Sometime this year, Akron will reach the halfway point in a $1 billion sewer project. A gradually sloping hill will replace the Rubber Bowl. And Main Street through the heart of downtown will get a $25 million makeover.
Those are just some of the major projects planned in the city’s 2018 capital budget, which Mayor Dan Horrigan’s department heads presented to City Council on Monday.
Supplemented this year by a 0.25 percent tax increase passed by voters in November, the city plans to spend $108.8 million in locally sourced funds, which include city taxes, property assessments, court and other fees and borrowing. That’s about $10 million more than budgeted in local spending last year for equipment purchases and construction.
Conversely, state spending on projects in the city will fall by $47.5 million, largely because of fewer highway projects funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation. State spending is expected to rebound in the next couple of years with the state Route 8 bridge project coming due.
Federal funds are down, too, while private investment is up, largely due to $3 million FirstEnergy has committed to electrical upgrades in the renovation of Main Street downtown. That $25 million project, as an example of how little funding is locally sourced, will receive $1 million in local income tax revenue and $2 million in city borrowing, and the rest from state and federal infrastructure grants.
Some projects, such as a new municipal courthouse, will not happen due to insufficient funds. Other priorities, such as spending for residential road resurfacing and equipment for police and fire, will be tripled with the influx of $13 million in income taxes after the passage of Issue 4.
In all, there’s more local money to spend, assuming income tax receipts don’t decrease. Still, city accountants are looking to erase an undisclosed budget shortfall in the operating budget, which hasn’t been presented yet and must be passed in March. The capital budget will be voted on in February after a second public hearing at 4 p.m. Monday on the third floor of City Hall, 166 S. High St.
Broadly, the 2018 capital spending plan anticipates slightly more borrowing, with debt relief on the horizon.
“There’s a big drop in 2022, it’s just the way our debt is structured,” Assistant Budget Director Steve Fricker said of debt service payments. “But there is a gradual drop over the next five years.”
Fricker was responding to Councilman Bruce Kilby, who asked a question about when the city will get a handle on its debt, driven by borrowing for the sewer project. Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the planning committee, facilitated the exchange between elected council members and administrators.
Also this year, funding for parks and recreation is down more than $1 million as budget priorities shift toward new police cruisers, a fire station in Middlebury and other expenses contributing to the safety of Akron and its visitors.
“Parks and recreation outlets are part of the overall equation to safety,” Councilwoman Veronica Sims said, noting her opposition to cutting funds for city-owned parks and programming.
Taxpayer-funded economic development also is down, a lot. Largely due to the lack of a massive public-private undertaking like the East End redevelopment, economic development spending, at $6.6 million, is down from $15 million last year. The largest project — street and infrastructure upgrades around the recently announced Firestone Business Park — is actually funded by the county.
The Rubber Bowl is currently owned by the Summit County Land Bank after its previous owners bought the iconic stadium from the University of Akron but failed to find a new purpose for it. The city is seeking a $200,000 state loan to tear it down.
The Land Bank has committed $100,000. The city will borrow as much.
“[The land bank] has a lot of funding. Why can’t they just tear it down?” Councilwoman Tara Mosley-Samples asked, and she was told that the Land Bank doesn’t have that much for commercial demolition.
Down the drain
The sewer project, now half complete, is still draining resources and piling on debt.
Planned spending on the court-mandated project will fall from $150.5 million in 2017 to an estimated $106.4 million this year. Now priced at $1.16 billion instead of an original estimate of $1.4 billion, the infrastructure project will still consume roughly half of all federal, state and local dollars on capital improvement in the city this year.
Tracking spending on the sewer project is tricky. It’s almost entirely funded by low or zero percent interest state loans. So far, the city has disbursed $372 million in loans and paid $1.4 million in interest.
About $972 million of the $1.16 billion price tag involves construction and associated costs. As of December, $568 million in projects, or 58 percent of all work mandated, has been started or finished.
Ellen Lander-Nischt, the city’s spokesperson, said all projects have been on time and, with an integrated plan that allowed for shuffling and re-engineering, the total cost is under budget.
With just the projects completed or under construction, city engineers estimate 500 million gallons of stormwater will be captured, or 74 percent of what the courts have required the city to divert away from rivers and streams in a normal rainfall year.
No courthouse, yet
There will be no new municipal courthouse in 2018, and maybe not in 2019, either.
For years, the city has been squirreling away court fees in a special fund, hoping to have enough someday to build a new municipal courthouse on the site of the Morley Health Center at 177 South Broadway.
The health center will be torn down. On top of an existing underground parking deck, the new courthouse would be erected at an estimated cost of $26 million to $30 million. Last year, court administrators deposited about $1.6 million in the special fund, which sits at about $8 million, or less than a third of what is needed.
“That’s kind of put everything on hold in terms of what we can and cannot do,” Akron Municipal Clerk of Courts Jim Laria said in a telephone interview.
“We’re basically trying to find a design that matches their budget. And right now, that is a challenge,” Lander-Nischt told City Council on Monday, speaking on behalf of the mayor.
“So, probably not 2018, 2019?” asked Mosley-Samples.
“I would say that is fair,” Lander-Nischt responded.
The plan, Lander-Nischt said, is to fund the new courthouse “100 percent” through court fees. If $1.5 million is added to the special fund annually, it would take at least 12 years before the project is fully funded, assuming no inflation.
The 2018 budget earmarks all $17 million in fees for the courthouse rebuild this year. That won’t happen as the courts use these fees to operate.
Akron Public Schools board member John Otterman, who overdosed last week and was administered four doses of an opiate overdose reversal drug, resigned Monday after a long-documented history with illicit drugs.
Otterman submitted a letter of resignation to the board, which members unanimously voted to accept during Monday’s regular board meeting.
“It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Akron on the School Board and the excellent staff and members that remain. This will allow the citizens of Akron and board members to appoint to [sic] a new member that will help facilitate positive growth for the children of the City of Akron,” Otterman wrote in the brief letter. “Also, this will allow myself to regain my physical health that has caused me to miss valuable time working with the other members.”
He has not attended a board meeting since Nov. 6.
Last Thursday, Akron police found Otterman, 57, unconscious in the driver’s seat of a car on East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue. Paramedics treated Otterman at the scene, administering four doses of naloxone, which reverses opiate overdoses, before transporting him to Akron City Hospital for further treatment.
In an incident report, police said they found a white substance that tested positive for fentanyl, an opioid used as a pain medication, in the car along with marijuana.
According to police, Otterman admitted to having the drugs. He faces charges for the marijuana and was issued an immunity form in lieu of arrest for possessing fentanyl.
Ohio’s Good Samaritan Law offers immunity to people who overdose up to two times and want to seek assistance for their addiction.
Otterman could not be reached for comment Monday.
He was elected to the Akron school board in 2015. In his time on the board, Otterman proposed each Akron school have naloxone on hand for emergency use, which the board approved in July.
Otterman has repeatedly mentioned medical issues he’s dealing with, including chronic neck and back pain from football injuries.
He also has illicit drug use issues that date back decades.
In 1989, he was acquitted on charges of trafficking in marijuana at the end of a 10-month undercover investigation by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office at Loral Defense Systems.
In 2001, Otterman, who was a city councilman at the time, was arrested and charged with five felony drug charges for lying to a doctor for painkillers. He was acquitted in that case, too, and the charges were dropped.
He was publicly reprimanded and censored by the board in August after police discovered him in his car in June with “slurred speech and glazed over eyes,” along with an unmarked prescription bottle containing Xanax pills. The board didn’t find out about the incident until two months after it occurred.
The June incident was the first drug violation to appear on his record.
The board has said it’s been limited in what actions it can take against Otterman because he’s an elected official.
