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All posts for the month February, 2015

Businesses should shovel the sidewalk

Published February 24, 2015 by justicewg

One of my most popular posts last year was called “Shovel the Sidewalk”. I walked around Grandview taking pictures of the sidewalks in front of houses where the owners didn’t bother to shovel 5 days after the last snowstorm.

I’m not sure, but I think people have done a better job this year. Looking around I still see the occasional ice covered sidewalk, but I also see long stretches of cleared pavement. Maybe because there hasn’t been as much snow this year home owners still haven’t gotten tired of the shovel. I’m not going to take more photos of private houses this year, even though they are not being good neighbors, I will let them slide (as I slip on the ice past their homes).

Businesses in Grandview have even less excuses for leaving snow on the sidewalk. Part of the job you accept when you run a business is to keep the place maintained and safe for the public. It is the law, and you are making it hard for people with mobility issues to use the walk (and to get inside your business). What sense does it make to put out the unwelcome mat and drive people away?

These photos were taken on Tuesday, 4 days after the last snow.

Almost shoveledThis business at First and Grandview tried. Unfortunately, the city plowed more snow on to the sidewalk after the shoveling was finished, turning a 10 foot long section into a ice obstacle course. Your responsibility extends for the entire time there is snow on the ground, “I tried but then gave up” is not acceptable on this main travel route for children walking to school.

awning 1The business at 1205 Grandview Ave. also did a sloppy job. The sidewalk belongs to you, all the way to the curb. Shoveling a small area near the building is lazy.

shokuI can’t understand why the people who own this restaurant fail to keep the sidewalk clear. Foot traffic is everything for a restaurant! What does this say about how you will treat your customers, when you can’t respect them enough to clear the sidewalk?

GrandviewAve0000This business is in a busy part of Grandview Ave, lots of traffic, which they are trying to use and get noticed with the largest sign on the whole street. That’s not good advertising when you are saying “we want your business, but we don’t care enough  about customers to keep the walks clear. Seems like somebody could slip and have to file an insurance claim (hey, maybe there is some logic in both causing and insuring accidents).

clinicThis clinic at First and Grandview is a major path for kids on the way to school, and everyone else who walks on this street. Both the clinic and the building on the corner have an icy mess in front. If your business doesn’t care about the foot traffic, and you can’t be bothered to shovel, then move someplace else, and let a new business that cares take your spot on the street.

Third and NW car lot is gone

Published February 13, 2015 by justicewg

wheels_goneThe former gas station, then decrepit used car lot, at the corner of Third and Northwest Boulevard has finally been torn down. No one has said what will go into the empty lot, the land is listed as available and no signs are posted to announce new owners.

At some point in the past there was a leak in the gas tanks under the station, possibly this was what caused the end of the use of the property as a filling station. The complexities of remediation needed to clean up a gasoline leak probably left the property as a long term albatross for the owners, no one would buy a lot that required decades of work to clean up. The house that stood directly to the south was bought out by the owners of the station and torn down at some point (the basement was said to smell of gasoline). They then dug wells and placed pumps under the land to filter out the gasoline in a decades long process.

With a contaminated lot there was no reputable business who would rent the place. The “Wheels” car lot and repair that set up shop was always known for having the worst collection of old beaters and rusted crap cars in the city (this land is in Columbus, but it got tagged as a Grandview car lot because it was so close). I once talked to a salesman about what looked like a decent car, he seemed surprised that anyone would want to buy one of the cars, and seemed uninterested in making any effort to sell the car. You wondered what could be sustaining the place, guesses that it might be some sort of chop-shop were often made by neighbors.

There was an effort to clean the lot out back in 2012, all the cars were towed away and fences went up, and the old gas tanks were dug out. Then something stopped the renovations, the old cars came back, and it was business as usual for Wheels. Here’s hoping something new comes of all the demolition. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a row of junk cars returning, it seems to be the fate of that lot.

State plans 42% cut, and school leaders have no action recommendations

Published February 6, 2015 by justicewg
County cut map

Funding changes in F.C. Numbers from the state, graphic from the Dispatch

The Kasich administration is planning a new school funding formula that will cut 42.5% of the state funding from Grandview schools. The superintendent and the school board should be livid at these cuts, they should be leading protest rallies and organizing the writing of protest letters to state representatives. And yet all public comment from the school leaders has been strangely passive. Why aren’t they standing up to defend our schools?

