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2018 Year in Review: Village Council

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Police focus continues

In its first meeting of 2018, Council continued its focus on a topic that has garnered community attention throughout 2017 — local policing.

Taser use

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In January, Council unanimously passed a resolution revising the department’s use of Tasers, based on a recommendation from the Justice System Task Force, or JSTF. While Council had already approved the recommended change, it had not passed legislation to do so.

The main policy change was that the approved use of Tasers is “to protect life or prevent serious injury,” or in situations with individuals who pose “an immediate threat of serious injury or death to themselves, the officer or others.”

The change was instituted because previous department policy seemed to allow officers to use Tasers to gain compliance, according to the JSTF. Such use is no longer allowed.

New positions

Also at the first Council meeting of 2018, Police Chief Brian Carlson announced the creation of two new corporal positions in the department, to be filled by current officers Jeff Beam and David Meister. The purpose of the new positions was to allow more opportunities for leadership in the department, Carlson said.

Outreach position filled

In April, the department hired villager Florence Randolph as the first community outreach specialist, a position created to address social work-related calls to the department. Creating the position was one of several recommendations from the Justice System Task Force aimed to help local police become more community-friendly.

Meister investigation

In June, the News learned that Officer Meister had been investigated for several traffic stop incidents in which he was accused of not following departmental policy. Overall, in a May memo from Chief Carlson to Village Manager Patti Bates, Meister’s actions were deemed as too lenient.

The investigation sparked concern from the community, since Meister is a popular officer seen by many as exemplifying community policing. A public event protesting the police investigation took place downtown, and nine villagers spoke at a Village Council meeting in Meister’s support. In July it was reported that a second investigation into two additional traffic stops by Meister had taken place.

Previously, Meister challenged the violations in his file, saying he had been unfairly targeted by others in the department for minor mistakes. He also defended his actions during this year’s incidents, saying he was disciplined for doing the kind of low-key, compassionate policing the community says it wants.

Ultimately, a pre-disciplinary hearing, with Xenia Police Chief Randy Person as investigating officer, found that Meister had violated policy in two out of three alleged incidents. Meister was demoted from corporal to sergeant, although several other suggested disciplines were dropped.

Neel resigns

Officer Richard Neel resigned in October after seven months at the YSPD. Neel had been under scrutiny after residents made complaints to the YSPD, and on social media, that Neel had acted overly aggressive toward citizens during interactions and tended to escalate situations. Neel was involved in three use-of-force incidents in his brief time with the department and, in September, had pulled his gun on a 92-year-old villager.

Mayor’s court use increases

In October, Council approved a policy that will send more cases to the Village Mayor’s Court, also at the suggestion of the JSTF. The policy requires that officers send all misdemeanor and other nonviolent offenses, with a few exceptions, to the local court.

Surveillance policy scrutinized

Any new surveillance policy from the police department must first be approved by Village Council at a public hearing, according to a new ordinance passed by Council in November. The move, recommended by a subgroup of the JSTF, seeks to preserve civil liberties. The Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, also urged Council to pass the measure.

JSTF ends, Commission moves ahead

The Justice System Task Force, created two years ago with a two-year charge to look closely at police department policies and how to make the department more community-friendly, came to an end in December.

At the end of the year, Council members approved the creation of a standing Justice System Commission, with the plan for police officers and the mayor to serve in an ex-officio capacity.

Other concerns

New Council members

In other early January Council business, new Council members Lisa Kreeger and Kevin Stokes were sworn in, taking the places of previous Council President Karen Wintrow and Gerry Simms. Brian Housh was unanimously elected president, and Marianne MacQueen elected vice president.

Housing needs studied

Also in January, Council heard from Patrick Bowen of Bowen National Research, who reported on a Housing Needs Assessment of the village conducted in the prior several months by his firm at a cost of $24,500. The study took several months to complete, and included local demographic, housing and economic data, along with several hundred survey responses from villagers.

The report concluded that there is a significant need for housing across all income levels in Yellow Springs, with the most substantial needs for seniors and for millennials. Gaps are present in housing needs across all income levels, although the need is most acute in rentals, and especially affordable rentals, Bowen said.

The study also concluded that about 40 percent of villagers are housing-cost burdened, meaning that they are paying a high percentage of their income for housing, leaving too little for other needs. It also determined that about 25 percent of local children live in poverty.

