City of Bowling Green

Landlords sue city for limiting renters per house

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student renters against the city of Bowling Green and its code enforcement officer. The landlords and the students object to a city ordinance that limits the number of unrelated people who can live in a rental property. The landlords reportedly own more than 161 homes that cannot be rented out to more than three unrelated people – even though the homes have four or more bedrooms and ample parking. The three students who signed onto the lawsuit were reportedly threatened with eviction. Leading the lawsuit is Maurice Thompson, of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Columbus. Thompson recently represented rural Wood County residents who did not want Utopia pipeline running through their land. He won against the pipeline company. In this lawsuit, Thompson said the city’s ordinance violates the Ohio Constitution by suppressing private property rights and equal protection and imposing vague standards and excessive fines of $500 per day. Thompson is one of the landlords affected by the city ordinance. And the three students are his tenants at his rental property on East Merry Street. Bowling Green City Attorney Mike Marsh said the renter limit has been in place as long as the city zoning – and was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1974. “He’s claiming the limit is arbitrary,” that it doesn’t take into account the size of the home and the parking space available, Marsh said. That’s true, he agreed. The purpose of the law is to help maintain the density of single-family neighborhoods. “These are traditional single-family homes converted into rental housing,” Marsh said. A handful of other college towns in Ohio have similar ordinances, Thompson said. “Bowling Green is by no means the only city that has this,” he said from his Columbus office on Monday. “But one thing that makes Bowling Green’s unique is that the city claims it is to control population density, yet there are all kinds of exemptions.” Many properties are “grandfathered in,” but which properties qualify is unclear, Thompson said. Marsh disagreed. “I think we have a pretty good handle on those grandfathered in,” which include rentals predating zoning. According to Thompson, Bowling Green is more aggressive than other communities – ordering that extra renters be “thrown out” within 10 days of the violation notice. He questioned the legality of that action. “Bowling Green’s standards are so egregious,” Thompson said. “Bowling Green has been pretty aggressive in enforcing this.” Marsh…


County to address sexual harassment in workplace

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   In response to the growing outcry against sexual harassment in the workplace, Wood County government will soon be hosting a workshop for its employees. The webinar is being offered by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, and will cover the “Top Ten Dos and Don’ts for Sexual Harassment.” The program is being created by attorney Marc Fishel, who regularly represents public employers throughout Ohio on employment related issues. “Their emphasis is going to be – how do we keep public offices from getting into trouble,” Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said. “Are there things you have been doing over time that might get you in trouble?” Though the CCAO promotion material for the webinar said the presentation will review “the most crucial areas that an employer should focus on in order to avoid claims of sexual harassment,” Kalmar said the emphasis will be on avoiding not just the claims, but the actual sexual harassment. “It will focus on how to make sure the culture of your workplace is respectful to all,” he said. The webinar will also discuss how to investigate alleged misconduct, and how to discipline employees if they engage in improper conduct. In a recent article on sexual harassment, Fishel defined the term and gave examples. “Sexual harassment is severe or pervasive conduct that can take many forms, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and inappropriate sexual comments or references. Often, sexual harassment is physical, verbal or visual and involves an express or implied expectation that harassing actions must be tolerated in order to get or keep a job. Such an expectation also may be considered “sexual harassment” when used to make employment decisions (e.g., giving raises or promotions), or when inappropriate sexual behavior creates a hostile or intimidating work environment,” Fishel wrote. As far as examples, Fishel wrote, “Generally, circumstances determine whether conduct is considered sexual harassment. Examples may include sexual teasing, jokes or comments, massages or sexual touching, certain personal gifts, the display of sexually suggestive material and personal questions about an individual’s sexual life. But note that “sexual harassment” does not need to be lewd or sexual in nature to be illegal. Any severe or pervasive harassment aimed at a person because of his or her gender is considered sexual harassment. Further, a woman subjected to constant physical or verbal bullying and hostility because she is a woman may bring a claim of sexual harassment even if the harassment is not sexually explicit.” No county employees will be forced to attend, but all managers…


Mayor and Mazey try to get students to clean up acts on East Wooster

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The BG mayor and BGSU president tried to tidy up the city’s “front porch” on Friday afternoon. East Wooster Street is the first impression families get of the community and campus as they drop off their children for college every fall. For the fourth year at the beginning of BGSU’s fall semester, Mayor Dick Edwards and BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey went door-to-door on East Wooster Street to ask students to clean up their acts. If the students weren’t sure what that meant, Thomas Gibson, BGSU vice president for student affairs and vice provost, put it in simple terms. “If you think your mother would be upset, don’t do it,” he said. The mayor and university president began the door-to-door tradition four years ago after parents dropping off their college students objected to signs along the East Wooster rental properties suggesting that dads drop off their daughters at those homes. This year, there was one sign painted on a large sheet, saying “Drop off you daddies and bring your natties,” referring to Natural Light beer. That same yard had an inflatable pool in the front yard, inflatable bowling pins set up in the side yard – presumably for human bowling balls to knock down, loud music and red “danger” tape roping off the property. Edwards, Mazey and Gibson were welcomed into the taped in area and offered beers. They shook hands with the students, but declined the beers – until after 5 p.m. “We want to remind you folks of the shared responsibility we have,” Gibson said. The scantily clad students seemed pleased to have such high ranking visitors – but at the same time, they were comfortable enough to continue cracking open beers as they talked. The students said they would take down the large sign, and the city and university officials planned to return later to make sure it stayed down. Most of the other stops along the door-to-door route were far less eventful. Oftentimes students were caught off guard to see the mayor and university president knocking at their front doors. “Please put on a good face,” for visitors to the city and campus, Mazey told one student who had a shocked look on her face when she opened the door. “Spread the good word.” As they walked along the sidewalk, Edwards stopped to chat with some new BGSU students from Bangladesh. At another house, they encountered three male students. “Good behavior this weekend – that’s all we ask,” Mazey said. After the distinguished…


