Mayor

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The Mayor joined the Covid-19 mask movement

Published July 4, 2020 by justicewg

Mayor Kearns joined the city of Columbus, and some other suburbs, and proclaimed that masks to protect residents from C-19 must be worn in all public buildings.

Section 7: I hereby direct all adult resident and visitors to wear a mask or face covering when inside a business or any indoor area accessible to the public, and when using public transportation, with the exception of those who have a documented medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering, to use their best efforts to maintain social distancing in outdoor spaces, and to promote mask usage by children where feasible. – from Grandview Hts Mayor Kearns, in her proclamation of civil emergency. Amended July 3, 2020.

Columbus, Bexley, Dublin and other cities in FC have already made mask laws. The county health board has asked the county commissioners to pass new rules for all of Franklin county.

County Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola told the county commissioners during an emergency session Thursday evening that a blanket face-mask mandate for all areas under Franklin County Public Health’s jurisdiction (everything in the county outside of the cities of Columbus and Worthington) likely would be more effective, as opposed to differing requirements across cities, villages and townships. “We think it would be a much better approach,” Mazzola said. “It would certainly create a comprehensive policy for our community. We hope that the legal authority is there for us.” – from the Dispatch

The Grandview Board of Health said Covid-19 is here in our town

Watch the video recording of the June 25, 2020 meeting for the pandemic info in Franklin Co and our city. Joe Mazzola, Franklin County Health Commissioner, gave us the new numbers for the county. In the past, Grandview had so few cases of Covid that the exact number could not be announced because it could identify the individuals, risking violations of HIPAA laws.

As of June 25, there were 14 confirmed C-19 cases in Grandview Heights. Since the video is more than a week old, there may be more.

According to Mr Mazzola, there have been 25 to 30 new cases in FC per day for the last month. If the 4th of July holiday brings large family groups without masks together, he expects that number to increase.

Interesting data from Mazzola – FC will be adding 20 new full time contact tracing personnel, who are now in training.

There are no teeth in the mask laws

All of the mask laws and proclamations have easy to dodge qualifications. Simply saying “I have a medical condition that will not allow a mask” can be used – nobody will ask for a document. Police will not be issuing tickets (one of the worst groups for following the mask recommendations I have seen in public are the police).

However, this will give business owners full rights to demand anyone entering their doors to wear a mask. They always had the right to require masks, this proclamation adds to the authority they have to take temperatures, ask for social distancing, and use of masks.

Business owners can trespass non-compliant guests – and failure to comply can result in charges, the same as it always has been for owners who wanted disruptive people out of their business.

Were Grandview police downtown using excessive force on the protesters?

Published June 5, 2020 by justicewg

The videos of the Columbus police engaging with the protesters marching in response to the police murder of George Floyd shows that some of them have learned nothing about appropriate use of force. Videos show U.S. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio being pepper sprayed by Columbus Police during protest. Many other videos show reporters and others being sprayed, and police riding horses directly into crowds.

Residents of Grandview Hts. might think “that was Columbus cops, our officers are here at home”. Unfortunately all of the Columbus suburbs have signed mutual aid agreements with the Columbus police department, so they were required to help during the protests. These aid agreements are really needed by small departments like Grandview, a major emergency, like a toxic waste spill on the RR tracks, could require many times the personnel we could field. The flip side of the agreements might bring our police into dangerous situations where they have had little training.

I asked the PIO of the Grandview Hts police if our officers were called in to aid Columbus during the protests.

We responded to a mutual aid request on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Columbus due to riots. We assisted with traffic control and had no direct contact with protesters or those rioting. – Officer Scott Bruney

Do you have any photos of Grandview police working the streets of Columbus during the protests? Please send them here to this blog, contact info in the “About” section.

What policy should Grandview Police change after the protests?

We have not heard any public comment from new police chief Ryan Starns since the murder of Floyd and the protests. I would like to hear how he has reacted to the actions of the Minneapolis officers, and how he thinks this could be prevented from happening here in Grandview.

I would like to know what policy the department has for restraint of citizens during arrests.

I would like to know how complaints against police officers are processed, and what outside review of complaints are available.

Body Cams are standard in Franklin Co. – except in Grandview Hts.

Minneapolis cop Chauvin didn’t have a body cam at the time he murdered George Floyd. Another officer named Thao did have a cam, but it isn’t clear what was captured by it, because he spent most of the near 9 minutes Chauvin kneed on Floyd’s neck facing away. It did record Thao asking if Floyd should be moved to his side, and clear intent to kill him when Chauvin refused to move off his neck.

I wrote about body cams in an older post, and noted that the spiked baseball bat wielding Grandview resident was restrained off camera (the only cam was in the car in front of the house). If the officers had used deadly force against Metters (and the police union said that he could have been justifiably shot), there would have been no video inside the house.

Grandview police need to update equipment and issue body cams to all officers on the street. If the response from Mayor Kearns has not changed, she will not be ordering the Chief to act.

If you were inspired to protest against the police abuse in the Floyd case, and want to see changes, let’s start here in our community. Call, send emails, to the Chief, the Mayor, and the Council. Demand that accountability is needed for all officers, and body cams are a vital part of that.

