Government

BG utilities director receives national award

Submitted by City of Bowling Green The Director of Public Utilities for the City of Bowling Green, Brian O’Connell, has been named the 2016 Robert E. Roundtree Rising Star Award recipient by the American Public Power Association. Mayor Richard Edwards stated, “Bowling Green is fortunate to have such a talented, thoughtful, and dedicated person leading our Utilities Department and working closely with the City’s independent Board of Public Utilities. Brian deserves this recognition and this award reinforces what we have known about him for a long time.” O’Connell has served as the Director of Public Utilities since 2011. He began his career with the City in 2004 in the Engineering Division. He has a passion for public power issues at the federal, state and local level, and regularly attends the APPA National Conference and Legislative Rally. He represents Bowling Green as well as 14 other municipal electric systems on the American Municipal Power Board of Trustees. Under Mr. O’Connell’s leadership, Bowling Green is on track to achieve a balanced portfolio that is responsible, sustainable, and derived by nearly 37 percent from renewable sources such as wind, hydro, and soon to be solar. Bowling Green’s rates remain competitive with the local investor-owned utility, and the system has a strong credit rating from AMP. O’Connell received the Roundtree Rising Star award at the Association’s national conference in Phoenix, AZ.


ODOT details road projects in Wood County

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Construction projects on Interstate 75 and surrounding roads have drivers tied up in knots – or stalled in traffic. “It looks like hell out there,” Wood County Commissioner Joel Kuhlman said during a meeting with Ohio Department of Transportation officials Tuesday morning. Every time he drives on I-75, which is being widened to three lanes in each direction, Kuhlman is amazed at the complexity of the project. “It could be way, way worse,” he said. The commissioners were told by ODOT officials that the widening project is on schedule, with the stretch of I-75 between Devils Hole and Oil Center roads expected to be done by the end of November. “Essentially, we’re where we need to be,” said Brian French, engineer on the project. But until it’s done, the disruptions to drivers will continue, with closures in the Perrysburg area expected till September, then closure of the southbound ramps for Route 582 planned after that. ODOT is trying to stagger road closures and detours. “We certainly appreciate 75 being widened. All of your predecessors talked about it,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. “Even though we get caught in traffic jams,” Herringshaw added. But Todd Audet, deputy director of ODOT District 2 office in Bowling Green, isn’t apologetic about the congestion caused by the construction project which came sooner than expected due to early funding. It would have been irresponsible for the district to not snap up the construction dollars when they were offered, he said. “Funding became available and we’re doing as much as we can,” Audet said. The entire I-75 project should be completed in two to three years. Then the increasing interstate traffic will flow more easily. Layth Istefan, highway management administrator, said I-75 is “important to our local economy. Most of our goods and services are transported on interstates.” And once it’s complete, the snarled roadway will be a distant memory. “I’ve got to believe five to 10 years from now, people will say, ‘Remember when this was two lanes?’” Commissioner Craig LaHote said. ODOT officials met with the county…


Patient advocate bill signed in Ohio law

One of the most comprehensive patients advocate bills in the nation was signed into law at the Ohio Statehouse Monday, according to State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. Gardner sponsored Senate Bill 129, known as the Prior Authorization Reform Act, to require faster turnaround times for patients and medical providers to receive health care coverage decisions from insurance companies. “This bill begins a new era when patients can receive health care in a more timely manner – the same health care they expect, deserve and have paid for,” Gardner said Monday.  “We need a more modern, accountable and cost-effective prior authorization process in Ohio.  Soon we will.” Gardner said the Ohio State Medical Association had approached him to sponsor the bill. “I agreed with them we need a better system,” he said. “I’ve always been one who wanted to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.” Nearly 80 health care providers and patient advocate organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, several mental health organizations, the Cleveland Clinic and numerous other hospitals supported the bill. The lead supporting organization, the Ohio State Medical Association, said the bill is one of its top priorities during the current session of the General Assembly. “Senate Bill 129 has a number of provisions that will make the prior authorization process more transparent, more fair, and more patient-focused,” said Tim Maglione, senior director of government relations for the OSMA. Gardner said the bill was quite complicated, involving several medical organizations and tackling multiple provisions. “Most states have done one or two provisions at a time,” he said. Highlights of Senate Bill 129’s numerous reforms include: Requires a new electronic web-based prior authorization process designed to end the costs and time lost with the current fax and phone call system. Provides for a 33 percent reduction in the time allowed for insurers to decide prior authorization requests and a 67 percent reduction in decision time for appeals of denied requests. Mandates that insurance companies disclose to medical providers all necessary information and documentation that a provider must submit in order for the request to be considered…