“He doesn’t work for me, he doesn’t work for board members, he doesn’t work for the superintendent,” Board President Patrick Bravo said Monday. “He works for the people of Akron.”
Had Otterman chosen not to resign, Bravo said the board would have looked into the few actions it could have taken, including encouraging him to resign or attempting to remove him from office, which requires thousands of voter signatures and a trial in court.
“[The resignation] is something I personally felt was in the best interest of the board and of Mr. Otterman,” Bravo said. “We have compassion … and we wanted to be able to work with him on this.”
The board now has 30 days to fill the vacant seat.
Bravo said the board will hold a special meeting this weekend to determine the best way to do so. Options include appointing people who have never served, appointing previous board members or opening it up as an application process.
The person who fills the vacancy will serve the remainder of Otterman’s term, which is until 2019.
“Otterman has some personal issues he needs to deal with, and we wish him luck on that journey,” said Superintendent David James. “Addiction is very difficult. We just hope he gets the help he needs.”
In other news
• The district unveiled its new website during Monday’s meeting, which aims to increase accessibility and engagement and bring more attention to the district’s Career and College Academy model. See akronschools.com for more information.
• Bravo announced the start of two ad hoc committees the board is leading. One is to examine the way the district handles discipline and suspension, especially toward African-American boys, who receive the highest level of discipline. The second committee aims to increase students’ engagement with the school board, which Bravo plans to do, in part, with a pilot project starting next school year.
• District Treasurer Ryan Pendleton will be participating in a statewide committee that will work with senators to address school funding in the state, which was declared unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court 20 years ago.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.
A dozen middle school students have, by all rights, authored legislation to appreciate the culture and contributions of, and atrocities against, American Indians who once walked the Portage Path in Summit County and beyond.
Eleven students from the Lippman School and one from the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana visited Akron City Council on Monday to support legislation that would celebrate “First People’s Day” in October, exactly one week before Columbus Day.
The legislation, which was poised to pass before council members decided to take time to consider it, follows a controversial proposal offered last year that would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. That plan cut council along racial lines, with members erupting in confrontational exchanges in a deeper and contentious debate about righting the wrongs of history to address inequality today and public policies that sustain them.
“I think this piece is something completely different,” Council President Margo Sommerville said of the students’ proposal. “It’s not taking from anyone. And it recognizes the great contributions and culture of Native Americans.”
The divisive plan submitted last year singled out Christopher Columbus, blaming him for launching the trans-Atlantic slave trade and encouraging the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Caribbean tribes. Asked if council will revisit Columbus in this or any other legislation, Sommerville said: “I don’t think so.”
The First People’s Day proposal doesn’t mention the explorer. Rather, the students’ plan focuses squarely on the recognition of local tribes while putting pressure on elected leaders and educators to know the truth, and to teach it during a day that provides “an opportunity to reflect upon past harms inflicted upon Native Americans.”
“In the past, Native Americans have been treated wrongly and killed,” Ryan Yovichin, a seventh-grader at Lippman, told City Council on Monday. “Trying to remember all of the wrongdoings and change stereotypes and our actions is important. This day will help us establish a foothold and spread that message.”
“We should always remember our own heritage,” Lippman eighth-grader Cale Stephens said. “Native Americans are a big part of our culture because they give us confidence to fight and not give up.
“Historically,” Stephens went on, “they were mistreated by the government, and we need to remember this because we don’t need events like this to happen again. We don’t need people around the world killing people for no reason. We don’t want kids learning to be mean to other people just because of their race.”
The Lippman School is steeped in the Jewish culture. Connecting through a shared history of oppression, the school’s leaders have partnered with the Northern Cheyenne of Montana to bring cross-cultural learning opportunities, including an immersion program with students traveling every other year to the Montana reservation or the Akron school on White Pond Drive.
The partnership began with Steve Chestnut, an attorney for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe for 40 years and the father of Sam Chestnut, current head of the Lippman School.
In 2015, City Council gave the students and their teacher, Matt Russ, something of an assignment. They were challenged to open up the history of the Portage Trail to the public. With Akron Public School students from Portage Path Community Learning Center and the Summit County Historical Society, the Lippman students designed a mobile device app that gives real-time information to those who visit the trail’s historic landmarks, like a virtual tour guide.
Last year on Columbus Day, the public and private school students joined members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, Akron City Council, the historical society and other advocates in a “Marking the Trail” parade that drew attention to the rich local history of American Indians.
This year, on the weekend before what they hope will be called First People’s Day, the students will orchestrate a series of awareness and advocacy activities around Native American culture, explained David Lieberth, chairman of the Summit County Historical Society. The effort will be led by the Portage Path Collaborative, which includes the Lippman and Portage Path schools; the historical society; current and former University of Akron archaeology students called the Stewards of Historic Preservation; a company that promotes kayak and canoe tours of the Portage Path; and others.
Lieberth is leading an effort to get American Indian landmarks along the Portage Path certified on a national registry.
The students provided all the research that went into drafting the First People’s Day resolution. Before meeting publicly, council members had agreed to take time to consider the two-page proposal, so a motion to pass it quickly was tabled in favor of more time.
The proposal is supported by a representative from a coalition of Ohio’s Native American tribes, more than half of Akron City Council members, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and the Northern Cheyenne Nation, whose ancestors, the Moccasin Tribe, likely walked the Portage Path before pushed westward by European settlers.
John and Therese Semonin started noticing something funny with their mail delivery last fall.
So did many of their Northwest Akron neighbors.
Sometimes, mail would get delivered only four or five days a week.
More often than in the past, residents received mail that was meant for their neighbors.
The mail also started arriving later and later in the day, sometimes not until 8 p.m.
In some cases, letters, postcards and bills that they were expecting never arrived.
And most disconcerting, many packages were never delivered — even though online notices from the U.S. Postal Service said the packages had arrived at their homes.
Fed up, Therese Semonin marched over to the Fairlawn Branch Post Office last week in the Fairlawn Town Centre on West Market Street to get some answers. She said she had to wait two hours until a manager finally came out to see her and that’s when she was told there had been a management shake-up at the post office earlier this month.
“They said they were there to fix the problem,” she said.
The Fairlawn Branch Post Office on Monday referred questions to U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Van Allen in Cleveland. In an email, he attributed the problems to changes made to carrier routes last fall at the local branch and didn’t respond when asked if management had changed there.
“We are working to minimize any inconvenience to customers, but the route adjustment process is a normal practice and one of the ways we control our operating costs in order to keep mail affordable,” Van Allen said.
He declined to say whether any employees were disciplined or fired because of the problems.
“The Postal Service does not discuss internal personnel matters,” he said. “However, the Postal Service considers mis-delivery and incorrect parcel notification unacceptable performance.”
The problems haven’t been limited to Northwest Akron. The local branch covers the 44333 ZIP code, which includes portions of Akron, Bath Township, Copley Township and Fairlawn.
Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth said he’s experienced “erratic mail delivery” at his home and is aware of other similar issues in the community.
There haven’t been a lot of complaints, “but enough to wonder what is going on,” he said.
Several residents of Northwest Akron, where mail is delivered to the front door as opposed to mailboxes at the street, said the process has been frustrating.
“There are a lot of things you can put up with, but not getting your mail?” Fairhill Avenue resident Sandra Landskroner said.
Some days, there would be no mail and then there would be a thick bundle of it, residents said.
Fellow Fairhill resident Steve Epstein noted that people may not even realize they aren’t getting their mail.
“How would you know if you have missing mail?” he asked.
In the Semonins’ case, they are irked that packages weren’t arriving at all, even though the Postal Service insisted they had.
They track their packages online and were surprised to see the parcels labeled as delivered.