Ways the city can continue live conversations with council visitors during the Covid emergency

Published March 30, 2020 by justicewg

council on YTThe city of Grandview Heights has published new rules for public participation during all city meetings (see quote from the email at bottom). All residents are now directed to watch live streams of the meetings on YouTube, and stay out of city hall. The result of this new policy will be to end the “comments from visitors” section of all meetings, along with important live testimony during BZA and other hearings. The city claims it is following new emergency rules from the State that allow meetings to be conducted online without visitors. I think the city is failing to follow the new directives properly, and has not given enough thought to simple measures that would both allow live public comment, and protect the council from exposure to Coronavirus.

SB 197 passed to allow emergency rule change

The Ohio Senate passed new rules that allow public bodies in Ohio to conduct official meetings online, or with no visitors but live steamed to online services. The full bill has extensive rules for how this online meetings should be held, this short section is the most important for understanding the new policy (see below for comment on the quality of the video and audio of council meetings).

From SB 197
(C) When members of a public body conduct a hearing by means of teleconference, video conference, or any other similar electronic technology, the public body must establish a means, through the use of electronic equipment that is widely available to the general public, to converse with witnesses, and to receive documentary testimony and physical evidence.

Grandview city council has said in the past that they want emails sent to council members before meetings to substitute for live attendance and conversation with the public. The new rules clearly say “to converse with witnesses”, which means live back and forth talking at minimum. The city should have policy for sharing documents from residents during meetings, and physical evidence – and I have read no provisions for doing this during council meetings.

In my emails with the council, I have been told by Vice Pres. Smith that he interprets the above as only applying to hearings like the BZA. But – the city has not made rules for how this conversation with witnesses will be done. After they figure out how to allow testimony during hearings, what prevents them from using the same method for allowing conversations at all meetings?

If the council tries to use a “this is temporary!” dodge to the issue, please read SB 197. It allows these new rules to extend until December 2020. New policy that excludes the public from meetings is not “temporary” when it lasts all year long.

How the council is currently holding meetings.

The city is currently livestreaming meetings on YouTube. The audio quality is abysmal, the fixed wide angle camera doesn’t allow us to perceive who is speaking most of the time, unless the speaker is waving their hands. SB 197 requires high quality audio and video.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzR6z47-hYUc4kvJV3P0GUA

From SB 197
The public body shall ensure that the public can observe and hear the discussions and deliberations of all the members of the public body, whether the member is participating in person or electronically.

The quality of the video and audio so far fail to comply with SB 197. The city should be hiring a camera operator to follow the speakers during meetings, and ensure clean and clear audio is recorded. This is not some magic that requires special skills – the school board has done it since Aug, 2019, and is supposed to have a camera operator recording meetings after April this year. You could hire a teenager with the skills needed for cheap.

When we watch the council we can see they have spaced out the seating, and removed most of the visitor chairs. Good – but they are still passing paperwork between each other with no gloves, they pass within inches of each other while moving around the room. If you made a drinking game out of counting the number of times they touched their faces, you would not survive (but the alcohol you spill might protect you from viruses).

Just let the visitor in the room to speak, then leave

My first suggestion for allowing conversations with the public during meetings is the simplest. Ask those who wish to speak before the council to wait outside the building. Provide them with a means of requesting to speak (someone goes outside and makes a list). When the council gets to the “hearing from visitors” section of the meeting, allow each individual person to enter the room and speak. If the council is really worried about infections, it can provide gloves and a mask for each visitor. When the conversation is over, the speaker leaves.

Every council person already has to go out in public, to shop for food, to see family members. I don’t think allowing a few people to briefly enter the council chambers is going to perceptibly increase the danger to the council.

The window option

I think the above solution is the best, but if the paranoia of the council will not allow people in the room, visitors could stand outside the chambers and speak to council. Give them a phone number to call, place the answering phone in the center of the room set to speakerphone, with the volume all the way up. Each speaker stands outside the left window, and council members face the speaker. After the speaker finishes they can walk away and watch the streaming YouTube video of the meeting on their phone. This would have zero increase to the dangers of infection for both speakers and council.

Video conferencing options

There is no reason the council has to meet in person, as I read the new rules they can meet via video conferencing like Zoom. Everyone just stays home, visitors can watch the Zoom conference, the owner of the Zoom conference has controls that allow individual participants to have permission to speak. Allow residents to join in the conference and take the floor for five minutes.

This could also be done via Google Hangouts for free, as long as the participants are limited to 25. This would be well within the usual number of participants at council meetings.

The city just hired a IT expert who is supposed to be knowledgeable about these things, here is where he can earn his salary. Why do I have to do this work?

The Mayor and council are disappointing

We have been watching this pandemic approaching for two months, and the rules that the Mayor and council have enacted do not show that they have any respect for the preservation of live conversations with the residents of Grandview Heights.

I fully expect the Grandview school board to use this emergency to shut the meeting doors firmly closed, and place guards outside with orders to use fire hoses on anyone who attempts to enter. As of now, the board has been silent on rules – because informing the public is lowest on their list.

I don’t think this failure would have happened under Ray Degraw. This is another disappointment from Mayor Kearns.

(Edit) The council sent out new rules banning all public attendance at meetings. The council will now read the title of emails sent to the “all” address, during meetings, but not the body of the email. They say the text will be added to the official record – which will never be read by the public here in Grandview. This is not the best way to continue conversation with the citizens, and as I read the new laws, fails to be in compliance. An email sent to City attorney Khouzam asking for her legal opinion has not been answered.

