Government

BG sees big investments by local manufacturers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Steel on the skyline is a beautiful site to Bowling Green officials. “If you drive around, you can see steel going up in a number of places,” said Sue Clark, executive director of Bowling Green Economic Development. “That’s exciting for those of us in economic development.” Clark gave her annual report during last week’s meeting of city and business leaders. Bowling Green added new acreage to Wood Bridge Business Park, plus will be adding a much needed second entrance and exit to the park, this one on Bowling Green Road East. The 100-plus acres added to the business park was the result of teamwork by the city, Wood County, Wood County Port Authority, JobsOhio, Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Bowling Green City Schools. “These entities pulled together to get things going in record time,” Clark said. In 2017, the city saw its manufacturers invest $48 million in new equipment, and $8 million in construction. “This is a signal to us that our economy here is strong,” Clark said. The city’s manufacturers employ 4,125 full-time workers, and another 75 part-time employees. And half of the 40 companies that responded to a city survey said they have plans to add employees in 2018. However, with many companies hiring, the pool of employees to choose from is a problem, Clark said. “Workforce continues to be a pressing issue,” she said. “We must continue to be innovative in attracting new businesses and persistent in keeping them.” Some of Bowling Green’s economic development highlights last year included: Apio Inc., formerly Greenline, purchased eight acres in Innovative Tech Park to build a 20,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse. This will free-up production space at their current facility on South Dixie Highway, plus add another 30 jobs. The city and BG Economic Development entered into an agreement with Dick Carpenter for 60 acres adjacent to Wood Bridge Business Park, with the goal of expanding the park. A 200,000-square-foot warehouse is being…


Rental registry & historic preservation top CAP priorities

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A citywide rental registry and historic preservation scored at the top as Bowling Green City Council members ranked their priorities in the new Community Action Plan. All council members were asked to choose their priorities from the expansive CAP. Five out of the seven council members put a registry of rental properties and historic preservation of neighborhoods on their lists. Also making the priority list were zoning updates, micro-grants for neighborhoods, bicycle lanes and Carter Park updates. “This is exactly what I was hoping for,” council president Mike Aspacher said Monday to council member Greg Robinette, who compiled the list of priorities based on council’s input. “This is a bold step.” The CAP gave the city a lot to digest, so council agreed to set some initial priorities. “We’re hoping our citizens will stick with us,” Aspacher said. Robinette did not assign deadlines, and suggested that projects will move ahead when funding is available. “It’s going to be determined by resources,” he said. Council member Bruce Jeffers approved of the plan to address priorities first. “I’m glad we’re pursuing this route,” he said. Robinette reported to council the results of their prioritizing, and instructed city administration of the next steps to achieve those goals. Following is a list of the priorities: RENTAL REGISTRATION The city administration was asked to draft a preliminary inspection program for a city-wide rental property registration program, which includes a landlord self-certification process to improve rental property conditions. According to Robinette, this type of program can result in improved rental conditions without potentially intrusive home inspections by city code enforcement. The city would develop a checklist of common violations, give the landlords discretion as to whether these violations exist on the property, and provide information to renters to help them evaluate their current or potential rental units. Robinette asked the city administration to identify the resources currently available, the resources needed for the program, and cost estimates for…