At first, they wondered if someone was stealing them from their front porch. But that wasn’t the problem.
They also were told that notes were left for packages that they had to sign for, but they never found any notes.
Last week, the carrier left a package containing small packages of oil in their driveway and Therese Semonin ran over it with her car by accident.
When Therese Semonin visited the post office last week to find out what was going on, she said officials found seven of the packages that supposedly were delivered to their home.
Therese Semonin, Landskroner and Epstein, who have all lived in the neighborhood for decades, said they just want consistency with their mail delivery.
“We just want it like the old days,” Landskroner said.
Van Allen said the Postal Service “is committed to ensuring quality service and mail delivery to all customers.”
The U.S. Postal Service goal is to deliver all mail prior to 6 p.m., but severe weather conditions and significant mail or parcel volume, especially after a holiday, can result in later delivery, he said.
He also noted that the route on which the Semonins live now has a more seasoned carrier so residents shouldn’t be missing mail or receiving the wrong mail, Van Allen said.
He urged anyone with concerns about Fairlawn Branch Post Office to call 1-800-275-8777 or use the “Contact Us” link on http://usps.com.
“When we are made aware of customer issues we work quickly to resolve them,” Van Allen said. “The Customer Care Center also enables us to see if there are any trends or pockets of neighborhoods where something might be awry.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.
Facebook has made some changes to how the News Feed functions on the social media platform.
If you want to be sure you see your local news content before other posts, we’ll walk you through the steps to do so.
On the Facebook app on iPhones
1. Choose the three-line menu in the bottom right corner.
2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose “settings.”
3. Choose “news feed preferences” next.
5. Choose which pages or profiles you’d like to see in your News Feed first.
On Facebook on personal computers
1. Choose the drop-down menu in the top right corner.
2. Choose “news feed preferences.”
3. Choose “prioritize who to see first.”
4. Choose which pages or profiles you’d like to see in your News Feed first.
The husband of a woman missing since the couple left for a trip to Graceland earlier this month has now told Hartville police that he put her body in the Tennessee River after she died of natural causes.
Hartville Police Chief Larry Dordea said Monday that the body of Roberta Snider, known as “Bobby,” has still not been found, though Tennessee authorities are looking for her.
And Benton County, Tenn., Sheriff Kenny Christopher said on Monday night that it is his understanding that the woman may have died on the way down to Graceland and then the husband disposed of her body on the way home, after he checked into a Graceland hotel by himself.
Philip Snider, 72, and Roberta, 70, drove to Graceland, the Tennessee home of Elvis Presley, on Jan. 4. But only Philip Snider came home.
He originally told police that he waved down an ambulance in a Memphis hotel parking lot instead of calling 911 after his wife died in their truck. He said she has serious medical problems.
According to authorities, Snider initially told police a medical technician whisked his wife’s body away, but he didn’t know where she was taken, so he came home.
Roberta Snider’s brother called police after hearing what happened, hoping to bring his sister’s body home.
Dordea said that Philip Snider told Hartville police the information about putting his wife in the river during a subsequent interview. In a news release, Dordea said Snider’s story began to change after authorities verified Roberta Snider never checked in to any hotels on the trip.
In a phone interview Monday, the police chief said he was reluctant to share the information publicly while the investigation continues and Roberta Snider’s body still is missing. However, Dordea said he believes the information was probably inadvertently released by Tennessee authorities after a flurry of activity searching for a body in the Tennessee River.
Philip Snider told Hartville authorities his wife “passed and he wanted to put her back with nature,” Dordea said Monday. “She wanted to be cremated. She did not want to be on somebody’s mantel, so he threw her off the route 40 bridge off the Tennessee River.”
Christopher, the Tennessee sheriff, said he was told by Ohio authorities that Snider “thought it was more humane” to put her in the river and that “he couldn’t stand the thought of her being burned.”
Authorities in Hartville and Benton County are working together on the case, Dordea said.
“The Hartville Police Department is investigating a missing person case,” Dordea said. “Somehow, somewhere this missing person stopped breathing, then presumably after she stopped breathing, she was thrown into the Tennessee River. That portion, if true, is the jurisdiction of the Benton county sheriff … If she stopped breathing in her living room, that jurisdiction would be mine.”
Dordea said there are laws in Ohio against putting a body in a public waterway, and he assumes similar laws exist in Tennessee.
“Our primary goal is finding Roberta,” he said.
Christopher said Snider could be charged with desecration of a corpse, which is a misdemeanor, and other charges could be pending, after an autopsy. But Roberta’s body needs to be found first, he said.
“More than anything we want a recovery operation to put some closure for the family,” he said.
Christopher said his department has verified through video surveillance that only Snider checked into the hotel near Graceland. Christopher said Snider said the next morning he decided to wrap his wife in garbage bags.
Christopher said Snider told authorities his wife was sick with cancer and died from her illness in Kentucky, on the way to Memphis, and he continued on to Graceland.
Snider has been interviewed by the FBI and taken a polygraph, Dordea said. “We are still analyzing the results and working with Philip [Snider] to learn more about the circumstances regarding Roberta’s condition and location.”
Authorities are asking for anyone with information to contact the Hartville police at 330-877-2630.
Messages were left with Roberta Snider’s brother.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty
BARBERTON: An 18-year-old Akron man was arrested Monday morning in a shooting that sent three people to an area hospital Saturday night.
Quawlin Mabry of Ogle Terrace was arrested by Barberton Police Department detectives and members of the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force, Akron and Canton Divisions. He was booked into the Barberton city jail awaiting arraignment.
Barberton police were called to Wooster Road North and Sylvester Street just after 9 p.m. Saturday after a report of a shooting.
They found three victims, all Barberton residents. A 23-year-old man with a gunshot wound to the neck was reportedly in stable condition Monday. A 28-year-old woman and a 48-year-old man were being treated for “major” but not life-threatening gunshot injuries, police said.
Police did not release the names of the victims.
Police say their investigation revealed that two groups had gathered to fight over a woman, with words exchanged between an old boyfriend and a current boyfriend.
Mabry was arrested at the Akron Alternative Academy on Thornton Avenue without incident.
“This fugitive’s arrest, and subsequent safer streets, is a direct result of the strength of the partnership between local law enforcement and this task force,” U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott said in a statement.
Anyone with information concerning any wanted fugitive can contact the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force at 866-4WANTED (866-492-6833).
They may also anonymously text in a tip to keyword “WANTED” with the tip to TIP411 (847411), or enter the tip at http://www.usmarshals.gov/district/oh-n/index.html.
Reward money is available, and tipsters may remain anonymous.
FirstEnergy Corp. is getting a $2.5 billion infusion of capital that the utility says reduces debt and strengthens its strategy to become a fully regulated utility.
The investment involves private equity firms that have bought a combination of preferred convertible stock and regular shares.
The investment does not include FirstEnergy Solutions, the financially troubled, nonregulated generation arm of the $14.5 billion Akron company.
But the equity infusion will help FirstEnergy accommodate any restructuring that FirstEnergy Solutions may attempt, one of the Akron utility’s top executives said. (Previously discussed options for subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions have included being spun off and also filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize its heavy debt.)
FirstEnergy shares soared on the news, which was announced prior to the stock market opening Monday.
“We are pleased that these premier investors are demonstrating confidence in our plan to transform FirstEnergy into a fully regulated utility,” Charles E. Jones, FirstEnergy president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.
The plan strengthens FirstEnergy and is positive for the company, its investors and the community, said Jim Pearson, chief financial officer.
“It will be a basis for future growth,” he said. “I look at this as a very positive development for FirstEnergy.”
Investors thought so, too. FirstEnergy shares closed $3.05 higher, or 10.4 percent, to $32.45 after heavy trading Monday. Shares were as high as $34.13 in trading earlier in the day.
