Quick answers from council candidates – fall 2017

Published October 29, 2017 by justicewg

The five candidates for four council seats have been out knocking on doors and attending meetings to answer questions from the public. They are still open to questions from emails, here are a few that I thought had not been done in the past. Responses from the candidates are posted in the order they gave me their replies.

Come back to this post for updates, I will add new commentary to the front page as I read through the responses, and the full text of the answers from the politicians will be added after the jump.

Greta Kearns, current council member

Question about policy that has not been given enough thought – she mentioned a comprehensive community planning project, which has been talked about by other council members. I’m not sure that it is a missing topic for the average voter in the community, these planning sessions are generally boring and don’t really engage the attendees.

The issue is the same one that made the school facility planning session a dud, they asked the parents to attend days of sessions, get deep into the weeds on policy, but there was no payout for that work. The final vote on facility options was open to anyone, and easily hackable. And the board was clear that they can dump the recommendations and go their own way. I don’t have a solution for this problem, but I would like there to be an admission that a problem exists.

Medical Marijuana is a no for Kerns. She sites reasons that are similar to the Tobacco 21 and minor bike helmet legislation, if a drug is bad for kids (or a lack of a helmet), we should not allow it in Grandview.

Relationship with the School board. Kearns says there is no problem ( but since she is the the School Liaison, she would say that). The competition for property tax can be solved, according to her, if city can add all needed improvements without a tax increase. That will be quite a trick to build a new fire and police station (which she supports) without new taxes. She doesn’t see any way to share facilities with the school.

A funny things that happened on the way to office – I guess the resident who answered his door wearing only a toga and a cowboy hat was sort of funny. I guess you had to be there.

Chris Smith, council V.P.

Neglected issues – I like the discussion on public transport, as a metro area Columbus has neglected transportation for so long it gives us a negative image for any business looking to relocate to the area. Why would someone want to develop in a city that had no public transportation other than old buses and roads that are fast becoming constant traffic snarls? Unfortunately it is a regional problem that can’t be solved by Grandview city council.

Smith said that Medical Marijuana businesses would “probably not the wisest use for commercial property in the city.” And given that the city of Columbus will probably have no issues with the dispensaries, and the taxes they pay, there will not be a problem finding a near by dispensary. But if we have full access to Medical Marijuana, but chose to let someone else get all the tax money, does that really make sense?

Smith agrees that there are issues in communication between the city and the school board. He doesn’t have a solution other than “we need to work hard”. He did mention the re-negotiation with NRI at the Yard will allow the bonds to be paid quicker, allowing the schools to boost tax income sooner.

Smith did have a good story about a long rant from a resident during a door knock session. I would call it more poignant than funny. I guess nothing really funny can be expected from politicians.

More full answers from candidates will be added after the jump.

Greta Kearns, current council president

First, what has NOT been talked about in past questioning and campaign events? What is something that we should have a public discussion about, but is not on the minds of the residents of the city?

I spent the summer and fall on the campaign trail talking to residents and hearing their ideas in many thoughtful conversations about the community.  Grandview Heights has seen dramatic changes over the last few decades and we have new demographics.  Residents are eager to contribute their energy and talents to develop a vision and plan for our future.  The School has spent the last year engaging residents in visioning and planning for its facilities – City Government should expand that conversation and develop a comprehensive community vision that is shaped by residents.

This fall, I expect to convene a joint work session of City Council, the Mayor, Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals to initiate a comprehensive community planning project.  Once the scope and framework is defined, the stage is set for broad public engagement which I hope we will roll out early next year.  Now that the City has purchased real estate on McKinley Avenue to move the Service Department, we have a blank slate of public land inside City limits, expanded acreage to work with, and an opportunity to reshape the entrance of the City.  It is time to hear from residents about what services and amenities the community desires in the future and to set broad aspirational goals.  Further, a robust community planning discussion with residents will lead City leaders in the right direction on hard questions about how best to modernize our fire and police facilities for the men and women who put their lives at risk to protect us, the future of City Hall and the Grandview Center buildings, and potentially expanded recreational programs and amenities.   Elected officials work for you— I invite every resident to contribute their ideas, talent, and hard work to plan for the future of Grandview.

Have you been contacted by companies that are trying to set up Medical Marijuana dispensaries here in Grandview? What have they told you about tax money that could be funneled into Grandview from these businesses? Have they talked about the city services that would be used (police patrols and responses to events at these businesses)? What are your thoughts on allowing Marijuana dispensaries to set up in Grandview Heights?

I haven’t been contacted directly, but others in City Government have and I have heard of someone inquiring about a dispensary on Goodale. Administrative staff got several calls in the last month asking if we permit dispensaries and, from what I know, the callers made vague statements about bringing dollars to Grandview.  Several callers were advised that Council is already considering proposed legislation that would ban dispensing, cultivating, and processing within City limits.  I favor this legislation for many of the same reasons I supported our Tobacco 21 and minor bike helmet legislation.  We have heard testimony and evidence regarding the harmful effects of exposure on the developing brain.  I have a concern that marijuana will be more available to our children for illegal use if we permit retail dispensaries.  We have also been presented evidence that normalizing or medicalizing marijuana contributes to a perception among our youth that it is safe, which leads to enhanced usage and exposure.  Government has a higher burden to protect children when it comes to public health and safety issues.

