Jan
25

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s Stow City Council meeting:

Baumann’s Florist – Council approved a zoning certificate for Baumann’s Florist’s new location, on Darrow Road, across from the library. They will leave their current location at the corner of Ritchie and Hudson. The Baumanns were emotional last night, thanking Stow for supporting their first 39 years in business. We look forward to supporting them in the future. Great people.

Boards and Commissions – Serving on a city commission is thankless work, without pay. In the case of Planning Commission, there are weighty decisions, too. Based on these facts, the positions had little demand, and council reappointed the same people, over and over. … This year, Mayor Pribonic advertised for openings, and we had 35 applicants. That’s very encouraging, because we want new voices every now and then. I will support term limits on our most in-demand commission(s).

Fun Fact – We sold $47K of alcohol at Fox Den Golf Course last year, at a $15K cost of good sold.

Smoking Age – Council heard legislation to increase the smoking age to 21. It would not be enforced by police. There would be no punishment to the young people. Rather, the law would be enforced against Stow’s 21 tobacco vendors, who would pay a one-time $150 fee and would face fines when they sell tobacco to Summit County Health Department’s secret shoppers. As it stands today, Akron, Twinsburg, Richfield, Green, Norton, Mogadore and Kent (Portage Co.) have passed the law. The proponents of the law (titled Tobacco21) correctly point out that teenagers are more susceptible to lifelong addiction and that WAY too many young pregnant women are smoking.

The age of majority in the United States, and most of the developed world, is 18. At that age, we believe that humans have the right to make decisions for themselves. That includes the decision to enlist in the military and a host of other “adult” things.

The real problem for teenagers today is not smoking; it’s vaping. High school students are using tiny electronic devices to vaporize liquids containing nicotine or THC (marijuana compound). The devices are very discreet, and often used in the school bathrooms, buses, etc. The high school principal and athletic director testified before us last night, explaining the importance of limiting access to the devices, which can be purchased at Circle K for $14.99. It goes on at the middle school, too.

Let me be clear, we can’t do anything to keep these devices out of Stow High entirely. Until we build that wall at the Cuyahoga Falls border, our teenagers will respond to Tobacco21 by visiting our neighbor to the west (and Munroe Falls to the south, and Hudson to the north). They will be buying more on the Internet, where age verification is impossible.

The best City Council can do, in my humble opinion, is to push the minimum age to 19 for vaping electronics. If we do this, then seniors at Stow High cannot buy them with the same convenience, and we prevent a limited stream of contraband from being shared with underclassmen. Maybe it moves the needle. Maybe. Meaningful reduction in high school vaping will require comprehensive changes to state and federal law.

Again, most people will agree that adults should have freedom, including the freedom to take actions that aren’t in their best interests. So what is an “adult”? Ohio’s age of majority is 18.

I refuse to go down the slippery slope of eliminating freedoms for adults. Look no further than New York City’s ban on sugary drinks to see where those principles will take you. (For the record, I hate sugary drinks and don’t smoke.)

Council gave a first reading to the legislation last night. Based on my vote counting, a broad prohibition is dead on arrival. I would consider supporting a very narrow law to impact the supply of vaping devices in our schools.

2018 budget – Stow had a good year last year, with one exception: healthcare costs. Being partially self-insured, our costs increased due to a year of high claims. As far as revenue goes, the city has never been stronger. We are maintaining our cost consciousness, which is what we relied upon to balance the budget and cut city debt from $31 million to $15 million. Next month, we will begin our review of the 2019 budget.

Snow-mageddon – Huge credit is due to our service department employees, police, firefighters and dispatchers, who did a great job serving our residents during last weekend’s 16 inches of snow. Council is truly appreciative of your professionalism, hard work and skill.

Next meeting – Council will meet next on February 14, which our spouses will love to hear.

Jan
11

Last night’s council meeting

Here are my notes from last night’s city council meeting:

Bike legislation – My effort to repeal unnecessary bike laws passed by a 7-0 vote. Among the laws repealed:

  • Requiring riders to exercise “extreme care” on the roads. This may sound normal. But “reasonable care” (not extreme care) is the standard that pedestrians and motorists are held to. If there was an accident between a bike rider and a car, an attentive lawyer would exploit Stow’s “extreme care” provision to give the driver an unfair advantage, under a concept called negligence per se. We changed the standard for cyclists to “reasonable care,” so everyone is on a level playing field in court.
  • Requiring anyone riding a bike on public property (sidewalks, side roads, bike paths, etc.) to obtain a license from the city–no matter their age or frequency of riding. Prior to repeal, failure to obtain a license carried a minor misdemeanor.
  • This is the most absurd part: Anyone who wants to race a friend/neighbor on bikes or to have an “endurance contest” must obtain the Police Chief’s permission. (Our chief was devastated to see this grand authority be taken from him. Kidding, of course.)

Committee assignments – President Riehl assigned me to become Chairman of the Planning Committee. I have some strong opinions about city planning and economic development.

First, I believe in the rule of law. If someone has a property right, we don’t violate their rights, no matter how big of a mob shows up to oppose them. But, we also must be proactive in changing zoning patterns that were OK in 1970, but not OK in 2019.

Second, I believe in competing for jobs–but not in corporate giveaways. There’s a distinct difference between putting together a competitive package of incentives to attract jobs (on the one hand), and giving away free money to businesses that already had their minds made up (on the other hand).

The biggest test this year will be to link up with a developer to create Downtown Stow. Behind the scenes, I’m working diligently with Mayor Pribonic and his team to find a developer who shares our vision. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the industry about our project.

Stow Court budget – Over the past few years, City Council has anxiously awaited payments from Stow Municipal Court at the end of the year–to see if they would have an operating deficit (which the City of Stow is responsible for, by Ohio law), and to see if they would be able to pay their debt on the $9 million building (which is actually the City of Stow’s debt). Happy to report that, in 2018, the Court was in the black, and the Court paid $437K toward the debt, which is about what we expected.

Leaf pickup – It was a chaotic fall for our service employees, whose leaf-pickup season was shifted much later in the year. They finally finished last week, having made 3 full trips around the city, plus one more cleanup round. Hats off to our employees and managers who worked tirelessly to adapt to the unexpected weather.

Seasons Road exit – Finally, on Monday, we are getting the Seasons Road traffic signal online. No more rush-hour pileups on that southbound ramp!

Next meeting – City Council will meet next on January 24.

Meeting Notes

Press Releases