Food truck discussion takes sweet and sour twist

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The discussion over food truck rules in Bowling Green erupted into a verbal food fight Wednesday evening. But when it was over, rules allowing food trucks to operate in the city were ready to move on to City Council. On one side of the dispute was council member Bill Herald, who had spent countless hours covering every possible angle of the mobile food truck issue in a 180-page slide presentation. On the other side were council members Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino, who wanted to move along the process, stop reviewing the slide presentation, and instead discuss a one-page food truck permit proposed by Rowland. “We talked about the size of this report,” Rowland said to Herald, referring to council members asking the committee to move along the process. “It’s taken far too long at this point.” While the committee has held eight meetings, they took place over a condensed space of less than two months, Herald said. He stressed that the one-page permit proposal “isn’t as rich with detail,” as his 180-page report. Herald asked his fellow council members to give him a half hour to get through his executive summary of 21 pages. “I think we’ve been thorough. We’ve been comprehensive,” Zanfardino said. “I don’t mean to be argumentative up here,” Zanfardino said, but added that he wanted Wednesday’s meeting to end with a plan that council as a whole could review. Rowland agreed, and pushed for a product that could go before City Council soon. But both agreed to let Herald start through his executive summary. As they studied the slides, Rowland and Zanfardino pointed out unnecessary specifics or redundancies. For example, there was no need to stipulate that the food sold has to be legal, or to identify the type of vehicles allowed. The locations where food trucks would be permitted was narrowed down to not allow the vehicles on Main Street, Wooster Street or any of the…


‘Dear Santa’ founders honored for spreading hope in BG

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The founders of the local Dear Santa program were recognized Monday evening for spreading hope year round. During Monday’s City Council meeting, the Bowling Green Human Relations Commission handed out its annual Honor Roll Award. The recipients this year were Jim and Dee Szalejko, founders of the Dear Santa program in Bowling Green. Through the program, approximately 40 families in need are adopted each holiday season. Cassie Woodbury described the efforts of the Szalejkos. “The Dear Santa program does more than just answer kids’ wishes at the holidays,” she said. For 10 years, the couple has worked to collect toiletries, groceries, cleaning supplies and gifts specialized for each family’s needs. The community and Bowling Green School District students and staff volunteer to make the holidays a little brighter. “They spend so much of their own time” to make the program a success, Woodbury said of the Szalejkos. And their efforts do far more than put gifts under the tree. “When times are tough, hope can be hard to come by,” Woodbury said. But the Dear Santa program manages to supply it every year, she said. In other business at the council meeting: Shad Kitchen was sworn in as lieutenant on the Bowling Green Fire Division. Bob Callecod, a former Wood County Park District commissioner, urged those present to support the park levy renewal on the May 8 ballot. Council welcomed Amanda Gamby as the city’s new sustainability coordinator. Planning Director Heather Sayler reported so far this year the planning office has given out 84 permits, compared to 72 last year. The city has received requests for 20 new homes, compared to 13 last year. Park and Recreation Director Kristin Otley said roof work has begun on the Simpson Garden Park Building, so the public may be asked to use another entrance to the building. Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell talked about the recent study showing that the city water revenues were not…


Earth Week speaker: People favor protections, but not if labeled ‘job-killing regulations’

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Lana Pollack got her first taste of government regulation, or protection as she prefers to call it, when she was a girl watching beef being butchered. As the Lamb Peace lecturer, Pollack, who chairs the U.S. section, International Joint Commission, kicked off Earth Week at Bowling Green State University posing the question: “If protections are good, why are regulations bad?” Certainly her father who ran a grocery store and butcher shop in rural western Michigan didn’t appreciate the state inspector who stood by while he and his help processed a beef carcass. Her father, Pollack said, was the kind of person who fed a lot of people whether they could pay their bills or not. Once a week he’d go to the cattle auction and buy a couple steers, which he’d bring back. Pollack said she went along, and watched the processing. “I know where my meat comes from.” She could see her father was “aggravated” by the inspector and his seemingly petty demands. In his later years, his daughter asked him if the state regulations made his ground beef or hot dogs any better. No, he said. “But it kept the guy down the road from adding sawdust to his hot dogs.” The consumer wasn’t protected from an ethical business like the one her father ran, but from the unethical ‘guy down the road.” That holds true for the environment as well, including the Great Lakes. That’s why the EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency, not the Environmental Regulatory Agency. People like “protection,” she said. They think far less of regulations, especially when they are so constantly referred to as “job-killing regulations.” That phrase is tossed around so much that it almost becomes one word. It’s a favorite of conservative lobbying efforts like the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Words matter,” Pollack said. It’s not like businesses, including agribusiness, are opposed to government action, she said. They’re fine with it as long as it…