(Later) I have to give credit where it is due – the Grandview Hts. School board has better public comment policy than the city council. On April 8, 2020, at 7 p.m, the board will have a Zoom conference (link to be posted on the school website), and they say they will still allow public comment via participating in the zoom room.

(later) The above was info that was briefly posted by the school, they now say they will hold a closed video conference that can only be viewed on YT. Like the city, public comments must be sent via email. The board claims “comments will be read into the public record and attached to the meeting minutes.” I doubt they will be reading anything aloud they don’t agree with.

City council, you can’t keep up with the school board in allowing live public comment? Shameful. (edit) Shame on both the city and school board for taking away live public comments.

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Restrictions on public attendance and comment during city meetings

Published March 27, 2020 by justicewg

council on YT(Edit – read the new section at the bottom for rules the new Ohio SB 197 requires for online meetings).

(From an email to the Mayor and council)

I received an email on 3-27-20 in which the city of Grandview Heights has set new policy on attendance at public meetings in the city hall. Apparently all of the public will be restricted from attending all public meetings. The reason given was to comply with Covid-19 distancing guidelines that were suggested by the Governor. Instead of public meetings, the city will have private meetings that are broadcast live on a YouTube channel.

No matter what the intended reasons the city has used to make these new rules, the real outcome of the steps taken up to now has deprived the citizens of the right to view, hear, and comment at public meetings. The proposal to restrict the public from any attendance is unacceptable, and in violation of Ohio Open Meeting laws, which have not been suspended.

First, the recordings of two meetings that have been streamed and archived on YouTube are nearly worthless because of audio issues. Council members and the Mayor, sitting on the far side of the room, are nearly inaudible on the recording.

If there was an attempt to record meetings but it can not be heard due to audio recording issues, there is no public record of a speech. If the city can’t fix the audio issues, then it should drop the live YT recordings, and find a new method of sending live audio out. In the past, the council was recording meetings and it was better quality – why is it worse now?

Second, there is no way to perceive who is speaking when the camera is only showing a wide angle shot from a corner of the room. Sometimes you might be able to figure out from the movement of the current speaker who is talking, but when short comments are made at low volume it is impossible to identify the speaker (or to hear low volume speakers because of audio issues).

Third, and most importantly, no provision has been made to allow public input during meetings. Again, this is in violation of Ohio Open Meeting rules. There might be workarounds, the council might have a phone number displayed that will allow comments to be called in and recorded. The council might hold live Zoom conferences and allow comments from attendees at home.

None of these workarounds appears to be under consideration.

I suggest the city work on finding more acceptable solutions, that will both allow live public input and hearing during meetings, and protect the members of the council from Covid-19 dangers.

(after the jump, new info on Open Meeting rules from council person Smith)

(update 6PM) The Ohio senate passed SB 197, which allows legislative bodies to hold meetings online, and stream them to the public. However, read this section of the bill:

(C) When members of a public body conduct a hearing by means of teleconference, video conference, or any other similar electronic technology, the public body must establish a means, through the use of electronic equipment that is widely available to the general public, to converse with witnesses, and to receive documentary testimony and physical evidence.

As I read the bill this requires the city to include a means for the public to speak before the public officials that are holding the meeting, through the same means the meeting is being held online. This isn’t a “good to have at some point” requirement, it is a “must” for the council to hold legal meetings.

Read the bill text after the jump.
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Taxation and government spending 101

Published January 19, 2020 by justicewg

 

I read a lot of rationalizations from the city council members this week for the support of a new assistant position to be created under mayor Kearns. Most of it had some fuzzy or incorrect thinking about how tax money came to be sitting in the budget of the city. They need a refresher course in taxes and spending.

Government money comes from taxes

There are some fees the government collects for the use of land, or more esoteric stuff like sale of radio frequencies. That stuff is minor – most government money comes from taxes (property and income and sales, individual and business). The voters give the government the right to tax, and increase taxes, via voting.

The Grandview Heights school board once tried to tell us all that they had negotiated the rent of space on the football field for cell towers, and that because they did all the work negotiating with the phone companies, they were the owners of that money and could use it however they wanted (which at the time was to pay for new field turf).

If the board had gone into business for themselves, and started buying up property, then selling it to cell phone tower companies, they could have honestly said they owned the money. But that would be silly – school boards are not in the business of cell towers. The land those towers were built on belonged to the public. The money they received was only a fee, same as the fee for use of the field by other school teams. Those fees went into the general funds of the school, which is owned by the residents of this city.

Our city collects some money from other parts of the government, the state (which has been decreasing mostly) and the federal government. They got that money from taxes too, so … taxes are where the money comes from.

Taxes increase because we voted for the increase

Ohio has House Bill 920, which decreases the tax valuation of property because of property value increases (and Grandview has some of the fastest increases in value). There are some other exemptions and rollbacks, but generally taxes ratchet higher every year.

Taxes go up because governments convince voters to approves increases. We all want better schools, more services, faster police response, new transportation options (monorails). Our governments are supposed to be the experts who can tell us what new expenditures will be worth higher taxes, and which will be wastes of money. Unfortunately, those office holders can fall for the same poor rationalizations that cause the normal person with a high credit card balance to get into trouble.

