes. “I’m expecting them to react urgently,” Maya said. “I’m tired of these conversations, then everybody goes home and nothing is done.” Both La Conexion and Not In Our Town are non-profit, volunteer organizations with shoestring budgets. “I’m asking for help, we can’t do this alone,” Maya said to city officials. Maya said she spoke to one of the victims. “He’s really destroyed,” she said. “He can’t believe what happened.” BGSU President Rodney Rogers offers support of the university. Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers voiced his dismay about the attack. One of the victims is a high school senior who was planning to attend BGSU, but is reconsidering that now. “It did happen in our community,” he said. “And I want to make sure people are aware of this.” Rogers offered BGSU’s support. “We are ready and willing. We want to engage in very active ways with our community,” he said. “Please tell us how we can help.”…


Work continues to control harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News It’s been five years now since portions of Lake Erie turned to “green pea soup” and thousands of people in the region were advised to not use Toledo water for three days. Since then, several steps have been taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again. However, the work is far from over, BGSU biologist George Bullerjahn told the Bowling Green League of Women Voters earlier this week. Bullerjahn is one of the experts the region turned to in 2014 when the lake turned green. He is also one of the scientists who saw the problem emerging before it became a big enough crisis to get national notice. “If you’re a scientist, we could see this coming,” Bullerjahn said, referring to a smaller harmful algal bloom in 2013 in Carroll Township, east of Toledo along the lake. The algal bloom that hit in 2014 wasn’t huge – but it was “insanely toxic,” he explained. Bullerjahn and others have been able to determine that a massive release of toxins from the blooms occurred over that weekend five years ago, so much that it could not be effectively handled by the chemical treatment at Toledo’s water plant. For some residents of the region, that event eroded their confidence in local entities to properly treat water from the lake. “There was a loss of public trust,” Bullerjahn said. “I still know people today who will only drink bottled water.” But there seems to be a true desire to fix Lake Erie’s health. “Water quality issues cross party lines,” Bullerjahn said. “I do think there is some momentum to change – at least in the Great Lakes.” The Drinking Water Protection Act tasked the EPA with coming up with standards for toxin levels. And 47 members of the House – from both sides of the aisle – wrote President-elect Trump early in 2017 about the need for algal bloom research. This region is not alone in watching its water turn to green goop. Lake Victoria in Kenya is suffering from sewage contamination, and Taihu in China is plagued by agricultural runoff. Lake Okeechobee in Florida is far worse than Lake Erie – with 50 years of sediment in the water, he said. “People from Florida call me all the time,” seeking his expertise on the issue and asking if they should sell their land in the area near Okeechobee. Bullerjahn politely explains he knows biology – not real estate. In that region, large corporate farms are “driving the problem,” Bullerjahn said. And climate change contributes, with more rain causing more runoff. But there seems to be some appetite in this region, he said, to prevent the harmful algal blooms from returning with such intensity to Lake Erie. Those intentions led, last year, to Lake Erie being designated as “impaired.” Bullerjahn was one of the experts assigned to figuring out exactly what that entailed. The scientists were given a box of doughnuts and coffee, and told to come up with a metric to declare the lake impaired and the metric to dismiss that designation if possible in the future, he said. The standards require that Lake Erie have six consecutive years of healthy monitoring results before it can shed the designation. Though some officials were fearful of the impact from the “impaired” declaration, Bullerjahn said the lake met the definition. “A charter boat captain will tell you it’s impaired if he has to power up to get through,” he said. To monitor the water, sensors have been deployed throughout the Great Lakes. Initially, the monitors were set up to…


Wood County applying for $500,000 to set up ‘drug court’

