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Council is close to ACE vote

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While members of Village Council didn’t vote on whether to leave the Greene County ACE Task Force at their Nov. 16 meeting, a majority of Council members stated they support leaving ACE, or are leaning toward that position. Council said it will vote on task force involvement at its next meeting, on Dec. 7.

After an almost two hour discussion, Council members Lori Askeland and Marianne MacQueen said they favor opting out of the force, and Council President Karen Wintrow stated she is leaning in that direction. Gerry Simms said he supports remaining with the force, and Brian Housh didn’t state a position.

About 40 villagers attended Monday night’s meeting, which followed a public forum on the question of whether Yellow Springs should continue to provide an officer to the task force, a contentious local issue in recent years. The question in front of Council is whether Yellow Springs should fund an officer, thus directly supporting the group’s work of mainly combatting drug-related crime in Greene County, at a cost of about $80,500 a year to the Village.

“The question is not whether the task force should exist, but whether Yellow Springs should have an officer on it,” said Council Vice President Lori Askeland. “The task force still operates in communites regardless of whether an officer from a community is on it.”

However, Police Chief Dave Hale raised the possibility that ACE might not respond as quickly to Yellow Springs if the Village chooses to opt out of the force. Hale had been tasked by Council with presenting specifics on effects on the village should it drop out.

If the Village opts out of ACE due to financial concerns, the ACE board of directors wouldn’t hold that against Yellow Springs, Chief Hale said. But if the Village drops out due to moral issues, the ACE board might respond differently.

“If there’s a big case in Yellow Springs that’s exclusive to Yellow Springs, my guess is that they would turn it down. If we pull out due to moral opposition, I don’t look to the task force to be sympathetic,” he said.
Hale stated several times that he was just speculating on the task force response. But Askeland said that the argument contributed to her discomfort with Yellow Springs’ membership in the force.

“It sounds like blackmail, that the task force wouldn’t send help if we dropped out of it,” she said. “ That logic is troubling to me.”

Dropping out of the force would also mean a loss of control for the village, according to Hale. A board of directors composed of chiefs of the member departments directs the group’s activities. Because Hale is a member of the board, he currently has say in what the force does; that say would be lost should Yellow Springs opt out, he said.

Several Council members and villagers disagreed with Hale’s assertion that opting out of the force would mean it would be less likely to come to Yellow Springs if needed, as its mission is to serve all of Greene County. Currently, Beavercreek, Xenia, Fairborn, Sugarcreek Township, the Greene County Sheriff and Yellow Springs are contributing members of the force.

In citing their concerns over local task force involvement, several Council members cited the disproportionate amount that Yellow Springs pays for ACE membership, compared to other member municipalities. The village has about 2 percent of the population of Greene County, yet pays about 10 percent of the task force cost.
“My decision will be about finances and equity,” Wintrow said. “Yellow Springs is funding such a large amount” of the task force budget.

Most of the 15 citizens who spoke at the meeting opposed membership in the task force, and most cited moral concerns. The international War on Drugs has failed, Judith Hempfling stated, citing a 2014 report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of world leaders, that asserts that the drug war, rather than improving world health, has generated new social and health problems.

Others cited what they perceive as the War on Drugs’ disproportionate targeting of minorities and the poor as a reason to opt out of the drug-crime focused task force.

“I believe moral reasons for exiting the task force should be more important than financial reasons,” said Lindsey Burke.

However, two speakers made passionate pleas for task force involvement, due to their assertion that heroin is readily available in Yellow Springs, and heroin addiction is a growing problem here.

“I see so much drug activity in town, it’s mind-blowing,” said Elizabeth Stardancer, whose store, Dragon Tree, is located across from the post office at Corry Street and Xenia Avenue. Stardancer said she has struggled with heroin addiction for a year.

Her daughter, Jasmine McCoy, also spoke of her addiction and the easy accessibility of heroin on downtown streets.

“To think the task force is not needed here, you are dead wrong,” she said.

And some in the community have become more fearful, according to Council member Simms, who said that he knows several older villagers who are “arming themselves” due to fears for their safety.

Several speakers were surprised at the report of heroin dealing downtown, stating that if heroin is so readily available, it’s obvious that the task force approach is not effective.

“To me, this is the greatest evidence that the task force is not working,” said Al Schlueter. “We need to find new, creative solutions to these problems rather than things that clearly don’t work.”

A consensus appeared to emerge at the meeting regarding the need for more effective drug treatment in town. When Wintrow asked Dr. Franklin Halley of TCN, which includes addiction services, about the possibility of staffing a TCN counselor in Yellow Springs one day a week, he stated that might be possible.

In his work at TCN, Halley said he sees evidence that heroin use is on the rise in Greene County, and believes Yellow Springs is not immune to the problem.

“There’s a lot of heroin all over the area, including Yellow Springs,” he said.

Several citizens and Council members advocated for stepping up a community-wide effort to combat drug use and abuse in the village, independent of task force involvement.

“The community should take care of the community, we don’t need the task force,” said Talis X.
Others suggested that more police and more weapons are the wrong approach to drug problems, and instead more treatment and community involvement is needed.

“If we’re really concerned about this as a problem, it will take a lot more of the community coming together, finding out where the drugs are, where they’re being sold and doing something about it,” said MacQueen.
The money currently used to pay for task force involvement could be used instead to hire a social worker to address the drug problem, Kate Hamilton said.

“Drugs are here. Drugs are bad. But the task force is not working for us,” she said. “We could help those in need instead of arresting them.”

At the end of the discussion, most Council members were ready to vote on the issue, but Simms stated he needed more time. So far he’s only heard from those in the village who oppose the task force membership, he said, and he wants to hear from those with other opinions.

Other items from the Nov. 16 meeting will be covered in next week’s News.


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