Students stand up against guns and for decent housing

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Inspired by students across the nation, and empowered by their efforts in this community, six students took to the podium at Bowling Green City Council Monday evening. They were seeking two basic rights – decent affordable housing, and no gun violence in their schools. Aidan Hubbell-Staeble asked City Council to use its power to push the state legislature to pass legislation on guns – something that would provide real tangible solutions to stop gun violence in schools. “Enough is enough,” he said. One by one, the other students – Carlie Pritt, Zach Davis, Hannah Barnes, Connor Froelich and Alyson Baker – stood at the podium and read aloud the names of students killed by guns in schools, starting with those at Columbine. They ended with the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, then told City Council they would return at the next meeting to continue with the names of students killed since Newtown. “The students of Bowling Green High School and Bowling Green State University will continue to fight for this issue until we see change,” said Alyson Baker. Baker was one of the organizers of the local walkout in honor of the Parkland victims. More than 300 high school and middle school students joined the walkout. Council member Bruce Jeffers explained that the city is limited in any action it can take on firearms. “It’s pretty hard to sit and listen to all those people gone under those circumstances,” Jeffers said of the victims’ names read aloud. Council member Sandy Rowland praised the students for becoming part of the governmental process. She stressed that gun violence is not a political issue, but a life or death issue. “Thank you for coming out tonight and participating,” Rowland said to the students. Council member Daniel Gordon said the problem may be that local voices are not being heard at the state level. “They’re not quite listening to us,” he said. “I would…


BG Charter updates could shake up City Council

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The city charter isn’t exactly riveting reading – but some changes being discussed might grab the attention of city residents. No decisions have been made, and citizens will have a chance to vote on any proposed changes to the charter. But here are a few of the revisions under discussion: Make all council terms four years. Currently, the ward candidates serve two years and the at-large serve four. Change council races to non-partisan. Currently, candidates must declare a party such as Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian or Independent. Make all council seats at-large. Currently, one candidate is elected from each of the four wards, and three are elected to serve at-large. Change the filing date to August, as is done by most area communities. Possibly change the ward reapportionments, based on population but keeping neighborhoods intact. The citizen committee working on the Bowling Green City Charter review discussed nearly 20 possible changes to the charter during a public meeting last week. The group members are keenly aware that they must decide not only if the changes belong in the charter – but also if city voters are likely to support the proposals. “There will be a lot of things for the voters to be dealing with” on the November ballot, said Shannon Orr, co-chair of the charter review commission with Jeff Crawford. The commission doesn’t want to overburden voters, but the charter requires that any changes be approved during a general election. Some of the changes would affect the structure of City Council. One would make all the council seats at-large, instead of some of them representing wards. All the seats would have four-year terms. Mark Hollenbaugh was strongly opposed to this change, explaining that all three of the at-large seats on council right now are filled by residents of the Fourth Ward. “I’m afraid if we make all the council seats at-large, it could end up no one on the East Side…


Food truck talks continue to simmer in slow cooker

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The food truck discussions in Bowling Green may be cookin’ but they are still far from complete. During the seven meetings held so far on the topic, there’s been talk about peeling back the layers of an onion, putting meat on the bone, taking the issue off the back burner, and peppering the ordinance with certain language. Yet, the food truck issue remains simmering in a slow cooker. “It’s just the nature of Bowling Green to be cautious,” said City Council member Sandy Rowland, who is working with council members Bill Herald and John Zanfardino on the food truck regulations. But time is running out if the city wants food trucks to operate in the community this summer. “I think seven meetings is an awful long time,” Rowland said during last week’s food truck meeting. Rowland suggested that an ordinance be drafted by the city attorney and presented at next week’s City Council meeting. But Herald balked at that idea. “We’ve been meticulous, we’ve been balanced,” Herald said, urging his two fellow committee members to resist rushing to the finish line before the ordinance is ready. The varying work styles of committee members became even more apparent last week, with Herald referring to his 168-page report, and Rowland presenting a one and a half page draft permit for food truck vendors. “I’m hoping we can do something to attract them before 2019,” Zanfardino said, with some frustration. “I believe in the benefit they bring to the entire city.” But Zanfardino echoed Rowland’s description. “Bowling Green is very cautious and very slow to move,” he said. During last week’s meeting, like the six before, the council committee members listened to concerns from food truck vendors, brick and mortar restaurant owners, and citizens. Max Hayward questioned why the food truck proposal did not allow vendors to set up anywhere along Main or Wooster streets in the downtown area. He called that an “unnecessarily restrictive…