Pipeline petition passes signature test …. but more obstacles remain

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The petition to get a pipeline issue on Bowling Green’s November ballot cleared its first hurdle Friday – just barely. A total of 1,230 signatures were collected on the petition. By law, to make it on the ballot, the petition needed 714 valid signatures. It had 715. But two other hurdles remain. The second hurdle involves timing. There is some question if the pipeline petition was filed too late. There are different deadlines depending on the type of petition, so that issue will likely be decided by the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office. The third hurdle involves content. It’s possible the petition won’t make the November ballot because it asks for powers that the city may not have the authority to give. Under Ohio House Bill 463, passed last year, the petition may not be within the purview of the city and may create constitutional conflicts. It will be up to the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office to also determine whether or not the charter amendment meets H.B. 463 requirements. “We’re going to take all this to them as we go through the process,” explained Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections. Since the house bill is so new, it may take time to get an answer. But Burton said he is anxious to get a decision on the matter. “I just want to set my ballots,” he said. Burton said the 515 invalid signatures on the petitions were a combination of duplicate signatures, illegible signatures, incomplete addresses, printed signatures, and signatures from people outside the city. He said board of election employees make several searches before rejecting signatures as invalid. But since the petitions had one more than the required number, the process moves onto the next issues. City Attorney Mike Marsh said it will be up to the county prosecutor’s office – not the city – to rule whether or not the petition was filed on time, and if the language of the charter amendment meets standards. “We were never consulted on any part of this,” Marsh said about the petitions. “Whatever the county prosecutor says, I will be completely in support of.” The language of the proposed charter amendment is difficult to wade through, so the organization that filed the petition addressed each point in simpler terms. The petition calls for: Right to a healthy environment and livable climate. Bowling Green residents and the environment have the right to safe air, water, and land without contamination caused by oil and gas infrastructure projects…


Pipeline petition may – or may not – be booted from ballot

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   There may be more than enough valid petition signatures to get a pipeline issue on Bowling Green’s ballot this November. But it’s uncertain if voters will have a chance to weigh in, since the petition may have been filed late. The petition asks that a charter amendment be adopted in the city to prioritize people over pipelines. All within a matter of hours today, officials believed the petition was possibly out, then possibly in – with no clear resolution. The only certainty is that Ohio’s rules on petitioning to put an issue on the ballot are far too complicated. Petition organizers Lisa Kochheiser and Brad Holmes, president of the Environmental Action Group at Bowling Green State University, reported that more than 1,200 signatures were collected, with at least 714 valid signatures required to get the charter amendment on the ballot. Wednesday at 4 p.m. was the filing deadline for issues and candidates appearing on the general election in November. But the pipeline issue did not appear on the board of elections list. Bowling Green Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said this morning that the petition was not filed on Wednesday, because the Ohio Revised Code requires that a charter amendment petition be held at the city for 10 days prior to it being submitted to the board of elections. The petition was turned in to the city on July 31 at 2 p.m. Since the city is required to hold onto it for public viewing for 10 days, that meant the petition could not be turned over to the Wood County Board of Elections until today at 2 p.m. – one day after the filing deadline set by the state. “We’re certainly not trying to withhold anything or play any games” Fawcett said. The city is just following the rules established in the Ohio Revised Code, he explained. “It’s not ‘up to 10 days,’ it’s after 10 days have passed,” that the petition can be filed at the board of elections. Initially, Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections, believed the petition was actually much further overdue. Once the petition gets to the board of elections, that entity has up to 10 days to verify the signatures and determine if there is an adequate number. The petition is then returned to the city for a final review and official submission for the ballot. According to the Ohio Revised Code, the board of elections has 90 days after that final submission to place the issue…


Community ride promotes need for improvements for bicyclists

  By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Thursday’s community bike ride is more than a pedal to the park. The organizers have some serious points to make about the need to make Bowling Green a better place for bicycling.               The second Community Ride will begin Thursday at 5 p.m. at the fountain in front of the Administration Building on the Bowling Green State University campus.  The riders will head west toward downtown, traveling eventually to Main Street, before reaching their destination, the green space at the corner of Church and West Wooster streets. The first ride came after Lily Murnen, president of the Environmental Service Club, was talking to Rick Busselle, a BGSU faculty member and bicyclist. Busselle was upset by a couple incidents. A student was struck while bicycling near the CVS on East Wooster Street, and then was ticketed for riding on the sidewalk. Busselle himself took a spill while trying to navigate past that spot. His accident occurred in part because he was unsure at what point cyclists were allowed to ride on sidewalks. The city lacks both clarity in the rules governing bicyclists and the bike lanes needed to make riding in the city safer, he said. Yet, the city officials didn’t really seem to think it was a problem. He and Murnen discussed a mass bike riding event. These can involve a large group of bicyclists taking over the streets and, at times, violating traffic laws. Instead they decided that it would be best to have the bicyclists adhere to the rules of the road, which in some instances may cause a greater inconvenience to drivers. People, Murnen said, feel safer navigating the city’s streets in groups. Murnen was in charge of putting together a list of events for Earth Week, so she decided a community ride would fit right in. The first ride attracted 25 riders, despite a change in the day of the ride. Murnen said the ride attracted “a really nice mix” of students, faculty and community members. The 25-minute ride went west on Wooster, turned right onto North Grove, left on Conneaut, right onto Fairview, right onto West Merry, right onto North Main Street and then proceeded to the Four Corners, where the group took a right onto Wooster and then a left on South Grove and the green space. The route, Murnen said, was designed to minimize left turns, but also to travel through populated areas and downtown to get some visibility. The response the riders received from…