Spending money because we have it in our hand

This is the “burning a hole in your pocket” trap, and I think many of the city council members have fallen for it. They were quick to note that the council had not spent all the money it had budgeted for last year, and this was a rationalization for more spending this year.

If we are the kind of people who carefully budget our household spending, and we end the year with money to spare, we can feel free to go out for an expensive evening, and still not cause long term budget issues. The problem comes when people use a short term surplus to justify a big ticket item on the credit card. If that budget goes negative the next year, you are in trouble.

New employees for the city are even worse than credit card spending, because if you keep up the CC bills, eventually that new car is paid off. A new employee for the city is forever – it is nearly impossible to cut city employees, unless the economy has cratered (I can’t remember the city cutting people during the 2008 downturn, mostly there were people who didn’t get replaced when they chose to leave). The cost of new employees continues to rise with seniority.

And good luck being the council member who has to tell the mayor “we need to cut your assistant due to budget problems”. The job – and the cost – is forever.

No new taxes

Councilman Smith said he felt OK about the new assistant position because it would not require new taxes.

Every single dollar in the city coffers is there because of new taxes. The 2016 tax levy was not that long ago, if there was a large surplus in the last year’s budget, then maybe that 2016 tax was too large.

As I noted above, every dollar in the city budget is the result of new taxes – some of those increases may be longer in the past, but it all came from new taxes.

A present for the new mayor

Some of the council members said they felt the new mayor deserved the staff she wanted, as a sort of birthday present. Ms Houston said:

“… The mayor also reserves the right to reconfigure her leadership staff and their responsibilities as she sees fit …”

The mayor is charged with running the city administration as she sees fit, within the limitations of the city charter. The city council, however, holds the purse – and all authority for hiring new employees.

If we are at the point where new city positions are created just to make the new mayor happy, then the council has lost its way.

Reasons I could accept

New mayor Kearns needs to stand up before the residents of the city, and make the case for her new assistant. If she is honest, she will say “yes, this new position will cost you more of your tax dollars that you voted for in 2016. It is going to shorten the time before we ask for more money. But it is a good thing to spend your money on.” And then explain how this addition to the bureaucracy will not make the mayor’s office less responsive.

(1-29-20)

Mayor hires her assistant

I could find no public statement from the Mayor justifying the addition to the bureaucracy in city hall before she took action and hired her new assistant, Aubrey Hale. In the tradition of confusing and unneeded obfuscation as the bureaucracy expands, the new assistant is being called the “Strategy & Engagement Officer”.

(1-31-20) Hale is being paid $70K + benefits – to start, first day on the job.

Mayor Kearns wants to add to the bureaucracy

Published January 17, 2020 by justicewg

Kearns and Pat and RayOne of the real advantages of living in a small town is the direct access we have to our elected officials. I had a city council person two doors away, a school board member two houses the other way, and a council president just around the corner. That kind of direct access is missing in large cities, where officials are walled off behind an army of underlings. As her first big action after taking office, our new mayor Kearns is proposing a new position in the administration who will be directly under her in the organizational chart, with an as-yet undefined job. The proposed salary is listed as ranging up to $100K per year – this is not a secretary.

I don’t think I have ever heard the words “Yea, more bureaucracy!”

Small town mayors are part time

There are many small towns in Ohio with mayors who have to work a full time job, and do the work of the mayor at the same time. Grandview Heights, with a population of 6,536 at the 2010 census, has always elected a part time mayor. Ray Degraw earned only $40K in the last year of his 16 years in the mayor’s job. That doesn’t mean he only worked part time, I’m sure he had many weeks working full time on the many tasks of the mayor – but he never complained, he never went before the council and asked for new assistants or more pay in order to turn the mayor’s office into a full time job.

Ray always made time to listen to his constituents a big part of his work, even when he could have truthfully said “I have done enough for the city this week”. He always answered my emails within a day or two. He started the mayors blog, and posted frequent updates. He was always willing to meet and talk. I remember one occasion where he scheduled a “talk with the mayor” event down at Wyman Woods shelter (unfortunately at 6PM), and I was the only person that attended. Ray was still willing to sit down and have a wide ranging discussion, covering everything from sewers to new development.

During the election for mayor in 2019, I asked both candidates about the future of the mayor’s office. If Ms Kearns was thinking that she would require a new high level staff member for the administration, this was where she could have been truthful, and let us know her plans.

She said nothing about wanting an assistant mayor. I looked in theTVN story before the election, where she was asked directly about the staff issues for the administration. She said nothing about an assistant.

What have the council member been told?

I asked all of the council members about this new position in the administration. From my experience in talking to council members in the past, this new position was negotiated and cleared with the council well in the past. The listening to residents is over – now the job is just justifying the votes.

Council person Rebekah Hatzifotinos was the most helpful, and said this about the new administration position:

“ I have confidence in our new Mayor and the way she is intending to staff her administration. She has done extensive research and met with many other administrators in other communities to prepare and gather information.  The position that is currently titled “assistant to the mayor” is going to be a person who has broad experience in public administration and can act as a “generalist” -someone who knows about city planning but also government communications, etc.

The title is more of a function of the charter than anything- we are working on determining whether a different title can be created while still complying with charter rules. So per your first email, correct, not a secretary, but not a vice mayor either. – Rebekah Hatzifotinos

Hatzifotinos said Kearns had been doing extensive research before asking the council for this new position in the administration. In other words, this was something Kearns knew she wanted, and pre-mediated with the council members. Too bad Kearns didn’t include the voters in this planning, while she was running for office. Hatzifotinos doesn’t have a final name for the position – because they don’t know how to do what they want without breaking charter rules?