Rumor about farm equipment fees spreads like weeds

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As the weather warms and farmers start itching to get out in their fields, the Wood County Commissioners want to make one point perfectly clear – there will be no blanket fee for farm equipment on county roads. During discussions about an overweight truck program for the county, an initial annual blanket fee of $100 per vehicles was considered. However, the commissioners quickly nixed those plans, and removed any blanket fee for farm equipment from the overweight permit plan. While the word about the initial farm fee proposal spread like weeds in a soybean field, the word about the fee removal seems to have missed some people, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said Thursday. In fact, the rumors worsened, with some farmers now believing they will have to pay $100 each time their vehicles travel county roads. The commissioners have heard that many farmers plan to show up to protest the non-existent fees at the next town meeting held by the commissioners on Monday at 5:45 p.m., in the Center Township Building. The goal of the Overweight Vehicle Permit program is to protect county roads and bridges from damage.  Overweight vehicles that travel state routes are required to obtain a permit from the Ohio Department of Transportation.  These same overweight vehicles travel state routes legally, then exit onto county and township roads with no permits or regard for the capacity of the roads or bridges. The only permit fee that could affect farmers is for vehicles that exceed 87,000 pounds – most likely semi-trucks hauling grain. “This is to protect our assets,” Wood County Engineer John Musteric said of the overweight permit program recently during a meeting with the county commissioners. “We’re spending a lot of money to improve these roads and bridges.” While many of the proposed county fees mirror amounts charged by the Ohio Department of Transportation for overweight traffic, the initial farm fees do not. The commissioners agreed that…


Bike sharrows fall short after peddled to last 7 years

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Some of the bicycle graphics on Bowling Green streets look more like unicycles after just one winter of wear and tear. Last year, in an effort to make streets more bicycle friendly, the city took the step of having sharrow graphics placed on Conneaut Avenue and Fairview Avenue. The symbols serve as a reminder that under the Ohio Revised Code, a bicycle on the roadway has the same rights as a vehicle. City officials decided to go with the more expensive sharrow option of thermo-plastic graphics which cost about $300 a piece. Painted sharrows would have been much less expensive, at $30 to $40 each, but would not last as long, the city was advised. So the city was counting on the sharrows lasting longer than paint on the pavement, said Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett. “It would if it weren’t for the snowplows,” Fawcett said last week. Director of Public Works Brian Craft said he contacted the manufacturer about replacing or repairing the sharrows. “It is our expectation that they will work with their subcontractor to get them corrected, and at no cost to the city,” Craft said. The Shelly Paving Co. had subcontracted the pavement markings to Zimmerman Paint Co. There were 69 sharrows applied to Fairview and Conneaut avenues last year. At $300 a piece, that added up to $20,700. Most of the sharrows have peeled off areas. “About 75 percent are in varying degrees of being peeled up,” Craft said. It was suggested to Craft that the sharrows would not have been scalped off the pavement if the city’s snowplows weren’t run so close to the roadway. But Craft informed the company that the snowplow blades have to run along the pavement in order to clear snow from the streets. The manufacturer estimated the sharrows would last about seven years, “under normal traffic.” Snowplow traffic is normal in Bowling Green, Craft said. “Anytime you put something down on…