FirstEnergy said it will use $750 million of the proceeds to fund its pension plan, on top of a $500 million contribution it made on Jan. 5. It will use $1.45 billion to pay off debt.
An additional $250 million to $300 million will be available for general corporate purposes. FirstEnergy said it anticipates using proceeds for infrastructure improvements to its transmission networks in Ohio and New Jersey, which would also add to earnings growth.
Investment firms Elliott Management Corp., Bluescape, GIC and Zimmer Partners have bought $1.62 billion in mandatory convertible preferred equity and $850 million in FirstEnergy common stock.
“Elliott and Bluescape have proven value-added expertise and investment acumen in power and utility restructurings,” Jones said. “This investment will enable us to accelerate FirstEnergy’s growth and infrastructure improvement plans for our transmission and distribution business, which will benefit our six million customers.”
Pearson described the firms as long-term investors, some of whom had already owned shares in FirstEnergy.
According to the investment terms, the convertible preferred shares can be converted into regular FirstEnergy shares in six months — and must be converted into FirstEnergy common shares by the end of 18 months.
The result will be that the equity partners will own about 89 million shares in FirstEnergy, or 16 to 17 percent of the company, Pearson said.
Discussions with the firms began four to six months ago, he said.
The equity firms are not getting any board seats or governance as part of the investment, Pearson said. Instead, the equity firms are buying the shares to help FirstEnergy move to becoming a pure-play regulated utility, he said.
“They want to provide capital to a business that they feel is undervalued,” Pearson said.
Industry analyst Christopher Muir of New York investment research firm CFRA had positive things to say about FirstEnergy in a note to clients Monday.
“We believe the investment signals confidence in [FirstEnergy’s] growth prospects,” Muir said.
Becoming a fully regulated utility again — FirstEnergy’s status prior to Ohio’s 1999 electric utility deregulation initiative — means the government will set prices, not competitive markets.
FirstEnergy had previously said it planned to issue up to $1.5 billion in new equity through 2019. With this latest program, FirstEnergy said it does not see the need to issue additional equity through the end of 2020 other than for stock investment plans and employee benefits.
The company also has created what it calls the Restructuring Working Group as part of its plan to exit the competitive generation business and become a fully regulated utility.
According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the group will meet and provide advisory-only recommendations, suggestions and advice to company executives regarding the restructuring of FirstEnergy Solutions and FirstEnergy’s participation in any restructuring.
Members of the Restructuring Working Group include Pearson; Leila Vespoli, FirstEnergy’s chief legal officer; Gary Benz, senior vice president of strategy; C. John Wilder, Bluescape executive chairman; and Anthony Horton, CFO of Energy Future Holdings Corp.
“This meaningful equity investment and renewed focus on FirstEnergy’s substantial regulated investment opportunities across its utility franchise, along with the [Restructuring Working Group’s] laser focus on helping the company exit competitive generation in a constructive and timely manner, will transform FirstEnergy into a premier, high performance pure-play regulated utility,” Bluescape’s Wilder said in a news release.
According to an SEC filing, FirstEnergy and Bluescape have agreed to make payments to each other based on the performance of FirstEnergy’s stock, with Bluescape eligible for a maximum payment up to $29 million. If FirstEnergy stock significantly outperforms certain criteria, Bluescape may make a payment to FirstEnergy.
Wilder also agreed to retain FirstEnergy equity investments for a certain period of time.
FirstEnergy initially began moving toward becoming re-regulated in 2013, speeding up the process in 2016.
FirstEnergy is scheduled to report fourth-quarter and full 2017 fiscal year earnings on Feb. 21.
Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter.
HUDSON: A portion of the Hudson Library & Historical Society will remain closed the remainder of the week after a breach in the sprinkler system left the children’s room soaked.
Leslie Polott, the library’s executive director, said the library was hosting a children’s program a little before 3 p.m. Saturday when attendees heard a “roaring noise.”
“They evacuated, and then water came pouring down,” Polott said. “No one was hurt, but a few people might’ve gotten a little wet.”
Polott said furniture, books and carpeting were damaged in the 8,000-square-foot children’s room of the library.
Other parts of the library were damaged as well, including the teen room and rotunda on the first floor of the library.
The library closed Saturday afternoon and will remain closed through at least Thursday.
On Monday afternoon, Polott said she was in the process of meeting with the insurance company and maintenance to assess exactly what happened and the extent of the damage. Polott said the carpet in the children’s room might have to be replaced, but she hopes the books and carpeting in the other rooms can dry out.
All story times at the library scheduled this week through Friday are canceled.
Polott said she hopes to reopen the library on a limited basis soon, potentially allowing access to the second floor and the entrance, which contains new fiction and nonfiction books. Then, she hopes to slowly allow access to the teen room and rotunda as cleanup continues.
“We’re just grateful no one was hurt,” Polott said.
Check http://www.hudsonlibrary.org/ for updates.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or [email protected].
MEDINA: The city school district might pay $750,000 to former Superintendent Randy Stepp to settle a lawsuit.
The Medina Board of Education will vote Monday on the settlement, the Medina Gazette reports.
The board’s insurance company, Liberty Mutual, would pay the full settlement, the newspaper said.
Stepp was fired after the school board reviewed the findings of an Ohio State Auditor’s investigation, which determined that Stepp improperly used funds from a carryover account at the Medina County Educational Service Center to pay off personal student loans and other non-board approved expenses.
Eight months have passed with no answer from the White House about whether Ohio motorists can someday say goodbye to vehicle emissions checks.
Ohio Republicans passed House Resolution 85 in May to ask President Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, his choice to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to scrap federal mandates imposed on vehicles in counties with above-average air pollution.
Despite rolling back myriad regulations on coal-fired electric power, oil drilling in Alaska or the oceans, and conservation protections on federally managed land, Trump has not responded to his party’s complaints about Ohio’s E-Check program.
“We do not have anything to provide from the White House,” said Vanessa Morrone, a regional spokesperson for the Trump administration.
Ohio’s E-Check program began in 1996 following passage of the federal Clean Air Act. One of 31 states mandated to implement the program, the Ohio EPA requires drivers in Summit, Portage, Medina, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain and Geauga counties to submit all vehicles five years or older to emissions testing every other year. Vehicles made in years ending in an even number must be checked in even-numbered years, and so on for odd-numbered years and vehicles produced in them.
Dina Pierce, a regional spokesperson for the Ohio EPA, said 790,828 vehicles completed an E-Check test in 2017 with 726,621, or 92 percent, passing. Many of the vehicles that failed the test were repaired, and subsequently passed the test. These repairs, Pierce noted, removed “2,400 tons of ozone- or smog-causing emissions of nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds.”
All told, the state-funded program costs $9.41 million per year.
By 2030, U.S. EPA air quality emissions standards for vehicles are projected to annually prevent:
• 40,000 premature deaths.
• 34,000 hospitalizations.
• 4.8 million workdays lost.
Though 33 Ohio counties have been cited for potentially problematic levels of air pollution since 2004, Northeast Ohio remains the only area with mandated testing.
Pruitt’s staff forwarded a reporter’s question about whether the agency will kill Ohio’s E-Check to a regional liaison, but no response was returned by Friday. As for the Ohio EPA, Pierce said state officials have received no new guidance from the White House or federal regulators.
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or [email protected]. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter.
WOOSTER: Between vacation getaway raffles and patio restoration projects for veterans, the June-in-January outdoor show at Buchwalter Greenhouse this past weekend and next is looking to spread a little warmth to help folks get through the bitter winter season.