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I prefer politicians who first read the charter and know exactly what it says, and what it allows, instead of going back to it and trying to justify what they intend to do anyway.

Hatzifotinos said she didn’t recall exactly when this new position was proposed by Kearns, but thinks it was after the election. The rest of the council members I asked just failed to answer when asked when Kearns started proposing the new position.

Councilman Anthony Panzera had more to say, but this is the meat of his email:

“…My present understanding is that the new administrative structure will not require additional funding for the 2020 budget which Council approved in December.  I also do not believe that it will interfere in any way with the accessibility, responsibilities, nor the expected public representation and leadership from the Mayor’s office.” -Anthony Panzera

I’m always floored by politician who act like the budgets are play money, and if they shift a few figures around then they can get what they want for free. This is not free money. The approximately $250K budgeted for a new I.T. director and Assistant to the Mayor is real money, paid for with the taxpayers hard work.

I can respect politicians who say “yes, this new thing I want is expensive, but we really need it, and I accept responsibility for making your taxes go up to pay for it”. So far, what I have heard from the city is – the opposite.

Panzera is sure the new assistant mayor will not be another layer of bureaucracy for the city? In what fantasy land? Isn’t adding a new assistant the definition of bureaucracy?

Councilman Smith said this:

“… Regarding my statement that the pay for this position would be at the lower end of the pay range is based on conversations I have had. No city services will be cut. Again, there is no need for a supplemental appropriation with this. With the fiscally prudent practices of the Finance Department &council—- in particular the City Council Finance Committee—- the city had a surplus of more than $400,000.00 last year. “ Chris Smith

If the city ended the year with a $400K surplus, then our taxes were too high. Maybe that money will go into a rainy day fund, but it wasn’t “free money” that can be spent as the council wants in order to help a mayor add to the bureaucracy.

Has the Mayor been answering your email?

I’m sure there will be more from the mayor on this new assistant, before the inevitable vote to approve from council. If you chose to send an email, and you get a reply, could you forward it to me? Because Mayor Kearns seems to have chosen to stop answering my email.

There will be a Tuesday Jan 21th meeting at 6pm for the Planning & Administration Committee. I expect this will be more rationalization for a decision that has already been made, but you can attend and voice your opinion.

What did the mayor tell you before the election?

Ms Kearns did pound the pavement, and spent a lot of time knocking and talking. She has been using that time getting votes as an example of how she is willing to spend time doing the job of being a mayor. But I’m not convinced – is work to get elected (which rewards her with a new job) the same as listening to constituents after she is elected, for which she receives nothing?

What did Ms Kearns tell you before the election? Can you confirm her saying “I will be trying to hire an assistant?” Post in the comment section, or send me a message in the “about” page.

(1-29-20 update)

Mayor hires her assistant

I could find no public statement from the Mayor justifying the addition to the bureaucracy in city hall before she took action and hired her new assistant, Aubrey Hale. In the tradition of confusing and unneeded obfuscation as the bureaucracy expands, the new assistant is being called the “Strategy & Engagement Officer”.

(1-31-20) Hale is being paid $70K + benefits – to start, first day on the job.

Grandview Mayor candidate questions – Police body cam policy

Published October 13, 2019 by justicewg
police body cam

(Update – Kearns won the Nov 5th mayoral race.)

The recent incident with the spiked baseball bat wielding attacker ended with a reported wound to the hand of one of Grandview Height’s police officers. The four officers who were at the scene showed great restraint in their reaction to a suspect who was using a deadly weapon.

Although there was a dash cam showing the outside of the home, there were no body cams on the officers inside the house. If the choice made by the officers were different, and a gun was used to defend the officers, there would have been no video record of the attack. The headlines in the local papers might have been “Grandview police shoot mentally ill man wanted for a traffic violation, in his own home, no cameras were worn.”

Many local police departments now use body cams. In 2015, then Columbus Council president Andrew Ginther proposed the roll-out of body cameras. The department completed its deployment in 2018, and 1,400 officers now wear the cameras.

Whitehall became first Franklin County suburb to equip officers with body cameras in 2018. Westerville and Dublin will have all officers equipped with cams by the end of 2019. Bexley, Grove City, and Reynoldsburg have all tested cameras recently.

(edit – Reynoldsburg was late to answer my question, they now have body cams for all police officers)

My questions for the candidates – should Grandview Heights police now be using body cameras? Are you in favor of at least a test program?

Steve Reynolds – answered in one day.

First, I would echo your comments that GHPD officers showed remarkable restraint and should be applauded for their very professional response. It is my understanding the injured officer sustained multiple bone fractures in his hand and had one of his knuckles impaled by a nail. He may require multiple corrective surgeries and faces months of recovery. I certainly wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

As to the appropriateness of body cams, the department had looked into purchasing them a year or two back, but decided to hold off until implementation in other Central Ohio departments could be observed. While it may sound like a simple program to put in place, there are numerous details and considerations which come into play. The Chief could explain these with a higher level of expertise than I can, but I’ll provide a summary based upon my discussions with him and other law enforcement officers.