County housing analysis reveals lack of affordable rentals and lack of public transportation

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A new analysis of housing in Wood County revealed the same problems as past studies – too few affordable rentals and a lack of public transportation which doesn’t allow people to access less expensive housing. Dave Steiner, director of the Wood County Planning Commission, shared the latest Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing with the county commissioners on Tuesday. The study is required every five years in order for the county to get Community Block Grant Funding from HUD. The massive report digs into the county’s demographics, and looks at areas where fair housing opportunities can be furthered. Steiner said the report points out three areas needing improvement. First is the lack of affordable rentals, which are limited primarily to Bowling Green. Few low rent properties are available outside of the city, he said. Second is the lack of public transportation, which is especially detrimental in small villages. Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw mentioned the new Net Plus transportation program which should be in operation by the end of last week. However, that program is to provide rides to doctor’s appointments, not to the grocery story or social visits. “It does keep people in small towns kind of isolated,” Herringshaw said of the lack of public transportation. With Wood County being the seventh largest county geographically in the state, efforts to provide comprehensive public transit have stalled. “There’s no easy solution to that,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. Steiner agreed. “I have yet to find a solution,” he said, adding that the need for public transportation will continue to grow. “With the aging population, that is going to be a bigger problem.” The third issue identified in the housing study was the fact that many people are not aware of their rights when renting a home. For example, Steiner said, if a doctor has determined that a person needs a service animal, that person cannot be denied from having a service animal in their rental. “People don’t always know their rights,” he said. In addition to highlighting housing problems, the countywide…


BG transfers land for potential buyer, The Beat Dance Company

Bowling Green City Council authorized the transfer of 2.3 acres in Bellard Business Park to the Bowling Green Community Development Foundation, Monday evening, in lieu of dues for economic development purposes. The foundation has a potential buyer for the acreage, The Beat Dance Company, which offers youth dance and gymnastics programs. The transfer of this property to the foundation and sale would result in approximately $25,300 credit towards the city’s annual community development foundation dues.


Buckeye Boys State convenes at BGSU

More than 1,200 young scholars from throughout Ohio will be at Bowling Green State University Sunday,June 12, through Sunday, June 19, for American Legion Buckeye Boys State. Students learn about city, county and state government by creating a mock government. City, county and state officials, along with American Legion volunteers, typically take part. Participants at Buckeye Boys State are also eligible for the BGSU Buckeye Boys State Achievement Scholarship. The automatic $1,000 scholarship for Boys State participants is renewable yearly and may be combined with other university scholarships. Buckeye Boys State was founded in 1936 and has been held at BGSU since 1978. In a letter this week to staff and faculty President Mary Ellen Mazey stated: “We’re committed to doing everything we can to continue this great collaboration.” She continued: “Buckeye Boys State and the dozens of summer conferences and camps we host give us the opportunity to showcase our campus and provide prospective students and their families with a taste of the BGSU experience. Our incoming freshman class includes 68 alumni from last year’s Boys State.


Sign language – variance granted for hotel LED sign

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A variance was granted Wednesday evening which will help a local business owner compete with the big flashy signs closer to the interstate. The Bowling Green Zoning Board of Appeals voted to grant a variance for a new larger LED sign for the Best Western hotel at 1450 E. Wooster St. The variance was requested by Harmon Sign to allow an 18-foot tall and 58.8-square-foot sign, which would encroach 17 feet into the 25-foot front yard setback. Nelson Pixler, of Harmon Sign, said the new electronic message sign is all part of a rebranding effort at the Best Western location. The new sign will not be any taller than the current sign, and will allow the owner to use the existing foundation. “It certainly will spruce up the area with the new look,” Pixler said. The hotel also has a very tall pole sign that was granted a variance in 1991, according to City Prosecutor Matt Reger. Paul Bishop, the son of Best Western owner Jake Bishop, explained the effort to rebrand the hotel, locally called the Falcon Plaza. Approximately $400,000 has already been spent on renovating the common areas, conference rooms, lobby and breakfast area. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done,” Bishop said. Next on the list is upgrading of all the individual hotel rooms, which should be completed next year. Though part of Best Western, the hotel will retain its local flair as the Falcon Plaza. “We intend to keep that as part of the identity,” Bishop said. Not only will the new LED sign be more noticeable to motorists, but it will no longer require the messages to be posted by hand, Bishop said. However, the Falcon Plaza will continue to post localized messages – which the community seems to appreciate, he said. Bishop explained that the new signage is needed to stand out with all the other signs closer to the Interstate 75 interchange. “When you are coming west, we are competing with signs to the east of our property,” he said. The LED sign will cost…