Crazy formula

Kasich has gone public with a plan that uses a complex new formula to assign changes in state funding. The “capacity” of a district to fund itself with higher local taxes are part of the formula, but increases in student numbers and changes in property values affect the final figures. Because New Albany has increased student enrollment and a recent drop in property value (a result of the end of the real estate bubble), that district would get the highest level of new state funding, even with one of the the highest average income levels in the state.

Grandview Heights, with a low new student enrollment and increasing property values, will receive a 42% cut, the biggest cut in Franklin County and also the biggest in the state. Rural school districts with high value land but low income will also be unfairly punished under the Kasich plan.

Culp says cuts happen

A letter from superintendent Culp was emailed out that reminded us that funds from the state are not the majority of the funds used to support the Grandview Heights school district, that 42.5% state cut will result in about 1 million dollars less, or 6% of the total annual operating budget. I emailed him asking what the school would do about this massive cut. He reminded me the word he used was significant, not massive.

The entire letter was strangely passive. The thrust of his statements are normalizing the state funding cuts. “We have implemented measures to offset previous state funding losses”. “We will be closely monitoring the budget process over the next several months.” Those are not calls to action, the letter is a call to sit back and do nothing.

Republican school board members are silent

A look at the public records of the school board members gives a clue why there is nothing but passivity and silence from the school. Grant Douglass has a long history of supporting Republican politicians, he has given Stivers over $8K in the last five years. Debbie Brannan is listed as a Republican in the voter records. The other board members show no public preference, the one exception is that Miller is a Democratic supporter. Under a policy governance board, it doesn’t matter what anyone other than the President thinks.

Former superintendent O’Reilly was a Republican who was thinking about running for office for his party. I’m sure the with Douglass in charge of selecting the present super that Culp is a loyal R.  (Full disclosure, those same public records will show I am a Democratic voter).

Faces with grossly unfair cuts in funding from the governor, the board should be livid. Instead we have silence from the board, and minimization from the super. They can’t be loyal Republicans and disagree with John Kasich at the same time.

Burn him in effigy

The Grandview Heights school board should be organizing rallies and burning Kasich in effigy. They should literally be taking a dummy dressed up to look like John Kasich, hanging it from a pole, then the school board and the superintendent should be setting it on fire in front of a crowd of chanting Grandview residents. That is the kind of public protest that gets the headlines and reminds politicians that there are real live people who get hurt and outraged when the governor makes unfair cuts.

Since I don’t have much hope that will happen, I would like the see the board at least hold some rallies. They could very easily organize a group of Grandview parents to go down to the statehouse lawn and hold up signs in protest.

I have a feeling that the board will sit back and do nothing. After all, the people of this city supported the levy last year, so the board can just go back and hit the local taxpayers up for more money.

(updates)

Culp continues to minimize the state cuts

The school leaders have had a week to formulate a response to the cut in state funding. They have looked at the numbers, which showed that Grandview Heights has taken the largest percentage cut in the state. Instead of making some completely justified statements about the unfairness of these cuts, the superintendent and the treasurer made statements in the TVN that minimized the impact, and assumed (without stated reasons) that the final funding plan from the state will be changed. They offered no action plan for parents to protest the cuts. The school board remains silent.

Funding choices are political

Governor Kasich responded to criticism of his school funding plans with a bizarre statement in which he called the outraged reaction from local schools “irresponsible”, and said “We need more superintendents who are educators, and less superintendents who are politicians.”

Message from 30 years ago to John Kasich: all superintendents must be politicians, because the tax cuts pushed by the Republicans have left local districts in a constant state of crisis, requiring superintendents to act as politicians in order to pass new levies to try to make up a lack of funding from the state.

Kasich made a political choice in creating a formula that takes money away from districts with “capacity for local funding” and give more money to poorer districts. There is no fundamental reason that some must loose and some gain, the governor could have increased funding alone. It would however conflict with his planned cuts in income tax rates, cuts which disproportionally help those with higher incomes. The local property taxes which are used by schools to make up funding cuts are regressive taxes.

The formula that Kasich is pushing also has the effect of rewarding large school districts and punishing small schools. Grandview Heights is the smallest school in Franklin County and was hit hard by this part of the formula. This is an attack on the concept of the small school, and those who say they are Grandview boosters should be loudly protesting this plan. And yet what we hear from school leaders is silence.