In its eighth year, the June-in-January fest is a partnership between nine Wayne County businesses: Buchwalter Greenhouse, Fit-n-Fun Pools & Spas, Keener Landscaping, Lucci’s Custom Work, Runions’ Furniture, B&K Concrete Construction, Village Catering, Lehman’s hardware and V.I.P. Travel.
“June-in-January brings some summer fun to winter months,” said Glenda Ervin, vice president of marketing at Lehman’s hardware, on Sunday. “You come in from the cold and ice in the parking lot, and as soon as you walk through the door, there’s bright flowers everywhere.”
The free event features outdoor furniture and living equipment, demonstrations and summer food samples.
Each company also donated a prize to be raffled off by Patios for Patriots, a nonprofit organization that provides free backyard makeovers to veterans who were in the Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force and have been stationed in a conflict zone. Prizes include a number of things to get folks (even more) excited for summer, from picnic raffle baskets to $2,000 vacation packages.
Patios for Patriots sells raffle tickets at the event for $1 each, or six for $5, 30 for $20 or 50 and a T-shirt for $50. They’ll draw winners at the end of the week, once the event is over.
The organization will also be accepting nominations for veterans to receive a backyard makeover.
Patios for Patriots runs completely on volunteers and donations, from the supplies to the labor.
“It’s kind of a community thank-you to each veteran,” said Rachel Workinger, a coordinator for the nonprofit, on Sunday.
Workinger knows firsthand how brightening a patio remodeling can be. Her dad, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, was the first of three veterans so far to have his backyard revamped by the organization, which started in 2015.
When Patios for Patriots asked Workinger’s father what he wanted it to look like, Workinger said he had a simple request: a light for his flagpole in the backyard.
He got much more. Volunteers replaced his cracked concrete patio with stone, along with a walkway leading up to his flagpole, landscaping and even a hot tub.
Workinger sees it as the “welcome home” that veterans deserved, but may have never received.
“It’s very therapeutic and very healing for vets,” Workinger said. “The hot tub is what gets my dad through his day physically.”
Of course, attendees didn’t need to be veterans to get a free taste of summer at the show.
Eva Sibert, who works in major products sales at Lehman’s, was there highlighting the company’s wood-fired grills by cooking and handing out samples of burgers and bacon-wrapped chicken throughout the afternoon.
“We’re trying to show people you can do so much more with grilling,” Sibert said.
For some attendees, just the sight of some greenery and warmth from the greenhouse was a nice getaway from the chilly weather.
“It’s a nice indoor-but-feels-like-outdoor event you can do,” said Brent Kornhaus of Orrville, who was checking out some patio furniture with his wife, Rachelle. “It feels like you’re getting outside and doing something without actually getting out and doing something in the cold.”
The show wraps up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Visit http://www.juneinjanuary.com for more information and a full schedule of events Buchwalter Greenhouse is at 6554 Back Orrville Road.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.
In an outline on how to spend money from the 0.25 percent income tax hike that took effect Jan. 1, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan has nearly quadrupled funding for new police vehicles.
He’s planning to borrow $277,000 less this year to resurface three times as many miles of local streets, thanks to $4.15 million in Issue 4 money approved by Akron voters in November.
Likewise, he no longer intends to borrow $100,000 and seek grant support to replace a 75-foot ladder truck that’s been putting out fires in Akron since 1997. This year, instead, he’s earmarked $900,000 for the firetruck — no borrowing necessary, no more wishing on grant funding.
All of this and more Horrigan promised when campaigning for the popular Issue 4, a tax increase approved by nearly 70 percent of Akron residents. Workers who live outside the city are estimated to contribute 65 percent of all income taxes collected in Akron.
What Horrigan didn’t know then was how much of the 0.25 percent income tax increase would subsidize payrolls to “maintain staffing” at the police and fire departments.
The tax increase was meant, first and foremost, for brick-and-mortar projects and equipment purchases, from new fire stations and flame-resistant gear to road repairs to police cruisers, body-worn cameras, stun guns and more. Only in the event of a looming budget shortfall would the mayor dip into Issue 4 money to avoid staffing cuts.
But before the first penny of the new tax is collected in February, a budget shortfall is exactly what the city is facing.
The source of the city’s budget constraints is lower-than-expected income tax revenue, which dipped 2 percent last year instead of increasing, as was projected, by about 2 percent.
Horrigan has trimmed his cabinet. Budget Director Diane Miller-Dawson is coming up with additional cost-cutting measures, closing a gap between revenue and expenses to avoid deficit spending.
As 2018 spending priorities take shape, about $1 in every $5 collected by the new tax will pay the salaries and benefits of police officers, emergency medical teams and firefighters the city would otherwise do without.
Altogether, Issue 4 will raise $13,093,000 from February through December, assuming again that income tax revenue goes up — not down — by 2 percent this year. About $1.5 million of the Issue 4 money will support the hiring of 22 police department employees. The current class of six cadets will be followed by another dozen and more after that, offsetting more retirements expected this year.
Newly appointed Police Chief Ken Ball had hoped to hire even more than the budget allows, but the balancing act is projected to maintain 455 employees, or what was budgeted last year.
Likewise, the fire department added 10 new hires at the beginning of last year, bringing staffing up to 363. After retirements, Chief Clarence Tucker is expecting $1 million in Issue 4 money to return to that 363 mark.
Miller-Dawson said despite new hires earning less than employees nearing retirement, “there are no cost savings” in the turnover because of rising health care costs and expensive training for new safety personnel.
If staffing levels dip too low, the city risks forfeiting state and federal grants. As for whether spending 20 percent of Issue 4 money on staffing will be standard, only “the future …” — including state and federal funding and income tax receipts — “… will tell,” Miller-Dawson said.
The projected $13 million from Issue 4 will be split $4.275 million for police, $4.418 for fire and $4.4 million for the public service department.
Public service will spend $250,000 to replace equipment and the rest to pave 37 miles of city roads this year — in addition to the 17 miles resurfaced last year.
The beefed-up resurfacing budget will be split 70-30 between residential and arterial roads, respectively. City administrators expect to have a list of all 2018 roads repairs ready before March.
Also this year, Horrigan and Police Chief Ball have set aside $100,000 solely to build trust and transparency with the public through the reinstatement of the Police/Citizens Academy.
The program, dormant for nearly a decade, goes beyond the glimpse of policing offered to students in Leadership Akron or City of Akron Citizens Institute. Deputy Chief Michael Caprez, the second in command in Akron’s police force, said the Police/Citizens Academy could use fake stun guns and simulated shooting scenarios or ride-alongs “that let [the public] feel what it’s really like to be on a call for service.”
Police and fire budgets will contribute $300,000 and $200,000, respectively, for a 911 call system upgrade that seamlessly backs up call logs and may provide revenue opportunities if neighboring police agencies piggy back on the new city system.
Here’s how each department will spend the rest:
• $1.65 million for 50 to 55 new cruisers, in addition to the $600,000 spent last year.
• $190,000 to upgrade in-car video cameras as cruisers require service, installing a new system that uploads footage remotely and syncs with body-worn cameras.
• $150,000 for safety glass partitions and barriers in areas the public accesses within the detective and patrol divisions.
• $100,000 this year and next to replace 125 stun guns no longer serviced by the manufacturer.
• $75,000 for software that tracks officer deployment and overtime to avoid overworking patrol units and better managing payroll.
• $50,000 for larger, better-rated bulletproof vests to replace out-of-warranty tactical gear used today.
• $4.3 million over two years ($1.6 million this year) to rebuild Fire Station No. 2 on the same site. During construction, medical units will cover Middlebury from Station No. 5 on Market Street in Ellet and firefighters from Station No. 8 at Archwood and Kelly Avenue.
• $900,000 new ladder truck.
• $418,000 to supply every firefighter with a second suit.