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matt Reger is accustomed to seeing opiate addicts stumble in their efforts to get clean. Just last week, he saw a woman in his courtroom with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. She had been given many chances to succeed, but kept sliding back. She was placed in intervention in lieu of jail. She violated that program. She was put in community corrections. Again she violated. After several attempts to keep her out of jail and on the road to recovery, Reger finally sentenced her to 100 days in jail followed by an inpatient program. In an effort to offer addicts the best support to kick their habits, Wood County officials are applying for a $500,000 federal grant over four years to establish a drug court specifically designed for addicts. Drug courts are treatment-based alternatives to prisons, jails and probation. These courts make extensive use of comprehensive supervision, drug testing, treatment services, immediate sanctions, and incentives. And unlike regular courts, drug courts give addicts much more face time with the person deciding their fate. “The drug court does have personal interaction with a judge,” Reger said. The judge is added to the layer of supervision for addicts trying to stop using. And that tends to carry more weight with offenders. “A judge can say the exact same thing as a probation officer – but when a judge speaks, a light bulb goes off,” Reger said. The intensive supervision would add visits to the judge, as often as once a week. But in addition to judges devoting more time to drug cases, the creation of a drug court in Wood County would require the addition of a probationary officer and a caseload manager specifically dedicated to the drug court. So earlier this week, the federal grant request was explained to the Wood County Commissioners by Belinda Brooks, of the Addiction Response Collaborative in the county prosecutor’s office, and Chris Streidl, interim director at the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board. Drug courts are “extremely effective ways to deal with addictions,” Streidl said. “They can be a really useful tool.” The specialized courts require a “team approach” to recovery. When addicts appear in court they are accompanied by their probation officers and treatment providers. It holds addicts more accountable and offers more support. “Some people need that,” Streidl said. “It’s not going to work for everybody, but for those that do, it’s such a relief for them and their families.” If Wood County receives the initial $500,000 grant, other grants are available to continue the drug court operation, Brooks said. “The governor is very behind drug courts – so this is a great opportunity,” she said. Drug courts tend to shift from strictly punitive to supportive, Brooks said. “With drug courts you do have a roomful of people kind of rooting for you,” she said. “Everybody’s working to make sure they are on a path to succeed,” Streidl said. Several counties in Ohio already have established drug courts, including Lucas, Fulton and Hancock. According to Reger, Wood County’s would be designed to meet local needs. “People hear the words drug court and they think it’s a one-size-fits-all, and it’s not,” the judge said. “I think drug courts offer another tool in the tool box.”


BG residents may soon be strolling on wider sidewalks

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Future sidewalks installed in Bowling Green may allow for wider loads. The Bowling Green Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday evening to change city standards for sidewalks – making them easier for people to use if they are walking side by side, or if they come across someone from the other direction. City Council will make the final decision on the sidewalk widths. Public Works Director Brian Craft had suggested that the city change its required sidewalk widths from 4 to 5 feet. The extra foot would be taken from the city right-of-way. The new wider sidewalks would become part of the city’s subdivision regulations, and would be required for all new sidewalks, said City Planning Director Heather Sayler. Sidewalks already in place will not be replaced with wider walkways unless large portions of a sidewalk are being redone, Craft said. During the public hearing Wednesday evening on the sidewalk ordinance change, only one city resident spoke – and he was against the widening. “I and my neighbors are against wider sidewalks,” said Ken Gutbrod, of Flanders Avenue. “When I look up and down the street, nobody is walking up and down the street.” In the neighborhood by Stone Ridge Golf Course, the residents all work to afford those homes – so they have no time to take a stroll on sidewalks, Gutbrod said. Not only are sidewalks not used, but wider walkways will cost more to maintain, he said. “When you widen a sidewalk, it devalues the house. People prefer to look at the green, not the concrete,” he said. Gutbrod also suggested that the city set priorities. And spending on sidewalks will hurt the school district – which ought to be a priority. Planning Commission President Jeff Betts explained to Gutbrod that there are no plans to retroactively widen sidewalks. “There’s no money for that,” Betts said. “I don’t think you need to be concerned that somebody’s going to force the people on Flanders Avenue to widen their sidewalks. I don’t think you should be concerned that your neighborhood is going to change.” Betts said that younger people are interested in wider sidewalks, and standards in the region reflect that change. “It seems pretty clear with all the information we’ve been given, this is something we need to do for Bowling Green – to better the community,” Betts said. Betts also explained that the money for schools comes from a different fund than the money for sidewalks. “But all are paid out of the same pot,” Gutbrod said, patting his back pants pocket. The city has already been installing the wider sidewalks on major corridors for the past two decades. Sidewalks on streets such as East and West Wooster, North and South Main, and East and West Poe are already five-foot wide for “improved efficiency and safety pedestrian movement.” Just this week, a portion of sidewalk in the downtown area along South Church Street was expanded to five feet. Other recent improvements of widening sidewalks have been made on Conneaut and Fairview near City Park, and along routes to the middle school and high school. The city installed at least a five-foot wide walk in these areas, since it is recognized that a four-foot sidewalk is too narrow when pedestrians going in the opposite direction meet, Craft stated. This is especially true when a pedestrian is using a wheelchair or other assisted mobility device, he pointed out. This push for wider sidewalks is also being made by the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments. The theory of the “complete streets” proposals is…