In addition to the initial cost of equipment, a substantial amount of expense and labor can be incurred in administering to such a program. Legal considerations such as HIPAA (i.e., personal privacy rights) require extremely careful screening and cataloging of body-cam video. This differs from dash-cam video due, in part, to the likelihood of entering someone’s home as opposed to what is readily observable to the public such as in a traffic stop on the street.

For a small department, taking up officers’ time with proper training and appropriate day-to-day operation can be a considerable allocation of resources. Some larger departments are able to employ civilians to handle some aspects of the program, but that would be especially challenging for a department our size. Long-term, secure storage of the body-cam video is also substantially more voluminous than for dash-cam video in that body cams are active for a much longer portion of an officer’s shift than dash cams.

Finally — after all that background information — I can answer your specific questions. Should the department be using body cams “now”? No, I do not believe that we have a comfort level yet with how such a program should be implemented in our own department. As I alluded to above, it isn’t as simple as just purchasing the cameras and putting them out on the street. That being said, I believe we will (and should) have them in place with GHPD within the next few years after Grandview is better able to study the experiences of local departments, both from a legal and operational perspective. Once the Chief and I are comfortable that we have reached such a point, it would then be appropriate to begin rolling out a test program. – Steve Reynolds

Greta Kearns answered after three days.

I too am grateful for the professionalism of our police officers and the leadership of our Chief of Police in keeping our community safe.

You asked whether body cameras should be used or tested in Grandview Heights Police Department. In my opinion, more information and assessment is needed before taking this step. Body camera programs require operational changes, both in the field and in the office. We are learning from other jurisdictions as they find data storage and staffing solutions to handle the high volume of public records generated by body camera video, while also meeting all legal obligations to protect privacy (minors, domestic violence victims, and personal health information, for example). Any new program needs to fit the scale of our operations and be planned within the context of budget priorities. As Mayor, I would work with my Chief of Police and the community to assess the evolving legal, operational, and technological landscape regarding body cameras and to determine if and when a program is the right step for Grandview. – Greta Kearns

Body cams are standard police gear

If you were like me, you wondered why the police video from the spiked bat incident on the local news only showed some blurry video taken from a police dash cam. Although Grandview likes to think we are “like Mayberry RFD”, we don’t pay our police department like a small town, and have up to date cars.

Whitehall is beating us in the use of modern police equipment?

The studies are out, the research done. Body cams are liked by competent cops, because they back up the word of the police officer who knows his job. The only group of police that are dragging their feet on body cams are the “we hate new tech devices” late adopters – which is where I think we are at with the present Police Chief.

Reynolds seemed to get it – the cameras are inevitable, the Grandview Police will either use them soon or be required to use them. But he shouldn’t have added “if the chief is comfortable”, we need a Mayor that is the boss, and does what is needed to keep the police department up to date, even if the Chief is uncomfortable.

Kearns was way too wishy-washy on body cams, her “if and when we use them” holds out the option of saying no to cams. That just isn’t an option that makes any sense. If she can’t tell the Chief what his job requires, she doesn’t need to be in the Mayor’s office.

Previously – Candidates set positions on the future of the Mayor

More Previously – Candidates for Mayor set positions on scooters.

Questions for the Grandview Mayoral candidates – the future of the Mayor

Published October 8, 2019 by justicewg

by rob nguyen

by rob nguyen

(Update – Kearns won the Nov 5th mayoral race.)

We can learn some things about the candidates for Mayor by asking them what they intend to do once in office, and what they would like to see happen to the Mayor in the future.

Full Time Mayor

In my post about the salary of the Mayor in Grandview Heights, I gave a short discussion of the possibility for change in the way the Mayor’s office could work in the future.

Right now, the Mayor is considered a part time job. The amount of time an office holder works is up to the individual who is the Mayor, but there are no fixed duties that require full time work.

I asked the candidates if Mayor should become a full time job, with an increase in pay that reflects the hours and duties of a full time Mayor?

I asked if that full time Mayor would be taking over some or all of the tasks of Pat Bowman?

Switch to a professional city manager appointed by city council?

Other cities in Franklin Co. (Hilliard in 2018) have been switching to a professional city manager instead of a Mayor. The idea is that unlike a Mayor who might come into the position from any background, a professional city manager would be trained (at least a Master of Public Administration degree) and experienced enough to quickly fit into the job. The manager would be updated with the educational programs specifically aimed at city managers, and be focused on doing the job the city council needed to have done, without worrying about running for office every four years.

I asked – should Grandview consider switching to a professional city manager appointed by council?

Steve Reynolds answered after two days.

Full Time Mayor
Over the past two decades, the job description for Grandview’s mayor has changed considerably. The duties and responsibilities of the position require more day-to-day attention to details and a much broader knowledge base than in years past.  With that perspective in mind, it is more than appropriate to reevaluate the community’s expectations for the role of mayor. I will examine the feasibility of folding the position of Director of Administration back into the mayor’s duties. Such a consolidation would flatten the management structure, increase operating efficiency, and result in cost savings. Regardless of this potential change, we need someone who is willing and able to make an “all-in” commitment, which is exactly what I intend to do as mayor.

Administrator instead of Mayor
The Charter Review Commission has explored such possibilities numerous times, including the most-recent review last year.  I agree with their findings (as approved by our voters) that such changes are not appropriate at the present time.  For me, the independence of Mayor and Council is a good thing.  It provides at least the opportunity for checks and balances in our local government. – Steve Reynolds

Greta Kearns answered after four days.