• $200,000 for an architectural design to rebuild Station No. 12 in Wallhaven.
• $100,000 for miscellaneous equipment, including enough to install a $7,000-$10,000 extractor at each station to remove carcinogens from smoky, used gear.
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or [email protected]. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter.
Summit County’s opioid crisis is evolving.
Both overdoses and accidental overdose deaths are declining compared to the second half of 2016 when the powerful synthetic drugs fentanyl and carfentanil first devastated the area, sending nearly 20 people per day to hospitals after overdosing.
Yet the executive director of the county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board Jerry Craig isn’t sure whether the downward trend will continue.
“We’re entering a new phase,” Craig said.
Over the past 40 years, Summit County, like the nation, has experienced waves of deadly drugs, starting with crack, then methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil, he said.
“When people are addicted, they’re looking for the next high,” Craig said.
This week, for example, Alliance police sent a warning to other area law enforcement after discovering that the skin on a heroin user’s arms looked as if it had been eaten away. The heroin user told officers he was using heroin mixed with Rizzy powder — a floral additive that, when mixed with water and absorbed through flower stems, makes flower petals glow phosphorescent under black light.
It may be the first report of heroin spiked with Rizzy.
But addicts are often on the prowl for other drugs, including other street drugs if they can’t find the drug they are addicted to, Craig said.
Meth not safer
Heroin addicts may turn to meth if they can’t find heroin, Craig said, because meth can soften the effects of detoxing from heroin.
Area police agencies and federal officials last year said Greater Akron and parts of Ohio were seeing a surge in crystal meth, often called “ice” on the streets.
“This isn’t your shake and bake stuff people were making 10 years ago,” Craig said. “It’s Walter White grade.”
(White is the main character in the AMC series Breaking Bad about the transformation of a high school chemistry teacher into a meth-making wizard.)
Some Summit County addicts seeking emergency help through a division of Portage Path Behavior Health have said they have turned to meth, assuming it’s a safer alternative to heroin, which they know is often laced with potentially lethal doses of fentanyl or carfentanil.
But that’s not true.
The Summit County Medical Examiner’s office won’t have a final report on last year’s overdose deaths for another month or two. But preliminary data show that many of the 199 overdose deaths last year involved meth, cocaine, heroin and other drugs mixed with fentanyl or carfentanil.
In some of those cases, people were likely taking multiple drugs, Craig said.
But police in Akron and elsewhere have said they’ve also seen cross-contamination. Drug dealers don’t package their supplies in a lab. Police say they often mix and package heroin cut with fentanyl or carfentanil on the same table they use to package everything from marijuana to meth.
The recent spread of fentanyl from heroin into other street drugs so troubled Columbus public health officials this week that they sent out a news release urging anyone who uses recreational drugs or knows someone who does to carry Narcan, a brand name for naloxone which can reverse opiate overdoses.
In Franklin County, about 30 percent of people who died from overdosing in 2017 had both cocaine and fentanyl in their systems, health officials reported.
Health Commissioner Mysheika Roberts said Friday that officials have no data from law enforcement showing whether street drug supplies have been intentionally spiked.
But anecdotal evidence from EMTs and hospital emergency rooms points to that happening.
“When people are revived, they say ‘I’m not an opiate user, why would Narcan work on me? I was using cocaine’,” Roberts said.
“We believe dealers and suppliers are intentionally putting fentanyl into street drugs to make them more potent, to drive users back to their product and, because fentanyl is so cheap, to stretch their product and make more money,” she said.
And fentanyl, Roberts said, can be mixed with any street drug without users knowing it’s there.
In Summit County, officials have two barometers to measure what’s happening in the opioid crisis — hospital statistics about overdose cases and medical examiner reports, Craig said.
Last week, between Jan. 12-18, 23 Summit County residents sought treatment at hospital emergency rooms after overdosing. That’s half the number of weekly overdoses reported through much of 2017. But if the pace continues, slightly more Summit County residents will overdose this January than last.
Unintentional overdose deaths in 2017, meanwhile, appear to have decreased by about 100 compared to 2016. That year, 299 Summit County residents overdosed and died here, along with 41 others who lived outside the county.
“Maybe we’re doing some things that are having an impact,” Craig said. “But I’m not prepared to take credit for that.”
Craig did point to several public health accomplishments here since the opioid crisis began.
Among other things, the wait time for outpatient treatment in Summit County has plummeted from 45 days at the beginning of the crisis to about eight days now. Craig said officials aim to decrease it to five days.
There’s still about a 30- to 35-day wait for residential treatment, he said, but pregnant women are bumped to the top of the line and others on the waiting list can do outpatient treatment until a bed opens.
Additionally, Craig said Summit County residents are disposing more of their unused medications, often seen as a gateway to addictions. More drugs were incinerated in Summit County during the first nine months of 2017 (9,238 pounds) than in all of 2016 (8,159 pounds).
And quick-response teams — comprised of a medic, police officer and a counselor — are now working in 10 Summit County communities, including Akron. The teams go to the homes of those who have overdosed in hopes of preventing another overdose.
About 40 percent of the time, addicts agree to go into treatment, Craig said.
And no person visited by a team in Summit County has since died from a later overdose.
But, Craig said, that could change any day. Or a new drug — or drug mix — could hit the streets and make overdose deaths soar again.
“I’ve never seen anything this lethal in 30 years,” he said. “We don’t know what we don’t know, and that’s what makes this so daunting.”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or [email protected].
Akron firefighters won the People’s Choice award and a city department entering for the first time won the Judge’s Choice award in the 12th annual Akron Firefighters Chili Challenge.
Akron firefighters won for their beefy No Hose Barred chili at the contest Friday at the city’s Lock 3 Park downtown.
Firefighter Damarcus Wilkinson made the chili.
The city’s economic development department, entering the challenge for the first time, won for its SXSW — South by SouthWest, a Tex-Mex style chili.
Julie Pryseski, who works in the department, made the chili. She said the name is a reference to the South by Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas, in March that city representatives plan to attend along with Akron tech startups.
Cleveland Clinic Akron General won the Joe Smith Spirit Award for its Smokey’s Blazin Beef & Red Bean Chili.
The award is named for Akron Police Detective Joe Smith, who died in 2014 and had helped with the Chili Challenge every year.
For the yearly chili challenge, Akron firefighters challenge representatives of other city departments and local businesses and organizations to see who can create the best pot of chili.
Members of the public pay for samples and get to cast their votes; a judge’s panel also picks a top chili. This year’s event raised more than $2,000 for Akron Children’s Hospital burn center.
The chili was served inside, in the Commons area of Lock 3.
For more on the chili, see Akron Dish in Wednesday’s food section of the Beacon Journal.
Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or [email protected].
Akron small businesses will be taking part in a first-of-its-kind initiative with eBay.
The 12-month pilot program, called Retail Revival, was announced Friday morning by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and eBay Inc. President and CEO Devin Wenig.
Akron is the first U.S. city selected by eBay to take part in Retail Revival.
“We decided Akron was the place to try something really new,” said Wenig, eBay CEO since 2015.
As many as 40 brick-and-mortar businesses — primarily from Akron plus some from nearby Warren — likely will participate, according to the announcement inside the new Northside Marketplace off Furnace Street.
The local businesses will get exclusive support and resources, including training, to market their products and services on eBay. Discussions between Akron and eBay began about six months ago.
Horrigan called the Retail Revival program a “transformational new partnership” between the city and the $9 billion San Jose, Calif., e-commerce and online auction company.
“A partnership that will help make Akron a leader in the digital economy,” Horrigan said. “The program exists to help small local businesses and the broader community harness the power of technology and participate in the global marketplace.”