When school board members and school leaders must choose between loyalty to the local school and deference to their political party, you hope that they choose their neighbors. In this instance they have made a choice to be good Republicans, and they made a choice to stay silent.

(Feb 15)

Kasich says schools should use cash reserves

I’m seriously wondering if Kasich is losing it mentally. His background is Wall Street, he is supposed to understand economic theory. And yet he is now telling schools that have lost state funding to just dip into their cash reserves. Problem solved! I’m guessing next he will be telling schools to sell collateralized debt obligations and when the market crashes snatch up some Federal TARP money. Simple!

(July 2015 update post on school funding)

Brannan doubles down on the school retreat

Published February 2, 2015 by justicewg

CC  John SondermanNot to be outdone in taking the board meeting far from the city, new president Brannan went 40 miles away for the board’s annual retreat. At this rate, the board will be in Atlantic City in a few years. Despite multiple requests to take the small effort to be transparent and record the meetings for those of us who had to work and couldn’t make the trek out with the board, the public was again shut out.

Why can’t the board record the retreat meeting, the same as it records all meetings held in the school? It’s not a technology problem, all members carry cell phones, all they have to do is open the recording app and hit a button. According to the president and the superintendent, the “Groundhog rule” (from the movie) is in effect – that’s the way they have always done retreat meetings, and they are locked into never changing their ways.

Here we go again

I was waiting for the annual retreat meeting to be announced in February, generally the month both the school and the city council hold their planning meetings. Last week I got an email from the school agenda mailing list that said a “working session meeting” would be held at the Dawes Arboretum, 40 miles outside of the city. Was this the retreat, being disguised with different wording? Yes, an email to Brannan confirmed it, this was a last minute announcement of the retreat.

A slightly different feature of the agenda this year, it said “there will be no votes taken at the meeting” Why use this unique wording? Anyone who correctly challenged the legality of a board meeting held so far outside of the city could use the courts to nullify the votes taken at meeting that broke the Open Meeting laws. The board had preemptively acted to stop this sort of challenge by removing votes from the agenda. They knew full well they were breaking the rules, and made sure they wouldn’t have to pay for that violation.

I was unable to change my work schedule at the last minute to attend the board meeting, so I asked both Mrs. Brannan and Mr. Culp if they could record the meeting for me. The board normally has an audio recording of meetings, and they are free to the public on request.

The board refused to record the meeting, Mrs Brannan said “We have never recorded board retreats and don’t plan to this year.” Culp said “ …(the board) has not ever recorded them and I do not believe this is going to change.” The Groundhog rule is in effect.

I feel like I’m stuck in a Groundhog loop also, again explaining why the board is wrong in taking its meetings outside the city.

Why are there rules for public meetings?

Private businesses take retreat meeting all the time, why is it different for public bodies? All of the stakeholders are present in a private retreat meeting. Public bodies have the public as the most important part of the stakeholders, and when they take meetings far from the home jurisdictions, they make it too hard for the public to take part.

Ohio made rules for public meetings, a summary is published in the Yellow Book. The three most important rules for meeting locations are these:

The meeting should be in a public building.

The meeting should be inside the jurisdiction of the public body.

The building should be ADA compliant.

That last rule is federal, but applies to all public meetings. The meeting space at the Dawes Arboretum might be in a public building, and it might be ADA compliant (the Dawes website doesn’t say). The location is unquestionably 40 miles outside the jurisdiction of the school board, double the distance to the cabin in the woods favored by Grant Douglass.

What does the City Council do for a retreat?

The city had it’s 2014 retreat at the Dawson building, 1114 Dublin Road (the 2015 retreat has not been held). The year before at an office on Grandview avenue. The city has the same multi-hour meetings to do long range planning, but they always have the door open to members of the community, quite often there is a reporter present from the newspapers, and they don’t leave the city. The buildings they hold the meetings in are ADA compliant. I asked a former city council member why they never held meetings in a vacation destination like a cabin somewhere. He said that the Mayor has made it very clear – the laws say to stay inside the city, in a public building, and the city council must follow the laws.

Following the rules isn’t hard

I’m not asking for much from the school board. Send out an agenda that is detailed and complete. Stick to that agenda in the meetings, don’t hold surprise executive sessions. Hold the board meetings inside the city of Grandview, in a public building that is ADA compliant. Apparently this current board has trouble following these simple rules. In the past, the board has not had any issues following the Open Meeting laws. I don’t know why this group thinks they are special flowers who need to run off to the woods.