There has been some talk about better cooperation between the city council and the school board, in order to improved the facilities at the school. How can the city help the schools? What specific programs or revenue sharing of some sort would be acceptable?

I’m glad you asked this question.  I believe it is important for residents to understand that we have a good relationship with the School.  Cooperation and communication are solid and have only improved over the last four years.  As the School Liaison, I regularly meet with my School Board contacts and participated in nearly all the facilities visioning and planning sessions this year.  Mayor DeGraw and I were specifically invited to these.

The School and City can, and should, support each other.  It is important to remember that School and City are separate governmental entities with different revenue sources and operations.  While the Schools are funded primarily with property tax revenue, the City relies far less on property tax dollars— we have different revenue sources and debt limits.  City Government is keenly aware that the Schools are planning a major capital improvements project with a voted levy in 2018 and we do not intend to compete for property tax dollars.  Although the City also needs to move forward with a capital improvements plan for its aging facilities, the project will be much smaller, and we have the borrowing capacity to pay for substantial needed improvements without a tax increase.

People often ask about shared facilities.  Operational needs drive facilities.  Our buildings are much smaller and more specialized than school buildings because we have very different operations than the Schools.  The City will not operate a police or fire station out of a school and it’s unlikely the School administration wants to share an administrative building with the City rather than be on site at the Schools.  We already share space in both directions for recreational programs and athletics, including the school gyms and city parks.  The School uses Pierce Field daily for its playground.  The City opened up park space last year for additional soccer fields.  We collaborate on joint programming such as a Bike Safety day last year and the recent Craft Day to prepare for the Pumpkin Run.  I believe we can and should continue to cooperate on programming and share space and staffing where possible.  We should do our best to predict and assess future needs and wants before we build buildings, now that we know the Service Department will be sited at the new McKinley property.  City Government should reach out to engage the public and continue the community discussion that the Schools have started, but on a broader level to plan for the future of Grandview Heights.

Final question – tell me something funny about things you have seen in the council or administration of the city. Did you have a funny encounter with a resident when you were knocking on doors for your campaign?

While out knocking on doors this weekend, I experienced two things that made me laugh.  First, a fireman and two British youngsters who live in the community were chatting and entertaining each other by, respectively, flushing brown water out of the hydrants and “turning off and on” their British accents at will.  Later, as the OSU game was starting, a resident answered his door wearing only a toga and a cowboy hat.  He committed to vote for me and to convince his roommates to do so as well.

Chris Smith

What has NOT been talked about?

I believe that public transportation is an issue that does not get as much attention from people but is very important.  Columbus was recently awarded the Smart Cities Public Transportation Grant, but Central Ohio has fallen behind with respect to public transportation vis-a-vis other metro areas.  Grandview Heights is an “inner-city” suburb where public transportation is key.  This tends to get lost in the shuffle a bit, but public transportation is a very important issue for a metro-area, and Grandview Heights is a part of that.  I played a key role in saving a commuter bus-line that went from downtown Columbus through the main area of Grandview Heights.  With development, infrastructure investment and school-funding, this issue can get neglected, but is still significant.  I will always work hard as COTA Liaison on City Council to ensure that residents have access to reliable public transportation.

What are your thoughts on allowing Marijuana dispensaries to set up in Grandview Heights?

No, I have not.  Although medical marijuana may have its place in health care. I believe that Grandview Heights can use its zoning authority to regulate this.  We have had a moratorium on dispensries and cultivation for the better part of a year. City Council now has legislation to prohibit such companies from such endeavors in the city.  By and large, residents have spoken that they do not want such industry here.  Grandview Heights is unique in its proximity to Columbus and other municipalities. and we should use our zoning regulatory powers to prohibit this industry here.  With the limited land and demand for development here, this is probably not the wisest use for commercial property in the city. Even with these restrictions, Grandview residents would still likely have easy access to medical marijuana if they need it.

How can the city help the schools?

One of my biggest regrets since being on Grandview Heights City Council has been the lack of communication  between the School Board and Council.  Communication has been improving. I am willing to engage in and work to achieve  improved intergovernmental cooperation .  Of course, the two governmental bodies are separate, but any facilities that we could work together in a joint venture, I am very willing to work hard  to accomplish.

One good thing that came out of the city’s re-negotiation of the Grandview Yard Development is that the bonds will be paid off quicker.  This means that the schools will receive more money sooner than was originally planned.  This will help the schools with facility funding and other of its financial needs.

Tell me something funny about things you have seen in the council or administration of the city.

I have been doing a lot of door-to-door activities in this re-election endeavor— both during the petition-drive and canvassing.  I stopped at a door back in July when I was obtaining petition signatures.  On one occasion, a resident gave me an earful for about 20- 30 minutes on everything he found wrong with the city and government in general.  On occasion, I would give my rebuttals and defend myself.  After a long period of time, he said he took up enough of my time.  I left without his signature.  After walking six houses down the road, a car pulled up by me at the sidewalk and was honking.  It was the same disgruntled resident.  He told me that after listening to his complaints for so long, I deserved his signature.  So he signed my petition, and then he went on his way.  That was getting a signature the hard way!

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