Green space still in limbo; BG offered Wood Lane home for expansion of city site

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The city of Bowling Green is still looking for a home for municipal offices. That’s what worries some residents, who don’t want to see the city’s new home built on the green space where the old junior high used to sit. City council has not addressed the issue since mid-April, when a consultant presented plans for a new city building sharing the green space area. So Monday evening, citizen Carol Kinsey asked council where the plans stand for the open space. Council president Mike Aspacher explained that there had been “no development.” The mayor and city administration are looking at all the alternatives for a new city building. He asked that citizens “be patient,” and added that the citizens’ support of saving the green space has not gone unnoticed. “We get that. We understand that,” Aspacher said. Council member Sandy Rowland assured that once the issue moves out of the council committee, public input will again be sought. “There’s a lot of interest in what’s happening,” Rowland said. One option to give the city offices more space occurred recently when Wood Lane officials asked if the city would be interested in buying the house just to the north of the city building on North Church Street. The house is used as a group home for individuals with developmental disabilities. “That house is certainly available,” said Mayor Dick Edwards. But the city has no plans to purchase the property, he added. “We have no immediate need for it.” Aspacher said “a very brief conversation” was held about the property and an appraisal was going to be done since Wood Lane would be able to sell the site to another governmental agency for the appraisal price. The city briefly considered using the site for additional parking. But Aspacher said he does not like the idea of tearing down a quality older home like the Wood Lane home. “Just speaking for myself, I’m a little bit tired of tearing down buildings,” Aspacher said. Edwards echoed that sentiment. “I appreciate the fact that it has a…


Communities compromise to get block grants

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In an era of political bickering and obstinance, Wood County Planning Commission saw a rare example of compromise and cooperation Tuesday evening. As usual during the annual awarding of Community Development Block Grants, the planning commission had far more requests than there was funding. Seven towns asked for a total of $307,800, but the county had just $162,000 to hand out. Each town described its request, with the mayor or other official giving their best pitch. “Now’s the hard part,” Dave Steiner, director of the county planning commission, said of the selection process. “The state puts us in the position of only selecting four and the money is finite,” said commission member John Alexander. The commission weighed the value of the projects and the amounts the towns were willing to pay on their own. And then they tried to shuffle the projects around to meet the winning combination of $162,000 – but with no success. So instead of digging in and defending their requests, the four towns on the top of the funding list all agreed to shave some money off their requests and try to come up with more funding own their own. So when the math was done, the following communities got funding: Bairdstown, through the efforts of the Northwestern Water and Sewer District, will get $40,000 to help low and moderate income homeowners pay for sewer lateral installation costs. The town had asked for $50,000. Bairdstown is the last village in Wood County to get public sewers for its 50 homes. “There are a lot of low income and fixed income people,” in the village, Mayor Jerry Ickes said. Bradner will get $50,000 to replace 715 feet of water main on Main Street, plus add two new fire hydrants. The village had asked for $55,000 and was already putting $122,107 toward the project. “It’s gonna be a squeeze,” but the village should be able to complete the project with that amount, said Jim Smith, of the Bradner Board of Public Affairs. Walbridge will get $36,500 to demolish the existing…


BG puts park and rec levy on fall ballot

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green City Council members seem to be worried the city levy on the November ballot won’t be a walk in the park. Council agreed unanimously Monday evening to ask for voter approval for a 2-mill property tax levy lasting five years for the city’s parks and recreation department. The levy is an increase from the current 1.4-mill levy. Each council member voiced strong support for the levy, but also concern about conveying a strong message to voters. “If it were not to pass, they would lose it all. It would pretty much be a disaster,” said council member Bob McOmber. The biggest hurdle to passing an increased levy amount is explaining to the public why it is needed, he said. “This has nothing to do with expanding the park system in any way,” McOmber said. Instead, the increased funding is purely for “critical” maintenance needs. Council member Sandy Rowland agreed that the levy campaign must convey the need. “It’s extremely important to make this crystal clear what the increase is for,” Rowland said. “This is what it’s going to take just to maintain our wonderful park system.” Council members Bruce Jeffers and Daniel Gordon spoke of the quality park system in place, and Theresa Charters Gavarone noted the park buildings “in dire need of repair.” Mike Aspacher echoed that concern. “Action is becoming critical to save some of these resources.” Mayor Dick Edwards complimented council for taking its time with the levy request. “You raised some very fundamental questions.” Now, the responsibility shifts to the park and recreation board and levy committee to convince voters. “Now the heavy lifting begins,” Edwards said. The city parks and rec program has not seen a levy increase in 16 years. In the meantime, the program has grown in acreage, facilities and programming, according to Kristin Otley, director of the parks and recreation department. Also during that 16-year period, several maintenance projects were deferred. For example, the Veterans Building in City Park is in great need of repairs. The parking lot at Simpson Garden Park…