In February, Council added creating a housing plan to its 2018 Council goals.

In April, Council sponsored four Community Conversations on Housing Needs, attended by several hundred villagers. During the events, presentations were made on the Bowen Housing Assessment results, and villagers were asked to identify their priorities for local housing needs during small group discussions.

Most participants identified affordable housing as the housing sector they would most like to see addressed. They also expressed concern that given current housing trends, the village is becoming an older, wealthier and less diverse community.

In May, a Housing Advisory Group was formed and charged by Council with finding strategies to address local housing needs. In June, the group suggested to Council several strategies for moving ahead with housing efforts. These efforts include using public land for housing, reaching out to developers to encourage mixed-income developments on private land, promoting zoning changes that encourage infill from individual landowners, and creating a source of revenue to support low-income and moderate income housing development.

In August, Council unanimously passed a housing vision and values statement, which affirmed the value of all citizens, and identified mixed-income housing and rentals as essential in all new developments.

In November, Council officially passed housing goals. The goals, based on the recommendations of Bowen, call on the Village to “actively support an increase in housing stock over the next 10 to 15 years of 300–500 housing units.” Additionally, the goal is for 60 percent of these units to be rentals and 40 percent to be owner-occupied, with rentals targeted to low- and moderate-income households.

In December, Council designated $60,000 over two years for Home, Inc.’s affordable six-unit Glen Cottages on Xenia Avenue. Council had previously waived $9,600 in tap-in fees for the project.

At year’s end, Council formally created a new affordable housing fund at the Village, but did not add any funds.

Council moves ahead on utility relief

In February, Council began a discussion that continued throughout the year on how to provide relief to villagers burdened by local utility bills. Over the past three years the Village initiated substantial rate hikes in water, sewer and electric service, adding up to an average family paying about $600 more yearly in 2018 compared to 2015.

The utility bill discussion was part of a growing concern locally regarding the cost of living and affordability. In July, Council passed an ordinance that eliminates a 5 percent fee for those paying utility bills late.

Council member Kreeger took the lead on researching ways to institute a utility round-up program, in which villagers who choose to do so may opt to round up their bill to the next dollar when making utility payments, with the proceeds going to those needing financial help to pay their own bills.

The utility round-up program was approved by Council in October, in time for the winter 2019 utility bills. The Yellow Springs Community Foundation contributed $5,000 to get the fund started.

Financial moves

In March, Council members Kreeger and Marianne MacQueen urged Council to establish a Village Manager Advisory Committee on Finance, to study how to address affordability issues. The group was soon after established, with Manager Bates, then-Village Assistant Manager Melissa Dodd, Council President Brian Housh and Council member Lisa Kreeger, plus villagers with financial expertise advising the group.

In the spring, Village Assistant Manager/Finance Director Melissa Dodd announced that she was leaving her job to take another position. Colleen Harris was later hired as finance director.

Council approves Climate Action Plan

In April, Duard Headley of the Environmental Commission presented the Yellow Springs Climate Action Plan, which he and other EC members had assembled. The plan sought to identify the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions locally, along with strategies for villagers to cut down their emissions. The single largest source of greenhouse gas locally is transportation, according to Headley, who urged villagers to be mindful of how much they use cars and instead, when possible, choose biking and walking. Council unanimously approved the plan.

Bike town

In June, Yellow Springs was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a Bicycle Friendly Community, one of 450 designated towns nationwide. Yellow Springs joins 17 other Ohio towns in having received the honor, which recognizes the village as being bicycle-friendly, and also offers guidance for making Yellow Springs even more bike-friendly.

Several events took place downtown in June to celebrate the honor.

Formation of CIC considered

In June Council discussed whether the Village should establish a community improvement corporation, or CIC, a move requested by the Village Economic Sustainability Commission. Such a group could help oversee economic development efforts in a variety of ways, according to Council member Kreeger, including marketing the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, and overseeing the Village Revolving Loan Fund, a fund to help local start-ups. By the end of the year, Council had taken some steps towards the creation of a CIC.

Infrastructure needs prioritized

At a summer special Council work session focused on infrastructure, Council heard Public Works Director Johnnie Burns state that the Village has several looming infrastructure needs. These needs include the possible installation of a third electric circuit to meet growing electricity needs from Cresco Labs, the fire station and possible future development at the CBE, the repair of village sidewalks and repair of many underground sewer and storm lines.