Youth learning to flex their First Amendment muscles

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As high school students across the nation are testing their rights as citizen activists, it turns out many area students know little about their First Amendment rights. Nancy Patterson, a professor of education in the College of Education and Human Development at Bowling Green State University, has been studying student awareness of the freedoms of religion, speech, the press, to assemble, and to petition the government. Her study, titled “But I Wanna Say What I Wanna Say,” examined student and teacher perceptions of their First Amendment Rights. Seven of 12 schools accepted Patterson’s request to interview students and staff. So far, she has talked with 125 students and nine teachers. The study came at an interesting time – with Parkland, Florida, students flexing their First Amendment muscles and students across the country following suit. “What better way to honor Martin Luther King,” on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, Patterson said. The study revealed a troubling lack of time spent teaching students about being engaged citizens, she said. “I’m worried about the time in the curriculum for citizen skills,” Patterson said. That deficiency is not unexpected since standardized testing no longer allows teachers to address topics that aren’t preparing students for specific testing areas. Civil discourse is not on that list. “Not tested, not taught,” Patterson said. “We don’t have room in the curriculum.” While students may feel limitless freedom on their electronic devices, many know little about their full First Amendment rights beyond social media. But many of them have been affected by those issues – when taking a knee during the national anthem, or when voicing opinions on social media. “Students are really very interested in this topic,” Patterson said, listing off U.S. Supreme Court rulings on student speech about political issues, sexual innuendo, and school newspapers. Students in advanced placement classes tended to be much more aware of their rights. Others, at least, were interested. “I saw lot of…


East Siders want to make most of city’s new action plan

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   East Siders want to know exactly how the new Community Action Plan will improve their neighborhoods. How will it help stem the steady decline of housing quality? How will it make landlords better maintain their rentals? Bowling Green City Council members Daniel Gordon and John Zanfardino held a meeting Tuesday evening for their constituents in Wards 1 and 2. The wards are on city’s East Side, which is the primary target of the new Community Action Plan. Many of the residents want to make the most of the plan – not settle for the easiest goals to achieve. Rose Hess objected to some city officials suggesting that the “low hanging fruit” of the very detailed plan be tackled first. She wanted that terminology banned from further discussions. “Let’s go for the high ones,” Hess said. Gordon agreed. “Let’s go as bold as we possibly can.” Those high hanging fruits include rental property certifications, help for homeowners sprucing up their East Side homes, efforts to make the East Side more appealing to families, and plans to make East Wooster more attractive to people entering town. The residents were curious about the proposed rental registration program. The landlord “self-certification” program falls short of rental inspections that some East Siders have sought for years. Both Gordon and Zanfardino said the self-certification process does not go as far as some residents had hoped. “Self-reporting is different than being inspected,” Zanfardino said. September Killy-Knight said the inspections are a matter of safety for renters. And John Roberts said the rental evaluations should not be voluntary. But both Gordon and Zanfardino also know the uphill battle the city has fought and lost in previous attempts to implement some type of rental inspection program. Gordon recalled efforts to license rentals in 1987, when his father was on City Council. Zanfardino said similar attempts were made again about 10 years ago. “Contentious doesn’t really capture it,” he said of opposition…


Randy Gardner to BGSU Faculty Senate: “We need to invest more in higher education”