The city will work with eBay to identify businesses to participate in the program, Horrigan said. “It’s time we share our exceptional goods and customer service with the rest of the world.”
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said some people wrongly associate Northeast Ohio with the stigma of being the “Rust Belt.”
“That’s a very old perception. And that’s very definitely not who we are now,” he said. “And eBay has validated that.”
Plenty of potential
The Retail Revival initiative has regional and even statewide potential, Horrigan said.
Some Akron small business owners said they found out just recently that they were selected to be part of the experiment. The owners said they still needed to learn more on how the program will work. Retail Revival may formally kick off in March.
“One of the reasons we are here is because we feel wanted,” Wenig said. “We feel wanted by the small businesses. … We feel wanted by two very progressive local governments that say it’s time for change and we can revitalize our small business engine. And the entire U.S. economy is in a period of transition. We’re moving to a digital economy.”
While this was his first time in Akron, Wenig said, eBay has been in Ohio for nearly all 21 years of the company’s existence. Last year Ohio businesses did a billion dollars in sales on eBay, Wenig said.
“Summit County, almost $100 million,” he said. “There is a quiet economy that you may not even know about that is thriving on digital platforms like our own.”
Retail Revival is about helping small businesses grow and thrive in the digital economy and get on the global “digital highway,” Wenig said. The goal is not to just help Akron businesses grow locally but also help them grow around the world.
“We love entrepreneurs. We’re builders,” Wenig said. “And the sense I get is, Akron is a building town. That’s why we’re here. … Akron’s a building city, so let’s build something together.”
EBay will know the program is a success if the Akron retailers increase sales and hire more staff at the end of 12 months, Wenig said. The pilot program will be limited to a maximum of 50 businesses.
Akron small business owners who will be part of this initial Retail Revival program said they look forward to it.
“It’s still too soon to figure out exactly how it is going to work,” said Pete Smakula, owner of Electric Pete’s E-bikes at 331 S. Main St. He hopes to increase business and get more exposure.
Frank Miller III and Preston Clark, partners in 7th Floor Clothing, likewise hope the eBay program will increase sales and exposure. The small clothing company has already been highlighted by Akron native and NBA superstar LeBron James.
Filling the gap
Dominic Falcione, owner of Krunchworks, a custom furnishings and fixtures business, said because Retail Revival is about e-commerce, the online sales will help him fill a gap in his one-person shop in Akron.
John Buntin Jr., owner of Kenmore Komics & Games, also praised the initiative.
“This could actually work,” he said. While Buntin said he has sold on eBay “off and on” for about 20 years, he said the Retail Revival program appears to be more comprehensive. If the program helps local businesses such as his, then the city and county will also be participating in the success, Buntin said. “We’ll all grow and prosper.
Reporter Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected].
Former U.S. representative and Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich has picked Akron Councilwoman Tara Samples as a running mate in his bid to become Ohio’s next governor.
Kucinich met Samples with their family and friends Friday at the councilwoman’s church in downtown Akron to announce the ticket, branded as a “Power To We The People” campaign of progressive, anti-establishment values.
Afterward, Kucinich put his arm around Samples’ shoulder and said: “This is a moment for the Democratic Party to wake up. The grass roots is waking up. Our motto … doesn’t say ‘Power to we the party,’ it says ‘Power to we the people.’ ”
Speaking at Burning Bush church, Samples said she will continue to serve on the City Council while she campaigns with Kucinich.
Kucinich, 71, and Samples, 47, first met in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The firebrand former congressman, who had become an outspoken commentator for Fox News Channel, said he instantly connected with the Akron woman, a mother and grandmother who started a family while still in high school.
The two met again about two weeks ago at Ms. Julie’s Kitchen on South Main Street in Akron. At the time, the other four Democratic candidates for governor were beginning to announce their running mates. Kucinich said 20 minutes into the 2½-hour sit-down talk with Samples, he looked over to his wife, Elizabeth, who nodded in approval.
“She is dynamic,” Kucinich praised Samples.
From that moment, Kucinich had his candidate for lieutenant governor.
Rough road to serve
During Friday’s announcement, Samples explained that growing up in Akron, she had always wanted to be a legislator.
Pregnant with her first two children by 17, married with four kids while attending college at 23, Samples graduated from Central-Hower High School in 1989 and dropped out of the University of Akron to get a paralegal degree from the Academy of Court Reporting.
She said she worked a dead-end U.S. post office position before her mentor, Akron attorney Ed Parms, gave her a job. Money was tight.
“Dennis and I know what it’s like to wonder where our next meal is going to come from,” Samples told the crowd of about 100, including faith and neighborhood leaders in Akron’s black community, who gathered Friday.
Samples later became an Akron municipal court bailiff. She has chaired committees that oversee housing and public utilities on City Council and she sits on a safety and crime prevention steering committee for the National League of Cities, a lobbying and advocacy group.
Her life has been anything but picture perfect. Financial struggles with car payments, a daughter’s college tuition, her own student loan debt and missed employment opportunities have helped her connect with people who live paycheck to paycheck. “I understand personally how it feels to be a teen mother and that feeling of hopelessness and despair,” she said.
But “a dream is never denied, only delayed,” she added.
Samples, who campaigned twice for President Barack Obama, defeated a local party favorite in the Democratic primary for her council seat, triggering attacks from establishment Democrats.
Critics questioned whether the law allowed her to be a council member and a city employee, so she resigned her bailiff job.
They went after her residency, too, alleging without merit that she’d moved into her parents’ home months before the election only to be eligible in the race.
Samples has not shied from her family’s struggles, either. She’s sympathized in the middle of public council meetings with parents who’ve lost loved ones to opioid addiction, having a son of her own in court-ordered treatment. Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a Republican candidate for governor, shares a similar story.
On City Council, Samples has unnerved more cautious Democrats by pushing some of the most progressive legislation the body has considered, including a bill that called on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to declare Ohio a place of sanctuary for immigrants without current legal status. The bill divided council and failed.
Samples’ Ward 5, which covers South Akron and much of downtown, is among the poorest and most racially diverse in the city. There, she’s been an advocate for fair housing and community policing while fighting liquor license requests and shutting down bars that attract crime.
Former Akron Councilman Ernie Tarle, current colleague Zack Milkovich (who Samples supported in a recent leadership vote) and former Councilman Mike Williams (whose 2011 mayoral campaign was run by Samples) were among the local politicians pledging their support Friday to the Kucinich-Samples ticket.
The Kucinich-Samples campaign promises to be “one of the most progressive” platforms among the five candidates left in the Democratic primary.
Good jobs, free college (“Say that again,” Samples added for emphasis), health care for all Ohioans, better schools, workers’ rights, criminal justice reform, “peaceful communities” and a state government that supports them.
“We the people of the state of Ohio want our power back,” Samples said to a cheering audience seated inside Burning Bush church, where she has been a longtime member.
Kucinich said he and Samples, who would like to champion health and social issues, are lockstep on every campaign promise. Unity, inclusiveness, social and economic justice define their ticket, he said.
The pairing makes a second ticket with a black woman as a running mate — the only two minorities in the entire race. Samples’ father is white. Her mother is black.
Having Samples on the ticket speaks louder than lip service about inclusion, Kucinich said.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill named Chantelle Lewis, an African-American educator from Lorain, as his running mate.
The Kucinich-Samples ticket is the third carrying a Summit County woman. Consumer rights advocate Richard Cordray asked Betty Sutton of Copley, a former congresswoman, to run last week. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Taylor of Green remains a candidate for governor.
A 28-year-old Akron man was in serious condition after being shot in the chest, face and arms Thursday night in his Middlebury neighborhood, police said.