BG Council moves ahead on buying downtown property

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Bowling Green City Council took the first steps Monday to create more metered parking downtown, provide restrooms for Wooster Green, and preserve the location of Four Corners Center. Council evoked an emergency clause so it could have both the first and second readings of an ordinance for the issuance of $890,000 in bonds for buying four parcels of land on South Church and South Main streets. But one citizen, Nathan Eberly, questioned whether or not the city could handle such an expense. “After hearing for two years that we have budget issues,” Eberly said. “What risk is the city taking that might be an undue burden?” Eberly also criticized the council for pushing ahead on the issue, without allowing for three separate readings to give the public an opportunity to speak on the land purchase. Council assured him that while the bonds ordinance was moving along quickly, the actual property purchase would be given three separate readings. Some on council tried to explain the wisdom in the property purchase. “Mr. Eberly raises a legitimate question,” council member Bruce Jeffers said. “We have to be careful,” Jeffers agreed. However, the land became available and city officials saw an opportunity. “We tend to look at the big picture and the long term,” Jeffers said. Council member Sandy Rowland echoed that support for the land purchases. “Sometimes an opportunity falls at your feet,” she said. “You just couldn’t ask for anything better. We had one opportunity to buy it at a good price.” The purchase covers four properties. One parcel is at 119 S. Church St., located just south of the police station. The former Huntington Bank Branch location has been closed for several years, but has drive-up ATM units. The city is interested in building bathrooms there that will serve those using Wooster Green as well as visitors to the downtown area. In addition, the location has been eyed by the city for years as property that could be used to expand the police station. While there are no immediate plans for an expansion, the addition of an improved safety dispatch center is one of the city’s long-term capital plans. The out-of-state owner of this property recently contacted city officials to discuss the building. The landowner also owns a nearby parking area behind Ben’s and the building at 130 S. Main St. – the current home of the Four Corners Center. While city officials are not interested in owning the Four Corners Center building, they recognize the community value of that site. Located there are the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown BG, and Economic Development office. The lease for that building expires on Dec. 5, 2020. So, if the city acquires the LLC that owns the building and holds the lease, it can take ownership of the lease – ensuring no changes for the tenants. City officials then plan to sell that building prior to its lease expiring, with a provision that the Four Corners Center be given a lease arrangement for the building with a rental amount set. “Often in Bowling Green we talk about the importance of our downtown,” Council President Mike Aspacher said. “We want to acquire property that is going to support the mission of the downtown.” Four Corners Center is not only used for the four agencies housed there, but has become a community meeting space, Aspacher pointed out. The cost for the mini-bank area, parking lot behind Ben’s, and building at 130 S. Main St. will be $730,000. Also being sold are the building at 123…