Full Time Mayor
For me, serving Grandview Heights is public service, not a profession. Mayor DeGraw also treated the role this way and you agree that he has served our community well. I have served on Council since 2014 and do not expect to get paid commensurate with the hours that I put into the job. I doubt any city manager would be motivated to spend the time I have spent since last year going door to door as a candidate, listening to the concerns of residents. A Mayor is an independently elected chief executive and, therefore, directly accountable to residents. Unlike a city manager appointed by Council, a mayor must stand up for her record every 4 years.
You mention “gray hairs” and Mayor DeGraw’s experience, something neither candidate possesses. But Mayor DeGraw did not possess all his experience and wisdom on his first day of the job in 2004. He, like I, brought a wealth of life experience and professional capabilities from non-government work and as a parent. I disagree that learning on the job is a negative characteristic of an elected executive that can be somehow avoided by hiring a professional trained in public administration; Mayor DeGraw, in fact, became a better mayor by learning on the job. He gained experience facing the challenges and working with Council and residents to solve problems.

Administrator instead of Mayor
A weak mayor/city manager form of government would require a charter change. Last year, our Charter Review Commission, a group of nine appointed electors, evaluated a potential change and determined, as had prior Charter Review Commissions, that our current strong mayor form of government was continuing to meet our needs. Thus, the version of the charter they recommended and that was affirmed at the ballot in November kept our current form of government intact. I concur with this decision. – Greta Kearns

Notes on the answers

Reynolds was in favor of a full time Mayor. He said he was “all-in”. Kearns, although she seemed to be committed to doing the work, did not say she was going to be a full time Mayor, or that she would support changing the office to full time.

It was a simple question, and I think the city deserves a simple answer, not a lawyer’s side-step of the issue.

Neither wanted a city manager type head of the administration. Maybe I’m biased because I took half of the coursework for a masters degree in Public Administration (long story), but I think a City Administrator would be the better way for a small city to fill the head of the administration office.

We might get lucky, and always have a person who is both a politician who is good at running for office, and running a city. If we get unlucky, it can be a terrible fate for a city. Do we need to look far for an example of someone who can get elected, but has no clue how to run the office they were supposed to fill?

Mayoral candidate story in the TVN (where everyone “mulls” the answers to questions).

Previously – Candidates for Mayor set positions on scooters.

Grandview Mayor candidate questions – Police body cam policy

Mayor DeGraw was paid $40K a year

Published August 23, 2019 by justicewg

An ordinance passed back in 2013 set the base pay for the Mayor of Grandview Heights. At that time Ray DeGraw was earning $30K per year for a part-time position. With the knowledge that the Grandview Yard development would add to the complexity of the position, and the increasing number of constituents ringing his phone and sending him email, the council boosted the pay up to $36K, followed by annual increases to $40K as he ends his term.

Ray always joked that he was being paid peanuts compared to the workload the Mayor position demands. He must oversee the spending of the city, create new budgets, manage all the employees, respond to the many contacts with residents, and run the Mayor’s court. Add in the complex negotiations needed to oversee the Yard and the follow on SOG development – then throw in the Grandview Crossing development on 33 – and it becomes almost ridiculous the he would be paid so little, given the high stakes.

And don’t forget – a part-time Mayor must also work a regular job.

The city council voted to give some boosts to the Mayor’s salary, starting in 2020 it will be $48K, increasing to $52K by 2023.

But facts can’t be bent – Grandview is the smallest city in Franklin County. Our tax base is increasing, but still small enough that the Mayor position must be part time, given the resources of the city.

With an annual budget of only $15 Million (similar to Canal Winchester), it would be extravagant to pay for a full time Mayor.

Switch to a professional city manager appointed by city council?

Other cities in Franklin Co. (Hilliard in 2018) have been switching to a professional city manager instead of a Mayor. The idea is that unlike a Mayor who might come into the position from any background, a professional city manager would be trained (at least a Master of Public Administration degree) and experienced enough to quickly fit into the job. The manager would be updated with the educational programs specifically aimed at city managers, and be focused on doing the job the city council needed to have done, without worrying about running for office every four years.

Grandview does have a Director of Administration, but as Pat Bowman is already working in that position, and as head of development, his job is as stretched as DeGraw’s. Finding a replacement for him may only make sense with a professional manager who could wear both the hat of the Mayor and the work that Bowman currently does.

Gray heads have more time for the workload

Ray DeGraw has long experience as Mayor, but it must be noted that he has reached the age at which he is not forced to chose between kids and the work (and Ray has often said that he wishes he had more time for his wife). That long experience – and the focus he has on the work – will be nearly impossible to replace, given the wide skill set needed for his position.

Neither of the candidates for the Mayor’s office have the gray hair that would be better for the position.

I am aware that pointing out which candidate has kids makes me open for accusations of sexism – but I hold that I would be pointing out the kids of the male candidate too (if he had any). I just don’t understand why anyone would take on the workload that DeGraw strained under, for only $48K a year – and then added raising a family, and working a second job.

I think that Grandview Heights would be better served if it went with a professional manager. You might get lucky and find a person with the talent of a DeGraw, and that person might want to run for office. What happens to that person if they don’t get re-elected to the Mayor term after four years, and have to re-start a full time career?