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Ohio should increase its support for higher education, State Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) told Faculty Senate at Bowling Green State University Tuesday. No one knows the difficulties of doing that more than Gardner, the Senate Majority Leader. “I think if we had the same level of education achievement in this state as the national average, we’d increase our tax revenues and productivity,” he said. “We need to invest more on higher education. Ohio has not kept up.” That came in response to a question from Megan Rancier, a senator from the College of Musical Arts, about his view of the possibility of greater state support for higher education. In a nod to the sensitivity of the issue, Gardner told the reporter in the chamber before answering that he hoped his pen had run out of ink. Gardner said that he wasn’t hopeful that more state share of instruction funding will be forthcoming because the state has given universities a way to raise more tuition through the freshman guarantee. Under this approach, which BGSU has adopted starting this fall, a university can raise tuition and fees for incoming students, but then those costs, including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, and out-of-state surcharge fees, will be frozen for the student’s four years on campus. Gardner said he would have liked to have included some additional state support, so that the incentive for adopting the freeze would not simply be financial. Gardner said that Ohio has had the slowest growth in tuition in the nation over the past decade. Looking back to 2007, Ohio’s tuition was 150 percent of the national average. Now is closer, but still higher, than the national average, he said. Some efforts to reduce costs may be counterproductive “If we simply mandate lower costs without state support, it makes it more difficult to offer the same level and variety of courses and flexibility,” he said. That can mean a student not…


Overweight trucks weigh heavy on minds of county officials

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County roads took a beating from the Rover pipeline construction across the southern part of the county. So Wood County Engineer John Musteric wants to get an overweight truck program in place before more pipeline construction traffic rumbles over county roads and bridges. But while the program will keep an eye on pipeline transports, it was decided that it won’t target farm traffic. The Wood County Commissioners on Tuesday reviewed the proposed fees for an overweight truck program – with the ultimate goal of saving county roads and bridges from unnecessary wear and tear. “This is to protect our assets,” Musteric said. “We’re spending a lot of money to improve these roads and bridges.” At the same time, the engineer’s office is aware of many overweight loads using county roads and bridges. “We hope to God a catastrophe doesn’t happen,” with older bridges being weakened with every heavy load, Musteric said. The county has already posted signs notifying Nexus pipeline construction traffic of the route they are to take north of Bowling Green. The permit program will require the pipeline company to purchase permits for all of its trucks, and will allow the county to issue fines if the trucks stray from the assigned route that can better handle the heavy loads, Musteric said. “They better stay on those routes. They’ve been warned,” Musteric said. “If you get off those routes, you will pay.” The county learned a hard lesson from the Rover pipeline construction in the southern part of the county, Musteric said at a previous meeting. “Rover tore the heck out of the roads,” he said. Though the proposed overweight truck program has been unpopular with some, there are companies ready to pay for their permits, said Shane Johnson, of the county engineer’s office. For Nexus pipeline, the program will require more than 85 permits at a proposed $150 each. “They haven’t batted an eye,” Johnson said. But local…


Food truck discussion continues to cook up controversy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The idea of inviting transient food truck businesses into downtown Bowling Green leaves a bad taste for a stalwart member of the downtown business community. Floyd Craft, owner of Ben Franklin, Ace Hardware and other downtown buildings, said existing downtown businesses pay taxes into a Special Improvement District that supports items such as street cleaning, flower planting and watering, snow cleanup, and weekend trash pickup. Craft pays the SID anywhere from $200 to $1,049 a year, depending on the property. My main concern is the downtown,” Craft told the three council members – Bill Herald, Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino – charged with coming up with regulations for food trucks. “I’m very much against having outsiders in our downtown” – people who don’t pay property taxes and would only have to pay a relatively small permit fee, he said. “We can barely cover our expenses as it is,” Craft said of the downtown district. But Craft also noted that he was one of the people behind the start of the Black Swamp Arts Festival, which allows food trucks to set up in a city parking lot for a weekend. The fee charged for that is quite high, he added. The discussion at the previous meetings on food trucks has focused on allowing the vendors downtown for special events – not on an ongoing basis. Nadya Shihadeh, owner of Qdoba in the downtown, said parking is already a problem for downtown restaurants. However, if the city sets specific rules for the location and hours of operation, Shihadeh said she could get behind the idea. “I think food trucks are cool, totally,” she said. “I’m not against food trucks,” as long as they are regulated, Shihadeh said. Garrett Jones, owner of Reverend’s, said the city needs to limit the number and the size of the food trucks. “Some of these vendor trucks are massive,” and would take up too many valuable parking spots, he…