Officers responding to a 911 call for gunshots near Eastland Avenue found Jamar Holley sitting on the front steps of a house in the 1100 block of Bethany Avenue about 10 p.m., authorities said.
Holley had been shot several times and held a handgun in his lap, police said.
After police secured the weapon, Holley was able to tell officers that he didn’t know who had shot him.
When an officer searched the man for other weapons and his identification, he discovered small bags filled with what he suspected to be methamphetamine and marijuana in Holley’s pants pockets, police said.
As emergency medical technicians transported Holley to Summa Akron City Hospital, investigators followed a blood trail that Holley had left from the porch where he was found to 450 Keck St., where Holley lives, around the corner, police said.
Just before 11 p.m., a test on the drugs police found in Holley’s pants tested positive for methamphetamine, according to a police report.
Police later served a search warrant at Holley’s Keck Street home.
A police report did not indicate what officers were looking for, nor what they may have found.
Akron school board member John Otterman was given four doses of an opioid overdose reversal drug Thursday after police found him unconscious in a Ford Escape on East Cuyahoga Falls Avenue.
Police were investigating a call about a man down in a parking lot when they say they found him at about 7:50 p.m. in the driver’s seat of the car
They found a white substance that tested positive for fentanyl — an opioid which is used as a pain medication — in the car, along with marijuana.
The 57-year-old former city councilman was treated at the scene by paramedics who administered four doses of naloxone before transporting him to Summa Akron City Hospital for further treatment, according to the police report.
Last year, Otterman, who has faced other drug charges in the past, encouraged equipping every Akron public school with naloxone. The board eventually approved the plan.
According to the police report, Otterman admitted to having the drugs. He faces charges for the marijuana and was issued an immunity form in lieu of arrest for possessing fentanyl.
Ohio’s Good Samaritan Law offers immunity to people who overdose up to two times and want to seek assistance for their addiction
He remains at City Hospital for treatment.
School board President Patrick Bravo said Friday that it is too early for the board to determine its next steps.
“First and foremost, we are very concerned for Mr. Otterman and his family right now,” he said. “That’s kind of our focus right now … just making sure he is OK.”
Otterman’s history of allegations of illicit drug use dates back decades. He was publicly reprimanded and censored by the board in August after police discovered him in his car in June with “slurred speech and glazed over eyes,” along with an unmarked prescription bottle containing Xanax pills. The board didn’t find out about the incident until two months after it occurred.
In 1989, Otterman was acquitted on charges of trafficking in marijuana at the end of a 10-month undercover investigation by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office at Loral Defense System that led to the arrest of eight employees, including Otterman.
In 2001, Otterman, who was a city councilman at the time, was arrested and charged with five felony drug charges for lying to a doctor for painkillers. He was acquitted in that case, too, and the charges were dropped.
The incident last June was the first drug violation to appear on his record.
Board members have said they’ve been limited in what they can do with Otterman because he’s an elected official.
“We’re looking into what our responsibility is and what our options might be,” Bravo said.
Otterman was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.
A Stark County judge has given Affinity Medical Center in Massillon at least a temporary lifeline.
Stark County Common Pleas Judge Chryssa Hartnett issued a temporary restraining order Friday requiring the Stark County hospital to stay open for 120 days.
A preliminary injunction hearing will be held on Feb. 1 for the judge to decide whether to continue the temporary order, which continues for 14 days or until a new order is issued.
The order was in response to a lawsuit filed by the city of Massillon, a group of Affinity doctors and others against Affinity’s owner to keep the hospital open.
Friday’s order also says Affinity’s management must cooperate with efforts by the city to create a plan for a new entity to buy the hospital or coordinate appropriate closure to transition patient care.
“This decision by Judge Hartnett recognizes and avoids the public health crisis that the sudden closing would have otherwise caused,” said Collin Wise, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “This decision by Judge Hartnett allows time for community leaders to continue evaluating whether possible alternative partners and options exist that present viable ways to keep the hospital open long term.”
Affinity’s corporate owner stunned the Stark County community earlier this month when it announced the hospital would cease taking new patients this Sunday , end clinical operations in February and be shuttered for good in March.
Tennessee-based Quorum said it failed to find a buyer for the hospital, which it said has lost money in each of the last six years.
However, officials from at least two area hospital systems — Aultman Health Foundation and the Cleveland Clinic — said they were unaware of Quorum’s plans to sell or close Affinity until this month’s announcement.
Government leaders, state lawmakers, local physicians, a nurses’ union representing RNs at the hospital and others in the community have been fighting plans to close the 156-bed acute-care facility, which has about 800 employees.
Massillon Mayor Kathy Catazaro-Perry, a registered nurse who worked at Affinity for 20 years, said the judge’s order was good news to stretch out Quorum’s “reckless” timeline.
“I know the importance of having a hospital in the community. Had this company come to us, we would have tried to help them. No one knew they were in trouble,” she said. “To abruptly announce you’re going to close the hospital, it’s reckless, it’s heartless. We are so very pleased with the injunction today.”
Catazaro-Perry said the community and doctors need time to plan instead of an abrupt closure. If there is new ownership, for example, it could take 60 to 90 days to get new credentials
There also is a medical residency program for training doctors and those students have been thrust into uncertainty, she said.
Dr. Mona Shay, chief of staff at Affinity, said she and other doctors, along with city officials, need time to figure out how to best take care of their patients.
“Is the hospital still marketable for a potential buyer to salvage and, if not, give us more time to establish what we’re going to do with the patients. Thirty days is not a reasonable time to figure out what to do with our patients,” said Shay, a gastroenterologist who has been a physician in the area for 20 years.
Michelle Mahon, a registered nurse and national representative for the 250 Affinity nurses through the National Nurses United union, said news of the temporary restraining order was a pleasant surprise for all parties fighting to keep the hospital open. The union is not a party to the city’s lawsuit, but its lawyers assisted in some supportive work.
“This is obviously a very important first step” toward keeping the hospital open indefinitely, Mahon said.
“Unfortunately, Quorum left everybody with a timeline that turned this community on its head,” she said.
“There is some work to do even though the 120 days is there,” said Mahon, adding that she was proud of the nurses for rolling up their sleeves and fighting the closure.
“It’s just incredible to see people decide to take a stand. I know it’s not over yet, but the power of people is really unstoppable when they have the hope and faith they can achieve something,” she said.
Representatives of the union met with officials of Quorum on Thursday to discuss their demands. Mahon did not go into detail about what was discussed, but said “we are still in discussions with Quorum. The nurses were there with a demand, which is to keep this hospital open and be responsible for their obligations to this community.”
Wise said the hospital is needed, especially during a national flu epidemic that has hit Stark County.
“This decision by Judge Hartnett enables Affinity to continue to serve the needs of the community in facing those challenges,” he said.
A message for Quorum representatives was not returned. However, Affinity Chief Executive Officer John Walsh released this prepared statement to the Beacon Journal on Friday afternoon:
“The hospital was notified of Judge Chryssa Hartnett’s ruling earlier this morning. We have temporarily suspended wind down efforts for the 14-day period it requires and will continue operating all services for which we have appropriate staffing available.
“Our efforts to negotiate with the Mayor’s Office and other interested parties the last few days have not been productive and we share the court’s interest in identifying an equitable solution.
“Most importantly, we’d like to recognize and applaud our dedicated staff for their professionalism and constant focus on our patients during this uncertain time. They are the embodiment of the term ‘caregiver’ and we are grateful for the contributions of each nurse, physician, administrative and support employee and volunteer.”
When told of the statement, Catazaro-Perry said she was not surprised by Walsh’s reaction.
“We’re protecting our community,” she said. “It is very important for our residents.
“We are the second largest city in Stark County and we need a hospital in western Stark County.”
Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at http://www.ohio.com/betty