I don’t think either of the current candidates will measure up to Ray. I think the best long term choice is to hire a person with the talent for the job.

More to come on this issue – I will contact the candidates about switching to a professional manager, or folding the Director of Administration into the Mayor’s duties and turning it into a full time position.

Candidates for Mayor set positions on scooters

Published August 16, 2019 by justicewg

Quad scooters(Update – Kearns won the Nov 5th mayoral race.)

Too bad we can’t chose the winner of the mayoral race by staging a scooter race, I’m sure that we would all have more fun and maybe do no worse in choosing the correct person for the office.

I asked each candidate to give their positions on the issue of scooter rental (“sharing” in the lingo of the scooter companies, I fail to understand how the word share is accurately applied to the financial deal to use their scooters). The issue of rental scooters is of low importance for the future of the city, but the process that each candidate uses to explore and involve the residents of our town in plans for transportation is instructive.

Steve Reynolds was the first to respond, his reply follows:

I am not ready for an all-out ban of scooters. In the right context, they can be useful. In fact, conventional transit providers — including COTA — are specifically incorporating scooters as a “first-mile/last-mile” option within their strategic planning decisions.

That being said, I would not be in favor of staging them in typical residential settings. There simply is not room for them on most residential sidewalks and right-of-ways.

We need to get input from citizens in Grandview Heights to find out how many residents actually use, or would use, scooters as an alternative to other means of transportation. If, for example, we discovered that folks in Grandview Yard find them to be of value in getting around, there are a variety of places where staging them might be appropriate. We really need to have the discussion and spent some time weighing the benefits and risks.

As for riding them on the sidewalk, I am in favor of strict enforcement of prohibiting it. It simply is not safe for pedestrians.

Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions or comments.

Thanks,
Steve Reynolds

A few days later I receive this email from Greta Kearns:

It is evident from your personal experience and anecdotes from Grandview residents that more enforcement and education are needed to improve safety. As a member of Grandview Heights City Council, I have heard complaints about reckless operation and scooters blocking rights-of-way and detracting from the character of the neighborhoods.

Because scooters play a role as “last-mile” transportation, they can pair well with public transportation and reduce auto traffic and parking headaches. When operated on the roads as legally required, scooters pose relatively low risk to others in the community. The shared mobility model is particularly popular in a high-amenity location such as Grandview Heights, which has many younger residents, and is compact and convenient to downtown and Ohio State. Like COTA and CoGo, scooters offer benefits such as low cost, convenience, and reductions in automobile traffic, parking and congestion.

Nevertheless, I believe scooters should be operated more safely than they are now, which can be accomplished through a combination of contractual, regulatory, and enforcement efforts, including community education on safe operation and regulations regarding where scooters can be parked.

Grandview Heights has an opportunity to formalize transportation and mobility policy when we implement our Comprehensive Plan beginning next year. Specifically, the plan recommends developing a city policy regarding scooters, including designating clear parking areas for scooters in high traffic areas. Contractual arrangements with the rental companies would also give us more control over scooter operation. One of the challenges is planning for the future as transportation models evolve. Last year there were two rental companies, this year there are apparently four, and next year may bring different operators and technologies entirely.

Mayor DeGraw has established a Transportation Advisory Group with community representation. Scooters are on the group’s radar, and recommendations are likely to emerge that are complementary to the Community Plan. If elected Mayor in November, you can expect Grandview Heights to act on the scooter issue next year.

It remains to be seen whether scooters will be a permanent part of the landscape, but many millennials embrace a lifestyle free of car ownership. You can see scooters parked in front of popular establishments on weekends, which takes cars off the road and frees up parking spaces.

Thank you for contacting me on this matter. I look forward to continuing to address Grandview Heights’ transportation policies, including scooters and other shared mobility models.

Greta Kearns

Thinking about the candidate replies

There is much similarity in the replies as far as viewpoints of the safety of the devices. Both candidates are against use of the scooters on sidewalks, but think that there may be some future way to incorporate them into “first-mile/last-mile” options.

“When operated as legally required” is the major sticking point for the scooters, they are scary to use with traffic on the street, so they are very often used on the sidewalk. The laws are clear on the state and local level – no scooters on the sidewalk. I have read that some people think there could be technological solutions that don’t allow the use on the sidewalk, but I think the Jetson flying cars will be here before scooters that can’t run people down on sidewalks are built.

Both wanted to see input from residents of the city on the use of scooters. If we go by the word of Mayor DeGraw, he had no emails that asked for the inclusion of staging areas for scooters in the city. The Comprehensive Plan (a committee that looked at many issues in Grandview) may have commented on the devices, but I assume there will be a more specific comment period before new rules for scooters are implemented.

While I understand “many millennials embrace a lifestyle” that would like to include scooters in it, I don’t want the rest of us to become forced to leap out of the way while walking on the sidewalks. I only read one candidate that asks for “strict enforcement of prohibiting” them on sidewalks. We all get plenty of education when we learn to drive a car, being pulled over and ticketed is how we internalize the laws. All rental scooters have rules printed on them that educates the drivers to stay off the sidewalk, you can see how well that works.

(Previous post on DeGraw’s position on scooters)

Grandview Mayor candidate questions – Police body cam policy

The future of the Mayor