2019 Year in Review: Village Council
- Published: January 2, 2020
Local policing policy
Continuing a trend of the last few years, local policing was once again a major focus of Village Council in 2019.
Early in the year, another controversial police disciplinary process divided the community. Council then moved ahead with earlier plans for an assessment of the Yellow Springs Police Department. By year’s end, new initiatives were attempted to improve the relationship between the police and the community.
At the start of the year, the News reported that the Village was conducting a new disciplinary investigation into local police officer Dave Meister, who had been disciplined a few months prior.
The Village was looking into whether Meister violated any policies when, soon after going off duty, he did not accompany a fellow officer on a call of a shooting at a downtown apartment in December 2018. One resident died there of what the YSPD later determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Supporters of Meister packed Council meetings through the month, and some claimed Meister, the only full-time officer to live in the village, was being unfairly targeted by the department. Council members defended the investigation. A hearing officer concluded in February that Meister violated no local policies. He was not given any new discipline, but a performance improvement plan was extended an additional six months.
Not long after, Council moved to assess the YSPD, contracting with Antioch alum and policing expert Bob Wasserman of Maryland, who had briefly worked for longtime local Chief Jim McKee.
As part of the assessment, a forum was held in May, at which about 50 villagers were invited to share positive experiences with police officers. A few YSPD officers participated in the discussions as well, sharing positive experiences they’ve had with community members.
The recommendations in Wasserman’s 50-page report, released in October, were largely around improved transparency and management and the implementation of community policing strategies such as neighborhood “beats.” The report, which cost $36,376, was criticized by Council members for taking too long and being too vague.
At the end of his second year as the permanent chief, YS Police Chief Brian Carlson was renewed in June. Carlson had received mixed reviews from Village Manager Patti Bates on his annual performance evaluation, and was renewed with three- and six-month performance reviews slated.
Carlson started scenario-based training for the department in early 2019, which he said at the time was the first training of its kind at YSPD. He said the training was aimed at helping local officers with better “decision-making in the moment” with an eye toward de-escalating situations.
Council planned to launch an official Justice System Commission in 2019 to continue the work of the two-year Justice System Task Force, but, after receiving few applications, decided to make the group a less formal advisory board to the Village manager. It had not been formed by year’s end. A separate Citizen Review Board, which would take complaints about officers, was discussed but not yet created.
The Village tested out a new process for reviewing police disciplinary matters by involving citizens in November. The committee of three citizens and one Council member presented their findings to the Village manager in late December. The News will report more on the group in early 2020.
In other Council news—
• With Village Manager Patti Bates having previously announced her retirement after five years on the job, Council hit the ground running in 2019 to find her successor. After receiving 62 applications, the Village invited four finalists to town in April for community meetings and a public forum.
Josué Salmerón, a 2006 Antioch College graduate, received the top scores in a tally of 92 surveys from villagers and Village staff who participated in the process. Council offered him the job and he started in July. “Yellow Springs gave me so much in my younger years, and I feel so honored to be giving back in all the ways that I can,” Salmerón told the News.
• Home, Inc’s 54-unit affordable senior apartment building, the largest project the local nonprofit has undertaken so far, got the green light from Village Council at its first meeting of the year. After Planning Commission was split, 2–2, to approve the rezoning of the property to a planned unit development, Council Ok’d it in 4–0 votes in January, with Council member Sanford, a Home, Inc. employee, recusing herself.
Neighbors and other villagers had criticized the proposed four-story building’s height and limited parking in public meetings the previous fall. After an unsuccessful application for tax credit financing for the project, Home, Inc. amended the building’s design to a three-story structure with a larger footprint and more parking spaces. That plan was re-approved in December, ahead of the next funding round in February 2020.
• In March, Council banned clapping, booing and displaying of signs during Council meetings. The move followed several meetings when supporters of Officer Meister applauded one another’s comments. When told not to clap, some brought in green and red signs to express their feelings about citizen and Council member comments. A subsequent News investigation found that the new rules may violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, but that Village Council allows more opportunity for public engagement than many governmental bodies.
• Over the last six months, the nearly 50 employees of the Village attended three half-day trainings to create a more inclusive and diverse work environment and improve cultural competency at the Village, the News reported in March. The effort was led by Council Member Kevin Stokes.
• The Village recommended that Council approve a “perpetual lease” of the municipal cell tower on the Sutton Farm to a private company for a one-time payment of $305,000. In April, Council declined it in a close 3–2 vote after Council members and some villagers voiced their concerns about losing out on future revenue and control over the tower.
• In May, Council pulled a staff proposal to turn Beatty Hughes park, a greenspace downtown, into a parking lot after vociferous public opposition.
• The Village raised admission rates at Gaunt Park Pool for the first time in a decade, with most of the increase to be paid by nonresidents. Over the last nine seasons, the Village spent close to a half million dollars to subsidize the pool, the News reported.
• For months, Council discussed whether to impose limits on the number or type of transient guest lodging establishments, or TGLs (such as Airbnbs). Council later decided in July to make such TGLs a conditional use, requiring a planning commission hearing. At the end of July there were 40 operating in town.
• After the new owners of Millworks did not renew the lease of local insect-based feed producer EnviroFlight, Council began exploring ways to keep the homegrown company and its 22 employees in the village after 2020. A confidential incentives package was offered, which may have included discounted property at the Village-owned CBE. The company will decide on its future in early 2020.
• Council took several steps to create a local Community Development Corporation to coordinate economic and civic activities among local elected bodies. Council approved membership and bylaws for the group in 2019. The nonprofit still needs tax-exempt status and to be officially designated. “It represents a significant collaboration between the school board, township and Village,” Council member Lisa Kreeger said.
• In September, solar producers and the Village compromised on new legislation that lifted a 1% cap on the amount of electricity the village would buy from local solar PV producers after that cap was reached in the summer. The new rules also reduced the compensation for solar producers from 11 cents per KWh to 9 cents to help pay for local electric infrastructure. The compromise came after a new solar co-op formed here, and the Village was flooded by 57 applications for solar arrays, joining 27 existing local producers.
• Believing a final cleanup may begin next year, the U.S. EPA hosted a public meeting in October on contamination at the former Vernay Laboratories rubber plant on Dayton Street. While in town, the EPA also met with Village officials, who expressed concerns about possible contamination of local utility infrastructure on the site and the municipal drinking water supply. The Village then hosted its own meeting the following month, with its environmental consultants offering some skepticism about Vernay’s plan.
• Council members Kreeger and MacQueen were re-elected to their positions with four-year terms in November elections. Joining them is former Village manager Laura Curliss, who was elected to a two-year term. Conine, the mayor, was re-elected in an uncontested race.
• Yellow Springs voters narrowly rejected a ballot measure to make several amendments to the Village Charter, with 53% opposing the measure. The amendments would have granted voting rights in Yellow Springs elections to local 16- and 17-year-olds and noncitizens and extended the mayor’s term from two to four years. Some voters were dismayed that all three amendments were grouped together as a single ballot measure. At year’s end, Council agreed to put the items on a future ballot as separate measures.
• The Village’s elected leadership in 2019 was Brian Housh, Council president; Marianne MacQueen, Council vice president; Lisa Kreeger, Council member; Kevin Stokes, Council member; Kineta Sanford, Council member (appointed) and Pam Conine, mayor.