In September, Council approved ordinances that allowed Village Manager Patti Bates to advertise for request for proposals, or RFPs, for two engineering studies that will help determine the infrastructure needs. The proposals are for studies to determine needs in the electrical system and for stormwater management in town.

Council prioritizes greenspace

In September, Council identified several areas where it wants Tecumseh Land Trust to focus its preservation efforts. These areas are the Jacoby Greenbelt to the west of the village; land within the five-year-time-of-travel zone adjacent to the Village water treatment plant, and land within the “Country Commons” to the east and south of Glen Helen. The action was a response to a request from Tecumseh Land Trust to specify the Village’s greenspace priorities.

Vernay cleanup report prompts concerns

In late August, Council heard concerns from Environmental Commission member Headley regarding the suggested remediation measures proposed by Vernay Laboratories to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Vernay and the EPA have been negotiating for over a decade on measures to clean up hazardous waste left on the company’s property. The two entities have not yet agreed to a cleanup plan.

Headley stated his concern that the Vernay proposal does not adequately address waste on off-site areas, along with soil contamination. According to Headley, the Vernay plan would take decades for contaminants to dissipate. He also questioned the company’s plan to discharge contaminated groundwater directly into the storm water system, which could become a Village liability.

At the end of the year, the Village sent a letter to the EPA noting its concerns and pushing for a more thorough cleanup.

Sidewalks repaired

In September, Council agreed to contract with the company Precision Concrete Cutting to grind down about 270 sidewalk panels downtown and along Dayton Street and Xenia Avenue that are considered trip hazards. The move, which will cost about $23,000, is a test of this company’s method for fixing hazardous walks, a topic that has long vexed Village Council.

Gaunt statue considered

In October, Council heard a proposal that a statue of renowned African-American villager Wheeling Gaunt be located in Hilda Rahn Park at the corner of U.S. 68 and Dayton Street.

Gaunt was a well-known, wealthy, freed former slave who came to Yellow Springs after the Civil War, later donating the land now used as Gaunt Park to the village. In recent months a group of villagers who are part of a YS Arts Council subcommittee have raised about one-third of the needed $169,000 for a statue of Gaunt, to be created by local sculptor Brian Maughan.

Council approved the location for the sculpture, which is estimated to be complete in 2020.

Sanford appointed to Council seat

In November, 26-year-old Kineta Sanford was appointed to Council to fill the seat left open by the resignation of Judith Hempfling, who announced two months before that she was leaving Council for personal reasons. Sanford will have the seat for a year, until new Council members are elected in 2019.

Six villagers threw their hats into the ring in interest of taking the seat. Sanford, who is trained as a teacher, moved to Yellow Springs last spring with her husband and child. She works as an Americorps VISTA employee at Home, Inc. She has stated she will recuse herself on matters pertaining to Home, Inc.

Budget deficit projected

In a late November meeting, Council heard from Finance Director Harris that the Village would, in 2019, spend about a half million more than it brings in for the general fund budget, which funds most Village services except utilities.

Next year’s deficit spending is linked to both an increase in capital projects and Harris’s more conservative budgeting style. Next year the Village is set to spend
$3.9 million and to bring in $3.4 million.

Active Transportation plan unveiled

In December, a 62-page local Active Transportation Plan was released. The document contained numerous proposals to facilitate walking, cycling and using a wheelchair or personal mobility device in the village, such as more bike racks, flashing beacons at some crosswalks, curb extensions to slow traffic at intersections, slightly-raised crosswalks in high-pedestrian areas and adding new sidewalks.

Stronger sanctuary stance

In December, Council strengthened its public statement as a “Welcoming Community.” In new language, the measure prohibits discrimination based upon federal immigration status, although it doesn’t call the town a “sanctuary city.”

Senior apartments get greenlight

At its final meeting of 2018, Council approved Home, Inc.’s plans to build a 54-unit affordable senior apartment complex between Herman and Marshall streets. In several unanimous 4–0 votes, Council approved the project’s requested deviations from the zoning code and also determined that the project met the standards and conditions of the Planned Unit Development, or PUD, zoning.

Rezoning of the property is necessary because the project exceeds the allowable density and height restrictions and the lot size is smaller than a PUD allows, among other deviations. Previously, the Planning Commission did not approve the preliminary PUD plan because its members were at an impasse over the building’s size and height. 

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