Gardner expects Ross will serve as BGSU trustee despite objections

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News State Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, expects Richard Ross will take his seat on the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees despite controversy about his appointment. The state Constitution gives the Senate the power to advise and consent on such appointments. The Senate can approve with a roll call vote. Gardner noted that if the Senate doesn’t vote, according to the state Constitution, the appointment takes effect. Ross will join the board of trustees at its next meeting, June 23 on the BGSU Firelands campus. Gov. John Kasich appointed Ross on May 17 to serve a term that will run until May, 2025. His appointment has stirred protest. Ross retired as state school superintendent after about two years in office. He did so as the department was embroiled in a scandal about doctoring test scores to make charter schools look more successful than they were. The official overseeing charter schools, David Hansen, the husband of a top Kasich aide, resigned over the findings. Some called for Ross to resign as well and for an independent investigation into the matter. Since it was announced, several local commentators have lambasted his choice to sit on the BGSU board. In a commentary published on bgindependentmedia.com, professor emeritus Wallace Pretzer wondered if the university had to accept the appointment. (http://bgindependentmedia.org/opinion-professor-emeritus-questions-fitness-of-new-bgsu-trustee/) Others called it a blatantly political move. Gardner said he’s received a couple emails about the matter and read some blogs about it. He said did not discuss the Ross appointment with the governor’s office. It would be unusual if the senate rejected a gubernatorial appointment, he said.  He cannot remember that happening in more than 20 years. The senate gives governors of either party a free hand to make such appointments. He said the appointment was “not significantly controversial.” Gardner said no one would question Ross’ commitment to education and to BGSU. Ross has a doctorate from BGSU. Gardner said that Ross brings “very significant” background in public education. “This is a potential opportunity to have someone on the board who has strong understanding of local…


City interviews consultants for neighborhood revitalization

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green is one step closer to a revitalization plan for the northeast and southeast neighborhoods of the city. City Planning Director Heather Sayler reported to the city planning commission on Wednesday that interviews had been conducted with consulting firms interested in taking on the revitalization project. Sayler said it was very important that the proposals considered the community’s traits. “As a college town, we are a different animal than the typical community,” she said. It was also quite important that the consulting firm knows how to collect input from the neighborhoods, Sayler said. “How will they handle engagement with the community?” City council agreed earlier this year to contract with a consulting firm to develop a strategic revitalization plan for the northeast and the southeast quadrants of the city. Among other goals, the plan will look at fixing neglected and abused housing. When offering background information to the possible consultants, city officials said the east side has been impacted by its proximity to BGSU, “which has created a magnet for student rental properties.” “Over the years, the character of these neighborhoods has changed from single-family owner-occupied homes into an area dominated by rental properties geared toward students, compounded by aging stock and lowered property values,” the background information stated. For the northeast neighborhood, the challenge is to return the blocks to family-orientation, and modify infrastructure and regulations to promote the northeast blocks to BGSU graduate students, university staff, alumni and other families. The goals for the northeast neighborhood are: Stop and then reverse “apartmentalization” of houses. Improve livability and aesthetics. Encourage health and fitness. Allow transition uses and higher densities. The challenge for the southeast neighborhood is to upgrade the character and livability of the blocks to make the whole quadrant more appealing to students as well as other types of residents. By doing so, the plan can help BGSU become more competitive and take advantage of the infrastructure already available to make a quality neighborhood. The goals for the southeast quadrant are: Enhance aesthetics. Establish new development that creates high…


Inmates addicted to opiates will get drug to help them kick habits

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For some opiate addicts, the most dangerous time is right after being released from jail or a treatment facility. They fall in with old friends, then old bad habits. The risks are even greater at that point, since their bodies are no long accustomed to the opiate amounts they used before. When that tolerance for the drug is gone, deadly overdoses are more likely to occur. So Wood County officials are looking at offering inmates injections of one drug, in order to help them beat the addiction of another drug – opiates, with heroin being the most notorious of the drug group. “Heroin is a different beast than we’ve dealt with before,” said Cary Williams, executive director of the Northwest Community Corrections Center located in Bowling Green. To give inmates a better chance at kicking opiates, they will be offered one dose of Vivitrol, an injectable drug that acts as an “opiate antagonist. It limits the body’s ability to get high,” explained Charlie Hughes, program director of the corrections center. By reducing the cravings and the pleasurable effects of the opiates, Vivitrol gives addicts a better chance of kicking the drugs. “So life without drugs seems possible,” Hughes said. Williams, Hughes and Joni Bretz, of Wood County Adult Probation Department, presented a program on Vivitrol to the Wood County Commissioners on Thursday, and asked for the board’s support of offering the drug at the community corrections center. The commissioners supported the efforts and agreed to spending up to $25,000 for one year, which would cover at least 19 inmates from Wood County who qualify for the Vivitrol.  Of the 54 Wood County residents in the corrections center, 35 percent have opiate issues. Just this week, Vivitrol also began being used at Wood County Justice Center, for Wood County residents with opiate addictions. “We are definitely on board with doing that,” Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said. The average opiate addict trying to get clean has seven relapses before being successful, according to Tom Clemons, executive director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug…


Tall grass keeps neighbors annoyed and city busy

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence – but it may also be taller, which could get your neighbor a notice about grass and noxious weed violations. This is the time of year when spring rains bring on rapid grass growth, catching some homeowners unprepared or unwilling to deal with their grass and wayward weeds. “Spring is always the worst, with the onslaught of the rain,” said Jason Westgate, Bowling Green’s code enforcement officer. Westgate estimated the city has issued 10 to 20 grass and weed notices each day during the month of May. It’s like a summer version of the city’s snow shoveling ordinance. If landowners don’t take care of the property themselves, then the city will – and send the owners the bill. “During rainy spells, we try to give people time to catch up,” Westgate said. “But we had a lot of people calling to complain that neighbors haven’t mowed and the grass was getting knee-high.” The city’s tall grass and noxious weed ordinance sets the maximum allowed grass height at 8 inches, and prohibits particularly unruly weeds like wild mustard, musk thistle, giant hogweed and poison hemlock, as suggested by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. So like every other springtime, code enforcement has again been busy trying to remind residents of the rules. “It depends on when the warm weather comes and the rain hits. Then it becomes a perfect storm,” said Heather Sayler, city planning director. Several of the violations are reported by unhappy neighbors, and others are spotted by the code enforcement officer. Some involve foreclosed homes, others are rentals that are unused in the summer, and others are just neglected. Sayler said some resident wait to mow until they get notices. “It’s time consuming,” for the city, she said. “It’s so time consuming, but it’s important,” especially for limiting mosquitoes and other critters. When tall grass or weed outbreaks are reported, a letter is posted on the offending home and a notification is sent in the mail. “Sometimes it upsets…


U.S. Senate candidate Joe DeMare serves as point man in Green campaign to upend the political status quo

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Joe DeMare, Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, was a happy guy when he arrived for his interview with the BG Independent News. The results from the presidential election were in, and the Green Party candidate had won. That would be the Austrian presidential election, and the winning candidate was Alexander Van der Bellen. “It’s a good day to be a Green,” DeMare said. “Our first head of state.” The Bowling Green resident has set his sights on being the first Green in the U.S. Senate. In part his campaign was spurred by the requirements of the political system. In order to maintain its place on the Ohio ballot, the party must secure votes in a statewide primary race. DeMare’s candidacy was intended to achieve that. He noted that about half the registered Green voters who cast ballots in the March primary defected to the Democrats, most likely to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. But, he said, for every Green who voted Democratic, two unaffiliated voters cast Green ballots. So the Greens came out stronger. DeMare expects that many of those Sanders-leaning Greens will return to the fold in November if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. Jill Stein will be the party’s presidential candidate. DeMare, though, is running for more than strategic reasons. The incumbent, Republican Senator Rob Portman, “desperately needs to be replaced, and I intend to replace him.” The Republican Party doesn’t know enough about science to be entrusted with the environment, he said. He cited a recent rider on the defense appropriations bill that would weaken legislation on ocean-going vessels dumping their ballast into the Great Lakes. For him, the Democrats are little better. “I feel the Democrats have been given many opportunities to protect our country and our ecology. And sometimes they’ve come through. But more and more, especially over the past 10 years, they’ve failed again and again,” he said.  “If I thought the Democrats could do it, I’d be a Democrat.” In fact, in 2008 he worked to get Barack Obama elected, starting with the primaries….